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Reeves Center Redevelopment Effort Drags On As D.C. Navigates ‘Sensitive' Infrastructure

A massive development envisioned for a D.C.-owned property at the bustling 14th and U Street NW intersection would feature a new headquarters for the NAACP, hundreds of new housing units and other amenities, but the city still hasn't said who will build it. 

The two development teams picked as finalists 10 months ago for the massive redevelopment of the Reeves Center property have waited longer than expected for a selection, and the District is now providing a new explanation for the delay. 

The D.C. government has been trying to iron out issues with "sensitive technology infrastructure" on the site that would need to be relocated as part of the redevelopment and has proved more complicated than initially expected, Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development John Falcicchio told Bisnow.

The Frank D. Reeves Center of Municipal Affairs at 2000 14th St. NW

Falcicchio said the District had initially thought it could build around the sensitive infrastructure, which includes critical systems for controlling traffic and telecommunications, but he said it now appears the development won't be able to disrupt that infrastructure at all. 

"So it is a little bit daunting to think about doing a construction project, and not disturbing the technology infrastructure," he said. "So that's what we've been trying to just hash out if there's a way that we move it or a way that we better protect it. That all is a cost driver, and so we have to understand what that cost driver will be before we can really evaluate the proposals that we got."

The infrastructure includes the District Department of Transportation's traffic management control center and the Office of the Chief Technology Officer's DC-NET system, a fiber-optic network that transports data, voice, video and wireless telecommunications services for D.C. agencies, a city official told Bisnow

D.C. officials didn't provide a timeline for when they expect to select the development team to build on the 2.2-acre site of the Reeves Center, a 36-year-old building at 2000 14th St. NW.

"It’s not the timeline that we expected, but we do understand their thought process," said CSG Urban Partners principal Simone Goring Devaney, one of the developers bidding on the site. "We always knew there was some issues with the infrastructure and relocating the agency, it is just taking longer than we expected."

The District typically doesn't commit to specific dates by which it will announce an RFP selection, but two recent examples of selection processes during the pandemic took less than a year between issuing the request for proposals and selecting a team. The Reeves Center process has already taken over 13 months since the RFP was issued.

DMPED issued an RFP for the Hill East District Phase II redevelopment Nov. 20, 2020, and then it selected teams to build more than 2,300 units less than a year later on Nov. 2. It issued an RFP for three parcels on the St. Elizabeths East campus Jan. 17, 2020, and it selected a developer 10 months later.

The city has been talking about redeveloping the Reeves Center site for nearly three years, and the selection process has generated substantial buzz in the real estate community, as the property represents a rare, large-scale development opportunity at the nexus of the popular 14th Street and U Street corridors. 

A rendering of the CSG Urban-led team's proposal for the Reeves Center redevelopment.

D.C. officials first previewed the Reeves Center redevelopment opportunity at DMPED's annual March Madness event in March 2019. Then in September 2019 it issued a request for space to relocate the Department of General Services, a 700-person agency that occupies the Reeves Center. In May 2020 it selected a Ward 7 development site for that agency at 3924 Minnesota Ave. NE. 

In June 2020, the District announced it signed a letter of intent with the NAACP to move its headquarters from Baltimore to a redevelopment on the Reeves Center site, and it said it planned to begin seeking developers for the site in the coming months.

The NAACP didn't respond to a request for comment on the RFP process.

Mayor Muriel Bowser's administration then issued the RFP Dec. 30, 2020, with a submission deadline of Feb. 19, 2021. Two months after that deadline, it named two development teams as finalists.

The two finalist proposals both included more than 100K SF of office space for the NAACP, but they differed in several aspects: the number of housing units they would create, the amount of retail, arts and hospitality uses, and, of course, the companies that would reap the benefits of building the massive project. 

CSG Urban's team also includes MRP Realty and Capri Investment Group, plus several other design and construction partners. The proposal included 628 units of mixed-income housing, 110K SF of office space, 20K SF of retail and 24K SF of arts-related programming. 

A rendering of the Dantes-Menkiti team's proposal for the Reeves Center redevelopment.

Dantes Partners and Menkiti Group led the other team, with several other partners on board. The team's proposal included 250 apartments, 46 condos, 100K SF of office space and a 150-room hotel.

Dantes Managing Principal Buwa Binitie told Bisnow that he hasn't heard anything new about when D.C. plans to make a selection. 

"The nature of public-private-partnership transactions is that you move to the beat of your partners' own drum," Binitie said. "They require you to be flexible and patient, and whenever DMPED is ready to move, we'll be ready to move."

Menkiti Group CEO Bo Menkiti said he is aware that the site has complex infrastructure components on it, and he understands that the city is taking its time. 

"There’s a lot of moving parts DMPED and the District have to run down to make sure they're making [the] best decision possible for D.C.," Menkiti said. "We respect the fact it can happen on their time frame. I'm sure they've got a lot of things on their plate they're managing."

Responding to RFPs is a time-consuming and costly endeavor, requiring the lead developers to assemble a series of firms into a team, decide on the exact components of a proposal and sketch out detailed renderings of a project. Menkiti, who has responded to other RFPs in D.C. and Massachusetts, said bidders always understand there is a chance of losing and having those investments fail to produce any revenue. 

"A tremendous amount of time, energy and resources goes into being able to respond to something this involved," Menkiti said. "That’s part of the process we sign up for, and you've got to hope that over time those investments of resources are worthwhile across all the RFPs you respond to."

Ward 1 Council Member Brianne Nadeau, whose ward includes the Reeves Center site, said she had spoken with DMPED and understood they were still working on the logistics of potentially relocating government agencies.

Nadeau said she was still optimistic about the eventual outcome of the site, and was still hoping to see deeply affordable housing, potential for a hotel, and other foot traffic generators at the site.

"I worked with the community to create binders full of input," Nadeau said. "Some combination of those things really will reactivate the space and the rest of the corridor."

Akosua Ali, president of NAACP's D.C. branch, said in a written statement that the organization is "excited about the possibility" of moving its headquarters to D.C. and sees the development as important to Black D.C. residents.

“It is critical to ensure this redevelopment project is awarded to the team that offers the best options for real-affordable housing, environmental sustainability, a design that honors Black excellence, and DEI hiring practices supporting racial equity for the District’s Black residents," Ali wrote in the statement.  

UPDATE, FEB. 18, 2022, 10:35 A.M. ET: This story has been updated with a statement from the president of NAACP's D.C. branch.