- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 20, 2001

D.C. officials endorsed plans yesterday for a $101 million housing-and-business project designed to link the city's historic Mount Vernon neighborhood with its booming downtown.
The National Capital Revitalization Corp., a government-chartered company that oversees big development projects in the District, chose a veteran Washington builder to redevelop a coveted city-owned parcel near the city's new convention center.
The three-acre parcel at Fifth and K streets NW was home to the National Wax Museum until about 30 years ago, when it was bulldozed for an urban-renewal project that never occurred.
The site is now used as a parking lot.
The builder, Horning Brothers, competed with 10 other developers for the right to redevelop the property. The revitalization corporation's endorsement means Horning can negotiate a sales price for the land and proceed with its applications for building permits.
"We envision a broad breadth of opportunities for this site," said company general partner Joseph F. Horning Jr.
Horning proposed Mount Vernon Walk, a project that will include 535 apartments and condominiums, a small grocery store, an art gallery and a theater for a local performance troupe.
Twenty-eight percent of the apartments and condominiums will be set aside for middle-income residents.
Under the plan, a person must earn between 30 percent and 80 percent of the local median household income to qualify for the discounted housing. The District's most recent figures show its median income was $43,011 in 1998.
Housing activists said the project will unite the Mount Vernon neighborhood with the booming downtown area. Some longtime residents of both areas complain wealthier newcomers have made the neighborhoods too expensive to live in.
"This one block can't do everything to bridge that gap, but it's a start," said Terry Lynch, executive director of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations, a church-backed group that pushes for affordable housing.
The revitalization corporation and Horning Brothers have until Feb. 15 to complete the deal.
The corporation said it will sell the land to Horning for no less than $3.9 million. Construction would likely begin by October 2002 and last two years, said Thomas Archer, executive vice president of Horning Brothers.
Because the project includes affordable housing, it could qualify for as much as $20 million in tax-exempt financing from the city, according to the revitalization corporation.
Eleven development teams submitted proposals for the site this fall. The corporation narrowed that list to four finalists, each of which proposed a mix of apartments, condominiums and retail and arts space.
The corporation's seven-member board voted unanimously to approve the Horning plan.
"There were strengths and weaknesses to all the proposals. This was not an easy decision," said J. Roderick Heller III, the corporation's chairman.
Longtime Washington developer Lowe Enterprises and Safeway teamed to propose what would have been one of the largest supermarkets in the District. The 56,000-square-foot store was slated to feature a Starbucks coffee shop, a dry cleaner and a bank.
"Lowe had the most attractive design, but this was not a beauty contest," said Alexander M. Padro, a member of a local government commission that advises the city on Mount Vernon neighborhood matters.
Horning Brothers has proposed a grocery store roughly half the size of the proposed Safeway. Horning has not signed a deal with a grocery chain, but Mr. Archer said it is interested in talking to Safeway and smaller chains that have expressed interest in the site.
A Safeway spokesman said it is willing to meet with Horning.

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