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Metro Accelerating Development Deals, To Release 4 More RFPs This Summer

D.C.’s transit agency is looking to speed up the development of land it owns around Metro stations.

After Metro released a request for proposals last month for a half-acre site near Alexandria’s Eisenhower Avenue Metro station, it is aiming to release four more RFPs by the end of this summer, Vice President of Real Estate and Parking Liz Price told Bisnow in an interview. 

The North Bethesda Metro station, where WMATA plans to release an RFP for over 2M SF of development.

The next four development opportunities are for properties near the Brookland, Capitol HeightsDeanwood and North Bethesda stations. 

These will be the latest in a series of properties Metro has brought forward as part of a plan launched in April 2022, when it set a 10-year goal of reaching 20 new agreements with developers. In the two years since, amid a broader slowdown in real estate development starts, Metro has broken ground on seven projects across D.C., Maryland and Virginia in partnership with developers. 

Metro's board is scheduled to vote Thursday to approve plans to shutter surface parking lots at the Brookland and Capitol Heights stations that would pave the way for development on those sites. 

With previous projects, this step has come after securing a development partner, but Price said its first wave of agreements have taught the agency a lesson: Selecting developers before the station parking and transportation plans are set in stone can create delays and introduce unexpected infrastructure requirements into the process.  

Securing that approval and locking in Metro’s transportation plans before releasing the RFP will create more clarity on project requirements and help speed up the process from selecting a developer to breaking ground, Price said.

“These are all things we’re doing differently now and in future to give the market certainty about what they can expect and what will be required and we hope will shorten timeline of actual construction of projects,” Price said. 

“As we know, time kills all deals,” she added. “So we’re looking to get from market release to final agreements in tighter time frames than we have in the past to help execute projects.”

The agency released its Eisenhower Avenue RFP on March 27, with proposals due by June 20. Price said Metro plans to select a developer by early fall and finalize the development agreement by early next year.

The site could support around 295K SF of development next to Metro’s new office building at 2401 Mill Road. The agency held a preproposal conference on April 9, which Price said more than 30 parties attended and that “there seemed to be a lot of interest.”

She hopes that interest will continue in the coming months for the four additional RFPs the agency plans to release. 

The largest of those opportunities is a 12-acre site in North Bethesda that could yield around 2.5M SF of mixed-use development, with some of that envisioned as life sciences space. Montgomery County and the University of Maryland are investing in that area to make it a new hub for the sector, and Price said she is working with county officials to identify potential anchor tenants for the Metro site. 

The Brookland location could yield up to 500 multifamily units on the site of a parking lot and bus loop, which would be reconfigured into an on-street busway as part of the plan Metro's board is scheduled to vote on. 

The Deanwood property is eyed for up to 200 units and 18K SF of retail on a 1.2-acre site. The board already approved the closure of a parking lot at the Ward 7 station in December. Price said the agency is also working with the D.C. Public Library to open a new branch on a property adjacent to the one being offered to developers. 

The Capitol Heights site could support up to 570K SF of development with the relocation of parking and a bus loop, which the board is scheduled to vote on Thursday. The Maryland state government has committed $17M for infrastructure improvements around the station, a WMATA spokesperson said.

Price said the agency selected these stations for the next round of development after studying the adjacent properties it owned and determining that they had excess parking and other land that could be prepared for development relatively easily. 

Breaking ground on the seven previous projects amid the economic environment of the last two years has been anything but easy. 

A map from 2022 shows the stations where WMATA aims to reach agreements with developers.

In order to advance the projects, which total nearly 2,000 multifamily units and the office redevelopment of its former headquarters, Price said it secured a series of critical funding deals. 

Four of those projects received money from the Amazon Housing Equity Fund: a 451-unit project in College Park in partnership with Gilbane, a 291-unit project in New Carrollton with Urban Atlantic, a 221-unit project at Grosvenor-Strathmore with Fivesquares Development, and a 179-unit project in Congress Heights with National Housing Trust. 

The funding was part of Amazon's $125M commitment announced in 2021 for a partnership with Metro on station-adjacent projects, and Price said there is still $25M remaining for future projects. 

Several developers said at a Bisnow event this month that Amazon’s $2B housing fund, which typically provides below-market mezzanine debt, has helped fill gaps in projects that have become wider as interest rates have risen and lenders pulled back, a sentiment that Price echoed. 

“We need to move quickly and take advantage of opportunities when we have them, and the Amazon housing commitment, which was $125M, helped us launch several projects that up until that point had not been able to advance,” Price said.

She said another deal with Montgomery County for a 15-year tax abatement helped the Grosvenor-Strathmore project move forward. 

For the redevelopment of its former downtown D.C. headquarters into a trophy office development, in partnership with Stonebridge and Rockefeller Group, the project was able to move forward last year because of a pre-lease with law firm Crowell & Moring. The project also relied on Metro moving into its new L’Enfant Plaza headquarters and two new suburban offices. 

“All those things needed to happen in a very precise timeline to make all that work in a very tough and deteriorating financial climate,” Price said.