On Tuesday, November 3rd, District of Columbia freshman Councilmember Elissa Silverman (At-Large) sharply disagreed with Council Chairman Phil Mendelson over the absence of competition in the selection of a real estate developer for a proposal to develop historic landmark McMillan Park. The exchange took place as the DC Council considered approval of a five-year extension of a deal to privatize the 25-acre tract of contiguous open green space and transfer ownership to a consortium know as Vision McMillan Partners (VMP).
At a DC Council Committee of the Whole hearing held prior to the November 3rd legislative session, Silverman cited the recent letter sent by DC Auditor Kathy Patterson to Chairman Mendelson. After examining records from the DC Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, Patterson found that VMP won the job of “master project planner,” but subsequently was designated, without competition, as the project’s developer and owner, including responsibility for financing and vertical construction. Friends of McMillan Park (FOMP) have repeatedly highlighted this procurement irregularity to the DC Council and other District Government agencies in written and oral testimony provided during public hearings. Ms. Patterson effectively agreed with FOMP and concluded that “a new competitive process” should be undertaken.
“The master project planner should not be the developer,” Councilmember Silverman said. “That’s Planning 101.”
Councilmember Silverman’s objections were rebutted by Council Chairman Phil Mendelson. He said it was “too late to unwind” the deal and that there had been a lot of local input and approvals, although a key local organization cited by the Chairman — the McMillan Advisory Group (MAG) — did not support the VMP plan, contrary to the year-old report from the Mayor’s Office that Chairman Mendelson quoted.
“Elissa is un-bought,” said Robin Diener, director of the Library Renaissance Project. “Forthright questioning is the voters’ return on investment in a corporate-free candidate.” Silverman campaigned on the pledge of no corporate contributions. Ms. Diener opposes the current VMP development proposal because, among other things, it fails to honor the community’s decades-old request for a library.
In addition to the lack of competition, opponents of the Bowser-VMP plan for McMillan Park cite a long list of other problems with the deal including: hiring public relations firm Fontaine & Co. to “discredit the opposition” and “generate political cover for elected officials;” taxpayers subsidizing $78 million in predevelopment costs (including over half a million dollars for lawyers and $68 million to destroy the historic underground caverns of the sand filtration plant – a designated national landmark); greatly increased traffic for a transit-deficient community; and overwhelming public sentiment against the current approach as demonstrated at the committee hearing on the five-year extension where 20 witnesses testified against and only two in favor of granting the extension to the deal. These deficiencies were the subject of two recent articles published in the Washington Post.