- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 29, 2001

The District will sell an abandoned government building near the MCI Center for $2 million to a developer who will turn it into condominiums and art studios, officials said yesterday.

P.N. Hoffman Inc. will build 40 condos in the 10-story Mather Building and set aside at least 12 of the units as combination "live-work" spaces for artists, who have complained in recent years about rising rents in downtown Washington.

Hoffman will lease the ground floor and part of the second floor in the 78,400-square-foot building to the D.C. Cultural Development Corp., a nonprofit group that will use the space for an art gallery, a dance studio and a small auditorium.

Construction is expected to begin in November and be completed in 2003.

"We're excited to bring the Mather Building back to life. This is a very sexy project," said Lamont "Monty" Hoffman, P.N. Hoffman's chairman and chief executive.

The announcement appeared to mark the end of the District's long odyssey to sell the 84-year-old Mather Building, which sits at 916 G St. NW. The building has been empty since its last tenant, the University of the District of Columbia, moved out in 1990.

The city's plan to sell the Mather Building which developers consider prime real estate because of its close proximity to the MCI Center was delayed when UDC claimed an ownership stake in the property. The matter was resolved when the city determined it held the title to the building.

In addition, the District issued its invitation to developers to bid on the property later than it expected. Once the bids were collected, the city missed a June 15 deadline to select a developer.

Mayor Anthony A. Williams, a Democrat, said the renovated Mather Building is part of a broader plan to create more housing in downtown Washington, an area that is home primarily to office towers.

"We want our downtown to be a place that people call home," Mr. Williams said.

In addition to the Mather Building, the District plans to sell a three-acre lot at Fifth and K streets NW to a developer who will build shops and apartments.

Several other builders also have jumped on the downtown-housing bandwagon, including an Alexandria company that plans 209 luxury apartments on Fifth Street NW, between G and H streets.

Deputy Mayor Eric W. Price said the city chose Mr. Hoffman's proposal because he offered to designate 30 percent of the building's condos as affordable housing for artists, 10 percent more than the city sought.

The affordable units will be sold to artists who earn between 50 percent and 80 percent of the District's median household income, Mr. Hoffman said. The city's median income was $43,011 in 1998, according to the most recent figures from the D.C. Office of Planning.

The exact price of the units won't be determined until the building opens in two years, Mr. Hoffman said.

Other developers who bid on the project said they were disappointed the District chose Hoffman's deal. Giorgio Furioso, who said his proposal included more affordable housing than Hoffman's, plans to request a meeting with city officials to determine why his offer was not chosen.

"I don't quite get this," Mr. Furioso said.

Local artists said they were disappointed the District did not require that the entire Mather Building be set aside for arts uses.

Michael Berman, a painter who rents space on F Street NW, said he would like to move to the Mather Building when it reopens, but may be forced to move to the suburbs until then.

"This is a start, but we need more," he said.

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