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D.C. Selects Developers For 816-Unit Project To Replace Abandoned Middle School

The site of the former Fletcher-Johnson Middle School on Benning Road SE

A major new development is moving forward on the 15-acre site of a former middle school in D.C.'s Ward 7.

Mayor Muriel Bowser's administration announced Wednesday it selected a team led by Gragg Cardona Partners to build 816 units and retail on the Fletcher-Johnson Middle School site at 4650 Benning Road SE. 

Gragg Cardona, a D.C.-based Certified Business Enterprise, is partnering with Foundation Housing, Carding Group, HQ Design Build and Marshall Heights Community Development Organization.

"In 2020, we have a renewed focus on equity and making sure people of color lead our development teams," Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development John Falcicchio told Bisnow. "So with this award, we actually do see a team that's led by a company owned by people of color."

The team plans to build a mix of apartments, condos, townhouses and assisted living units, with at least 30% of the homes being set aside as affordable. The project is also planned to include 20K SF of retail, and the District hopes to bring new fresh food offerings to the site. 

“This campus has sat vacant for nearly a decade and we are proud to finally move forward on delivering the housing and amenities that the residents of Ward 7 asked for," Bowser said in a statement.

Fletcher-Johnson Middle School closed in 2008, after which the building was leased to public charter schools and used as a temporary space for Woodson High School during its renovation. It has been vacant since 2011.

D.C. first started its process to redevelop the site in 2014 with a request for offers, but it didn't make an award. The District restarted the process of seeking developers in 2017, introducing the site at an event in March 2017, and then it officially released the request for proposals in July 2019. 

Bowser touted the selection of a team to build residential on the site as a step toward the goal she set last year of building 36,000 new housing units in the District by 2025. Between January 2019 and July 2020, her administration said it produced 10,658 units, with 1,692 of them set aside as affordable. 

The Fletcher-Johnson development needs the D.C. Council to pass the amended Comprehensive Plan before it can move forward, as it increases the density envisioned for the site. The council failed to pass the Comprehensive Plan this year, but Falcicchio said he hopes it can pass it in Q1 and allow the project to break ground by 2022. 

"This is a good example of a project we have when we say the Comprehensive Plan is necessary to get projects moving forward and give certainty to neighborhoods that have been asking for improvements," Falcicchio said. "There are steps that need to take place before it can break ground, but the market needs certainty for projects to go forward."

Gragg Cardona also has a senior assisted living project moving forward at the intersection of Kenilworth Avenue NE and Eastern Avenue in Ward 7. The developer received $78M in financing from the D.C. Housing Finance Agency in September to break ground on the 157-unit project. 

"On behalf of Gragg Cardona Partners and the rest of the Fletcher Johnson Community Partners team, we are humbled and honored to be trusted by the Marshall Heights, Benning Ridge, and Capitol View communities, and the leadership of the District of Columbia, to join with them in reimagining the Fletcher-Johnson Campus as an exciting place to live, work, and play, and a center of community life and prosperity," Gragg Cardona partner Oussama Souadi wrote in an emailed statement to Bisnow.