January 15, 2014 | by Jim Graham
Ideas for Reeves Center future stir debate
Reeves Center, gay news, Washington Blade

If the Reeves Center is to be redeveloped, it should be as a commercial building providing daytime commerce to U Street. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

I have known Mark Lee — another columnist whose writing appears frequently on this page — since the 1980s. His philosophy then, and now, is pretty much what is good for business is good for the people of D.C.

In his Dec. 20, 2013 Washington Blade column, Lee suggests that the private sector should have full reign in the disposition of the publicly owned Reeves Center at 14th and U. Lee says in so many words, “Just stand aside neighbors and communities—let business and developers dictate your well-being. Government doesn’t know what it’s doing. We know what’s best for you.”

The Blade identifies Lee as a “business advocate.” True enough, but in this case for what business is he advocating?

Is it the big guys on K Street? Maybe, but I doubt it. Since daytime commerce on U Street doesn’t, we can assume that he doesn’t give a hoot about hardware stores, cleaners, design shops and lunch places.

I think, once again, Lee wants alcohol to be king, with rents that only nightclubs can afford. Lee wants to return U Street to exclusive nightlife economy and with much less daytime commerce that outcome will be assured.

I am all for bars and restaurants but neighborhoods need balance.

What is all of this about anyway? Somehow the uncompetitive sale of the Reeves Center — certainly one of the top prime properties owned by the D.C. government — has become part and parcel of an elaborate adagio intended to bring about a soccer stadium at Buzzard Point.

If the Reeves is to be redeveloped, it should be as a commercial building providing daytime commerce to U Street. Also, it must include the DC Center, the weekend farmers market and the U.S. Post Office facility.

Lee rejects that with florid turn of phrase, “Graham behaves as an old-world Soviet apparatchik, insisting on defined private sector build-out to suit his command economy proclivities. He demands that the project consist of commercial office space instead of residential housing, including non-profit offices. He also specifies a seasonal farmers market on a public plaza not part of the plan – or likely economic feasibility… Step aside Mr. Graham, this is enterprise at work – again benefiting our city.”

Well thank goodness for the democratic process and some semblance of the collective and public good — a concept Lee dismisses as “Soviet.” The community gathered on all of this on Dec. 17 at the Reeves Center.

I remind Mr. Lee of several points:

• There is no “deal” until the Council approves one  — where, by the way, I have a vote. Until then, all options are on the table.

• The sale of publicly owned land is a big deal and should be made with full transparency.

• The Dec. 17 community meeting was a good first step in hearing directly from the residents and business owners. In a near unanimous voice, they wanted daytime commerce.

• Also, this is no time for us to proclaim “Mission Accomplished” at 14th and U. The area is very attractive to commercial office development. In a new building, at 7th and T N.W., the United Negro College Fund has established its headquarters. That and more is possible at Reeves. Can you imagine the interest Reeves would generate if it was put out to auction as a commercial building property, to all bidders?

Jim Graham represents Ward One on the D.C. Council.

4 Comments
  • I do not recognize Mark Lee’s published viewpoints in Mr. Graham’s characterization. No he did NOT say what is quoted in so many words. Graham talks about the sale of public property, but the proposed deal is a land swap that crucially includes the city obtaining private property to build a soccer stadium. For Graham to make a long list of demands for the redevelopment of the Reeves Center site is ludicrously unreasonable. He might as well overtly try to scuttle the deal. There is no shortage of regulations for developers in the District. Jumping all over a complex deal and trying to complete one’s Christmas wish list at the expense of one of the parties is a gross overstepping of the proper government role. But at this point it is hardly a surprise.

  • I’m not a big supporter of CM Graham but to be fair he is not — at least in this opinion piece — trying to fill a “wish list.” The only new thing he is asking for is offices. The others (“DC Center, the weekend farmers market and the U.S. Post Office facility”) are already there. It’s hardly a “Christmas wish list” to want to keep what we have.

    I am a supporter of the stadium deal, in concept, but I am also a longtime resident of the U Street area. I think including some office space in the redevelopment of the Reeves Center property, but I’m also OK with residences, too, as long as some are affordable housing. And ground level retail makes sense but here I agree with Graham: no bars/restaurants. We have plenty..and more are coming in nearby.

    I don’t know if the councilman actually believes the entire project should be offices but that is really unlikely.

    This is a community asset. Our community SHOULD have a say in what comes next.

  • Kevin, again, the deal already gives the District the big thing it wants, which is the land for the stadium. The value of what it is giving in return is decreased, or at least burdened, by insisting that the private developer across the table must do all those things, which will indeed all be new for the developer.

  • They should continue to build expensive apartments/condos. Im so tired of all these poor people waiting for the bus at that intersection. The U street from 20 years ago doesnt exist.

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