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Taking note . . .

Observations about public affairs in the nation's capital

by the editor of The Common Denominator

MISSING THE TARGET: The much-ballyhooed announcement that a 169,000-square-foot Target store would anchor the DC USA development in Columbia Heights came just five days before Mayor Tony Williams won an unprecedented write-in campaign to retain the Democratic Party label inhis re-election effort.

"Mayor Williams Announces That Target Is Coming To The District," screamed a press release issued by the mayor's office on Sept. 5. "This is another major accomplishment in my administration's efforts to bring economic development and retail to every neighborhood and every corner of this city," the mayor said in the written statement.

But now, a spokesman for the Minneapolis-based retailer says that D.C. officials jumped the gun with their announcement. Noticeably absent from the mayor's press release was any statement from Target Corp. officials.

"A lot of people are making a lot of claims," Target spokesman Douglas Kline told The Common Denominator on Nov. 1. "We are working diligently with the developer and a lot of officials on an agreement to be part of the DC USA Project in Columbia Heights, and we are optimistic and hopeful that it will result in a successful conclusion. But that is not a confirmed project."

The mayor's announcement that Target was coming appears, in hindsight, to have been little more than an attempt at "civic cheerleading" that gave at least a temporary boost to a redevelopment project that has been languishing on the drawing boards for more than two years.

Grid Properties' planned DC USA shopping-entertainment complex has itself become a target of growing discontent among neighborhood residents, who have seen no visible signs that anything is happening to redevelop the city-owned land surrounding the Columbia Heights Metro station. The area around 14th and Irving streets NW has been an eyesore since it was heavily damaged in the 1968 riots.

Hopeful comments included in the mayor's press release from chosen developer Drew Greenwald, president of Grid Properties, seemed toindicate that the needed retail tenants and the $95 million in private financing for the project have yet to materialize. The city has been dangling $50 million in tax increment financing and a subsidy for 15,000 square feet of retail space to help attract businesses to the project.

"Greenwald…explained that once Target signs a lease as the lead tenant, other retailers will begin lining up to sign leases," according to the release. "It won't take long for the project's financing to fall into place," Greenwald is quoted as saying. He said the Target store "should open by the summer of 2005."

Lloyd Smith, acting president and CEO of the congressionally created National Capital Revitalization Corp. that manages the city-owned land, also was quoted in the mayor's press release, trumpeting Target's "commitment … [as] a milestone in the revitalization of Columbia Heights." He went on to say, "As an anchor, it will boost the community's economic vitality."

Meanwhile, Target is being courted by city officials to locate a store along the nearby Rhode Island Avenue commercial corridor - which may be just a little too close to Columbia Heights for any major retailer to feasibly locate in both neighborhoods.

Copyright 2002, The Common Denominator