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Convention Center

D.C. Council Advances Hospital, Hotel Plans
Apr 5, 2006, 20:20

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By Eric M. Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 5, 2006; B01

The D.C. Council boosted the prospects yesterday of two major building projects, a hotel for the city's Convention Center and a new state-of-the-art hospital in Southeast.

The council unanimously and without discussion gave preliminary approval to a plan to pay the city's share of the proposed National Capital Medical Center, about $212 million, by issuing bonds backed by the city's share of cash from the settlement of a lawsuit against the nation's tobacco companies. Howard University would put up the other half and run the new facility.

But council member Sharon Ambrose (D), chairman of the Committee on Economic Development and a hospital opponent, said the vote was not necessarily a vote in favor of the hospital. She said the funds raised by the tobacco money could be used for other capital or health projects, not just the controversial NCMC.

In a letter to council members yesterday, Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) acknowledged the lack of agreement on the hospital but urged members to move forward on the funding mechanism.

"I do believe that it is important for the council to approve the legislation and to take the necessary steps to bring these funds into District coffers," Williams wrote, "after which point we can continue our dialogue on the appropriate uses of these funds."

Some members, though not supporting the NCMC, still want a medical or emergency facility located on the proposed site, near RFK Stadium on the grounds of the former D.C. General Hospital.

The proposed facility was conceived by Williams after council members expressed concerns that the eastern half of the city has lacked easy access to medical care since D.C. General closed in 2001. But council support for the new hospital has eroded as details of the project have emerged.

The council also gave preliminary approval to a complex deal in which the city will exchange land it owns at the site of the old convention center for land across the street from the Washington Convention Center at 801 Mount Vernon Pl. NW.

The city struck a deal in January on the final piece of land it needed for a convention center hotel, persuading developer Kingdon Gould III to swap about 1.5 acres, mostly used as a parking lot and valued at $73 million, for a similarly sized piece of land at the old convention center site.

Marriott International Inc. of Bethesda and partner RLJ Development LLC, owned by Black Entertainment Television founder Robert L. Johnson, will privately finance about $400 million of an estimated $550 million needed to build a 1,434-room hotel at Ninth Street and Massachusetts Avenue NW, next to the Convention Center at Mount Vernon Square. The rest of the money will come from the city in the form of tax increment financing, which means debt is repaid from the tax revenue that a project generates.

The deal has been in the works for years. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) said a large hotel next to the Convention Center is needed to keep drawing large events to the center. It will also bring additional meeting and ballroom space.

Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) questioned why the city received land that was worth $3 million less than the land it gave Gould. Cropp and Ambrose said that was to compensate Gould for the development restrictions on the old convention center site.

In other business, council members sparred over a no-bid $1 million grant to My Sister's Place, a shelter for women who are victims of domestic abuse. The grant, which was supported by Williams and introduced by council member Kwame R. Brown (D-At Large), will help the nonprofit organization renovate and expand its shelter. Brown said it would take too long to go through the city's contracting and procurement process.

Carol Schwartz (R-At Large) was the only council member to vote against the grant, saying it was not properly bid. She has raised similar objections on other projects in the past.

"It's not because I don't love My Sister's Place or like domestic violence,'' Schwartz said. "I can't just constantly be asked to favor one organization over others. I don't like what we're doing and wish we would stop doing it.''

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