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Akridge will push forward on Stevens School renovation and office project, even without an educational partner

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Washington Business Journal by Karen Goff

D.C. had planned to lease the to-be-renovated building in Northwest to Ivymount School. Akridge will still pay for its renovation.

Akridge will move forward with its renovation of the historic Stevens School and construction of a new office building next door, despite the District's announcement it is cutting ties with its educational partner.

The D.C.-based developer, along with The Argos Group, plans to start work this fall on a 10-story office building, consuming the Stevens School parking lot and the adjacent site of the former Humane Society of the United States headquarters, Akridge President Matt Klein told the Washington Business Journal. The Humane Society recently moved to 1255 23rd St. NW.

The Stevens School will be renovated, and connected to a new office building developed by Akridge and Argos.

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The Stevens School will be renovated, and connected to a new office building developed by… more

Akridge and Argos were chosen by the District in 2012 to renovate the 149-year-old school at 1050 21st St. NW. D.C. agreed to lease the 40,000-square-foot building to Rockville's Ivymount School, which would operate a center for special-needs students there. The developers' pitch to build office on the site, and to partner with Ivymount, was key to the winning bid.

Deputy Mayor for Education Jennifer Niles recently told Ivymount it is leaving the planned partnership in order to concentrate on improving special education at neighborhood schools. Under the development agreement, the District was to contribute $74,000 annually per Ivymount student, with an expected enrollment of 50 students, said Ahnna Smith, chief of staff for the DME office.

Akridge's agreed to rehabilitate the school at a cost of roughly $20 million. That sum includes a $570,000 payment to Ivymount, which will now go to the District, Klein said. Akridge will still make both payments.

"The $570,000 is largely associated with the user of the school," Klein said. "The money goes to the District. They have the right to determine who is the occupant."

The office building will include floor-to-ceiling glass, a landscaped roof terrace, a two-story lobby and 8,000 square feet of retail. While conceived and designed as a separate building, the new construction will technically be an addition to the school building, according to a historic preservation report.

Akridge will hold a 99-year lease on the commercial parcel, with an option to purchase once the office building and the school renovation are complete. Exterior renovations to the school can move forward without additional approval by the Historic Preservation Review Board, said Smith.

The Stevens School project, like many D.C. development plans, has been through several mayoral administrations. It dates back to 2009, when then-Mayor Adrian Fenty chose Equity Residential Inc. to redevelop the Stevens lot into an apartment building and restaurant. Neighbors protested and the plan did not move forward.

Mayor Vincent Gray then rebid the project in 2012, settling on Akridge and Argos over three competitors. But the plan did not get backing from the D.C. Council until late 2014.

Mayor Muriel Bowser was chair of the economic development committee when Stevens moved — slowly— though the council in 2014. Ivymount suggested at the time she was holding it up in order to extract a better deal out of Akridge for Buzzard Point, where the developer owned two parcels crucial to the development of the D.C. United stadium. The District ultimately seized Akridge's Buzzard Point land using its eminent domain power, and the two are still in court trying to determine how much it's worth.

Smith said the District will engage the community in discussions about Stevens’ future educational uses and likely offer a future solicitation with the hopes of adding a tenant by fall 2018. Klein said Ivymount had been a great development partner, and he hopes the school could be involved in a different use for Stevens, such as a teacher training academy.