- The Washington Times - Friday, May 9, 2003

A New York developer vying to redevelop the site of the old convention center has partnered with the University of the District of Columbia to offer student programs, drawing the ire of rival firms who view it as an attempt to influence District officials selecting the winning bid.Under the partnership, the Related Cos. and UDC would create apprenticeship programs and lectures in cooking, property management, construction and music, with professionals working at the new site.The company said it would not partner with UDC if it is not selected.Related is part of one of four development teams vying for the rights to build a $600 million complex including up to 1,000 housing units, 300,000 square feet of retail, office space, concert halls and a new major library. It would be the largest single-phase project awarded by the District this year.Competing development groups include teams consisting of the Georgetown Cos., developer Hines and Charles E. Smith Residential; Forest City and the Jarvis Group; and Millennium Partners, Jonathan Rose Co., Gould Property Co. and EastBanc Inc.Competing firms, real estate analysts and some District officials expressed discomfort about the partnership, arguing that it meshes the interests of a District-funded university with those of a company looking to city officials for a potentially large stream of revenue.One real estate analyst referred to the partnership as “incestuous,” and others in the industry saw it as giving Related Cos. an unfair advantage.”I guess it probably is a conflict,” said an executive with one of the competing teams, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.But the executive added, “I would assume that the decision-makers would be objective enough not to let this influence their decision.”Related Cos. said the partnership with UDC was not made to sway the planners.”Obviously, the timing is good,” Related Executive Vice President Marty Burger said. “But this is the kind of thing we do. We get involved in the community.”Planning officials said they were aware of the partnership but would not allow it to affect their choice.”We’re still going to make all our decisions based on what’s laid out in the [request for proposals],” said Chris Bender, spokesman for the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development.D.C. Council member Harold Brazil, at-large Democrat and chairman of the District’s committee on economic development, said he has no outright objection to the partnership, but planned to notify the Office of Corporation Counsel to get a legal opinion.”As a general matter this [partnership] is the kind of thing we like to see,” Mr. Brazil said. “But we don’t want that positive aspect to bleed over and obfuscate the process.”Planners will make their choice in June. Related has partnered with Boston Properties and MacFarlane Urban Realty Co. Other investors include Russell Simmons, an executive with Riggs Bank and chairman of the D.C. Housing Authority, and Dickie S. Carter, whose Urban Services company collects trash from the District’s agencies.University officials said that if Related Cos. is selected, the partnership would help to enhance the university’s struggling hospitality and tourism programs.”We have a very small, underfunded and underdeveloped hospitality program at UDC,” President William Lawrence Pollard said.The hope is that chefs from new restaurants at the site will be willing to lecture on the culinary arts, and other hospitality professionals will be willing to work with students.”What sets programs apart from other programs is the icing on the cake,” Mr. Pollard said. “And that icing is the opportunity to interact with people who are doing things and doing them with success.”Asked whether he has contacted District planners and urged them to select Related Cos., Mr. Pollard said, “We have not done that and I think it would be inappropriate to do so.”

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