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Giant signs preliminary lease for Camp Simms

(Published Dec. 4, 2000)

By KATHRYN SINZINGER

Staff Writer

The developers who are fighting to retain the right to build a shopping center at the former Camp Simms site in Congress Heights have delivered to city officials a signed preliminary lease agreement with Giant Food to locate a supermarket there, according to knowledgeable sources.

A spokeswoman for the Landover-based grocery chain would say only that "we remain interested" in building a supermarket at the former National Guard site in Ward 8.

Ward 8 residents have been without a supermarket since Safeway closed its Milwaukee Place SE store in October 1998. Mayor Anthony A. Williams has repeatedly pledged that his administration would attract a supermarket back to the ward.

Dominion Development Corp., which for the past five years has unsuccessfully tried to market its planned Congress Heights New Towne Centre project on the Alabama Avenue SE parcel, recently got a short reprieve to make one final attempt to develop the site before city officials put the development rights out for bid.

In recent months Dominion has come under public fire from city officials for being unable to develop the 25 city-owned acres near the soon-to-be opened Congress Heights Metro station on the Green Line.

City officials, community activists and officials from Dominion and its development partner — Columbia, Md.,-based Manekin LLC — traded angry allegations at several highly charged public meetings in Ward 8 in October over whether the developer or the city has been to blame for the lack of development.

In early October, Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development Eric Price and Department of Housing and Community Development Director Milton Bailey announced they were canceling Dominion’s exclusive marketing rights to the property and planning to put the site out for bids.

The effort to seek bids was stalled following a contentious hearing before City Council-woman Charlene Drew Jarvis’s economic development committee, which was persuaded to draft a resolution giving Dominion and Manekin a 35-day deadline to produce an anchor tenant and financing for the shopping center. The developers want Giant Food to be the center’s anchor tenant.

The council resolution was expected to be approved Dec. 5, which would then begin the 35-day period.

DHCD spokeswoman Tia Matthews said setting a deadline for Dominion and Manekin has been awaiting council action. She said DHCD intends to move forward on its plan to seek development bids for the site if the developers fail to meet the 35-day deadline council imposes.

In the meantime, the developers have continued to hold community meetings to rally support for their efforts.

Dominion President Kevin Williams said his company "remains philosophically committed" to giving the neighborhood retail development of the entire site, which community surveys and meetings overwhelmingly supported.

But he said he also has begun discussing with community activists the possibility of building affordable housing — in the $125,000-$145,000 range — on the Mississippi Avenue portion of the site to comply with city officials’ demands for housing to be built there rather than stores.

"At this juncture, we’re saying ‘Let’s get the project moving and bring in the grocery store,’" Williams said. "If we can’t deliver more jobs, then we have to deliver more opportunities for the community."

Copyright © 2001 The Common Denominator