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Florida Avenue Market Redevelopment

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Here is a good article by the City Paper for people in Ward 5


Korean businessman Sang Oh Choi is pretty serious about making certain his massive redevelopment proposal for the Florida Avenue Market moves swiftly through the D.C. Council. The 24-acre market is located north of Florida Avenue near the New York Avenue Metro station.


To remake the place in accordance with the standards of gentrification, Choi has already sunk about $1 million into design, PR, and legal help. In addition to produce stands and specialty stores, the vision calls for—what else?—a mixed-use development including affordable housing and a new warehouse for the current market tenants. It would be called the New Town at Capital City Market.


A project like that, of course, doesn’t happen without some help from City Hall. In the case of the Florida Avenue market, Choi needs approval from the D.C. Council. Here, Choi’s work in fashioning council allies may prove helpful.


Choi and some of his family contributed $8,000 to the mayoral campaign of Ward 5 Councilmember Vincent Orange. Council Chairman Linda Cropp’s mayoral campaign raked in the legal maximum from Choi.


Choi’s lobbyist for the project is former Councilmember John Ray, who dumped $25,000 into Orange’s mayoral exploratory campaign coffers. Ray contributed something to practically every incumbent candidate running in 2006.


Earlier this year, the Chois also handed a chunk of change over to the Korean Business Association of Greater Washington. The group turned around and immediately financed a trip to Seoul for Mayor Anthony A. Williams.


All that political lubrication by the New Town team appeared to have dead-ended this fall. Sharon Ambrose, the Ward 6 councilmember who chairs the Committee on Economic Development, had no plans to move the bill.


Ambrose is on the verge of retiring from the council after a long career serving the District; she also suffers from multiple sclerosis. So you might think that her colleagues would grant some deference to her preference to leave the New Town issue for her successor.



In a shameless display of disrespect for Ambrose, her colleagues on the committee—Orange, At-Large Councilmember Kwame Brown, Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans, and Ward 7 Councilmember Vincent Gray—signed on to a rare demand that Ambrose move the New Town bill over her objections. They lodged this demand on Nov. 1.


Officially, the members were requesting a special meeting to mark up the bill, which would create a preliminary development scheme for the plot of land. The request was a threat—the committee members could have moved without her—so she let the bill move.


Orange and his cadre were pushing legislation to declare the market a blighted area—even though there are few vacant properties on the lot and it hosts a vibrant business. “I believe that to make such a declaration would invite the use of eminent domain,” Ambrose said at a Nov. 6 markup. That would be pretty handy for the New Town boosters, since a majority of the property owners oppose the project.


Ambrose resisted the power move of her colleagues because she wanted to make sure that whatever replaced the current market was a step up. “We don’t have a void there,” she says.


The outgoing chair blinked at the threat, but she also got Orange to drop the “blight”

language for a more general description of the market. Orange was decent enough to consult with Ambrose before forcing her hand.


“I truly don’t understand the hustle here, unless it truly is a hustle,” Ambrose told LL before the markup. Could it be Orange is staring unemployment in the face and looking to keep some friends? “I suppose so, if you don’t have a job lined up,” says Ambrose.


Orange denies his desire for swift passage of the New Town bill has anything to do with future job prospects. “I don’t know what I’m going to be doing,” he says.


Orange wasn’t alone in running roughshod over Ambrose. At the Nov. 6 meeting, Brown announced that he had crafted a deal between the Anacostia Waterfront Corporation and the National Capitol Revitalization Corporation. The two quasi-public development groups had been feuding for months over a complex land swap. Brown never bothered to mention his deal-making to Ambrose or invite her staff to the negotiations.


Orange says one of Ambrose’s many absences forced Brown to take charge during a recent hearing on the dispute. “Thank goodness that Kwame chaired that part of the meeting because Ms. Ambrose was ill,” says Orange. “It’s a changing of the guard. What you saw is the new council.”



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