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Housing and Home Ownership

Prime Shelter Site Yields $7 Million
Apr 20, 2006, 07:56

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By Lyndsey Layton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 20, 2006; B06

The District's oldest homeless shelter, a five-story structure in a prime location on fast-gentrifying 14th Street NW, has been sold for $7 million to a developer who plans luxury condominiums where the destitute now sleep.

The Central Union Mission, which houses about 130 men nightly, plans to use the proceeds to build a "state of the art" facility on a vacant lot about two miles away on Georgia Avenue, Executive Director David Treadwell said.

"How often do you get to build something state of the art for the poor?" he said.

The mission had been heavily courted by as many as three dozen developers but couldn't sell until it located a new home, which has taken six years because of restrictive zoning, community concerns and the needs of a homeless shelter, said Wayne Dickson, the mission's real estate broker.

This is the second time the 122-year-old mission has moved because of development pressures, although it has moved several times for other reasons. It was forced out of its last home a block north of Pennsylvania Avenue NW in 1983, when the city seized its buildings as part of the redevelopment of the avenue.

"More and more affluent people are coming into the city, and the poor are going to be forced out," Treadwell said. "Affluent people's time is more valuable -- they pay more to stay in the city. Whatever location I pick, eventually gentrification is taking place, and I think it's going to catch up with us in D.C."

In this case, the mission is coming out a winner because it will pocket enough money to custom-design a facility that meets all of its needs as a shelter, drug rehabilitation center, food pantry and chapel, Treadwell said. The new location is accessible -- served by 28 bus lines, he said.

The current building is inefficient and cramped; the men must eat in shifts because the dining room is too small, and they can take only two-minute showers because there are just eight showerheads, Treadwell said.

The mission has budgeted $15 million for the new building and signed a contract to purchase land in the 3600 block of Georgia Avenue just north of Howard University. The mission will not move until it completes the new facility in about three years, Dickson said.

But as word spreads about those plans, residents in the Petworth neighborhood are alarmed.

"We've been trying to get businesses to come to Georgia Avenue, and we've been working so hard," said Alicia Rucker, who owns two houses on Warder Street and is president of the Luray/Warder block association. "We just got a new restaurant and a yoga studio. This would be a major setback."

D.C. Council member Jim Graham, who represents Ward 1 where the mission is proposing to relocate, said that Georgia Avenue is showing signs of rejuvenation and that a homeless shelter would hurt its revitalization efforts. "They should stay right where they are," Graham said. "And I say that as an advocate for the homeless."

"They're cashing in," he said. "It's a get-rich-quick scheme to build condos and buy land in a cheaper area and have more money."

Alturas LLC has agreed to purchase the main mission and three attached rowhouses, which together amount to 39,000 square feet. The firm plans to create shops or restaurant space on the first and second floors and condominiums on the top floors.

"It's a handsome building," said Jeffrey Schonberger, who waited six years for the deal to come together.

The building, at 14th and R streets, was constructed in the 1920s as an automobile showroom, one of many that lined 14th Street and gave it the nickname Auto Row. After the 1968 riots, the street deteriorated and remained depressed for decades.

But the arrival in 2001 of a Whole Foods Market on nearby P Street NW pumped new life into the neighborhood and set off a chain reaction of economic development along 14th Street. Developers began converting the old auto showrooms into sleek urban apartments, restaurants and galleries with high ceilings and exposed ductwork. The Studio Theatre built a second venue in an old auto showroom.

Within two blocks of the mission along 14th Street, six condominium projects are under construction, men in hard hats roam the sidewalks and the sky is blocked by cranes. The mission's sale was only a matter of time, neighborhood observers said.

"So much has changed in this neighborhood -- it's crazy," said Peter Young, who manages Flowers on Fourteenth Street, which opened three years ago. "It'd be good for business."

A few doors down, at Dog by Day, a day-care facility for dogs and another recent arrival to the neighborhood, manager Helen Haifley said she would welcome another condominium building.

"They're popping up all over the place," she said. "Do you know if they're going to allow dogs?"

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