Thursday, March 24th, 2011
“In truth, I didn’t see opportunity when we got this land. I saw death. When I first came down to NoMa in 1993, there was a McDonald’s, the Woodward and Lothrop warehouse, a methadone clinic, and a vacant CSX excess railroad lot where 100-150 homeless people were living.
“We obtained this property as part of a portfolio of assets in the early 90′s. We had to take everything, and roughly 8 acres in NoMa was one of the assets. At the time, we had no idea what we were going to do with this land. Unlike any other property we owned or had redeveloped in the United States, we never had a metric of how many dead bodies and hypodermic needles were on a property in a year.
“While this was one of the most impoverished neighborhoods in the city, we are less than eight blocks from the steps of the U.S. Capitol and five blocks from the Supreme Court. You had the center of power in the most powerful and wealthiest country in the world, and at the same time, you had the desperation and death that enveloped this area. In business, most of the time you are driven by greed or by fear. In this case, we were driven by fear and the realization that we all had to contribute to make a change. I felt ashamed as an American that there was so much death and despair so close to the seat of power in the world’s most powerful country.
“At the time, the city had no money, so we got together with some other landowners and we commissioned a study on building a transit station. Most transit stations are built on how many bodies they can transport. The New York Avenue metro station was built as an economic development tool, which was a major shift in the United States.
“Once the study was complete, several landowners gave the city the land for the station and the NOMA property owners put up a third of the money required to build the station. With the help of Delegate Holmes Norton and Mayor Williams, we were able to find the rest of the money and make this happen. They understood that a transit station here would change not just an entire neighborhood, but could impact the entire District.
“Today, as a result of the New York Avenue transit station, the city derives roughly $50 million a year from the 55 acres here. Before the transit station, which cost $112 million, and development, the property taxes were $5 million. Estimates suggest that within the next 7-10 years, the taxes in today’s dollars will be $185-215 million a year. That means that this neighborhood and the surrounding neighborhoods are changing positively and the city now has more resources to increase the quality of life across the whole district.
“I have been in real estate since I was 19 and I have to say that this is one of the proudest things we have ever been involved in. It is really humbling to look out over what is here now in comparison to what was here when we first saw the place in the early 90′s. To me, the story of this neighborhood goes beyond just these 55 acres or the city, but is one of those great stories about our country and its potential.”
Jim Curtis is a managing partner of Bristol Group, a real estate and development firm based out of San Francisco.
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