- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 16, 2004

The visionaries with the National Capital Redevelopment Corp. have come up with a number of stupefying figures in their quest to destroy the financial lives and dreams of the mom-and-pop merchants in the 60-year-old Skyland Shopping Center in Southeast.

The NCRC visionaries are planning to take an estimated $31.5 million project and turn it over to a McLean-based developer, Rappaport Co., for $4.3 million.

The math is interesting, to say the least, and especially galling to those property owners and proprietors who do not want to sell their tiny piece of the American Dream along Alabama Avenue and Good Hope and Naylor roads.

Pete DiSilva, the property owner of Skyland Liquors, noted the $27 million net loss to taxpayers in a recent letter to D.C. Council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat, that implored the governing body to study anew the curious numbers of this unconstitutional project.

The visionaries with the NCRC certainly have not been in the mood to explain their maneuverings with those whose well-being hangs in the balance. They were supposed to hire a business-relocation expert and have a tenant-relocation plan in place by Dec. 1, 2003.

The tenants are still waiting on the plan that, in too many cases, consigns them to financial despair.

The only tenant provision of the NCRC is to provide relocation expenses that do not exceed $10,000. This hardly addresses the concerns of those tenants who have pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into the buildings. There is no provision for these business operators, only the threat of financial ruin and a city leadership that has turned its back on them.

Their leases, some stretching as long as 10 years, are not worth the paper on which they are printed in the fanciful world of the NCRC and D.C. Council.

The idea to remake Skyland is not necessarily a bad one. The property owners and merchants object to the heavy-handed, closed-door method of the NCRC and its refusal to be accessible to all the various parties.

“Why not work with us?” a representative of one of the property owners said.

If the NCRC and bill co-sponsors Kevin Chavous, Ward 7 Democrat, and Harold Brazil, at-large Democrat, weren’t so committed to dumping a $27 million tab on taxpayers, it possibly would be easy to recognize the fiscally prudent alternative of investing a few million dollars to refurbish the 16.5-acre site.

As it is, there is nothing to suggest that this project ever will rise to the lofty imaginations of the NCRC, not in a neighborhood where 49.2 percent of the households earn less than $35,000 a year. These are not necessarily the demographics that appeal to the high-quality “big box” retailers that the NCRC seems to think it eventually can secure.

The NCRC sticks to this belief after coming away empty during the past three big-box conventions in Las Vegas, dating to 2002.

As John Epting, an attorney for one of the property owners, wrote in an April letter to the council, the NCRC and the head of the Department of Housing and Community Development: “Massive public expenditure is required for this project, and there is a great risk it will not be returned as the site could sit vacant even after construction is complete.”

An element of bad faith punctuates the NCRC proposal.

The NCRC deal to raze a fully leased shopping center was cooked up more than a year ago, which came as a shock to several tenants holding newly signed leases. A few did not learn of their tenuous circumstances until last month, and then only through the property manager.

Even now, the property owners and tenants desperately want to have an audience with Ted Carter, the president and chief executive officer of the NCRC. They at least would like to look him in the eye before they are kicked to the street.

Peggy Armstrong, the NCRC senior director of communications and research, endorses the notion of dialogue.

“We are in the process of getting in touch with the owners and tenants as we formulate a relocation plan,” she said yesterday.

The process is mysterious, plus more than seven months behind schedule.

The Skyland folly is another insult from a city with an onerous tax rate and the ubiquitous “taxation without representation” license plate.

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