In a Solomonic decision, the Washington Metro Area Transit Authority (WMATA) today agreed to sell the controversial Southeast Bus Garage properties at the ballpark - skirmished over by The John Akridge Development Company and Monument Realty, LLC - to both developers. WMATA's decision ends a legal fracas for control of the property WMATA bestowed upon Akridge, an award Monument claimed was improper. The site is located at the corner of Half and M Streets, just one block from the new Nationals ballpark and across the street from the Navy Yard Metro station, and includes a bus garage and employee parking lot. Akridge will pay over $46 million for the 69,607 s.f. bus garage while Monument will pay over $22 million for the 27,558 s.f. parking lot.
Today's sale is the culmination of an ongoing saga spurred by Monument's lawsuit against WMATA's sale of the properties to Akridge last fall. Monument, which already controls the other side of Half Street, contested the sale and in February won an injunction prohibiting sale of the garage, pending further consideration by the judge. Monument Realty had originally planned 100,000 s.f. of retail for the site on the western side of Half Street, the main strip leading to the ballpark, which would have added to their 275,000 s.f. of office space, 50,000 s.f. of retail and 320-unit residential project already underway on the eastern side of Half Street.
He's out; no he's safe...
The suicide squeeze began when both Monument and Akridge responded to WMATA's solicitation for the garage. Because Monument’s proposal contained an escalation clause that Metro’s offering specifically forbade (oops), WMATA disregarded the escalation and judged Akridge's bid higher, awarding the site to Akridge for $69 million.
But Monument asked for the instant replay, pointing back to December 2005 when the Anacostia Waterfront Corporation (AWC) pronounced that Monument Realty was the Master Developer for the Half Street Area. Under this declaration, the master of the street had the right to develop all District-owned properties along Half Street. As Monument's holdings increased to include the eastern side of the street including the Navy Yard Metro, AWC tried to negotiate the acquisition of the bus garage to complete the package.
Here's the Pitch...Strike One
Monument, all the while still acquiring real estate in the area, made an unsolicited bid on the bus garage, working directly with WMATA, not AWC, which had just gained control of the area. Metro, deciding to make the call on its own, responded to Monument's offer with an Invitation for Bidders, hoping to get more out of a competitive process. But when the District asked that WMATA end the solicitation and coordinate with AWC, WMATA complied.
It was then that District stepped in and proclaimed it would purchase the site and negotiate directly with developers. WMATA withdrew its invitation and agreed to sell to the District.
Let me sleep on it....
WMATA says the District subsequently decided not to purchase the bus garage. WMATA, thinking itself free of its first-right obligation, issued a second Invitation for Bidders. This time, ten companies bid – a process that ended last September and resulted in Monument’s bid being disqualified and Akridge being awarded the site.
But in drama worthy of a Meatloaf baseball metaphor, Monument sought a Temporary Restraining Order against WMATA on October 26th to enforce the District's right of first refusal as an intended third party beneficiary, claiming breach of contract, fraud, and breach of fiduciary duty.
The District Court threw out the tort claims because of WMATA's sovereign immunity, but did not throw out the remainder. Monument re-filed on January 2 of this year, with a revised motion for a preliminary injunction against the sale, which the judge granted at the end of February.
At that time, Co-founder and principal of Monument (and former Akridge exec), Jeffery Neal, said,"The Court recognizes the merits of this case by taking the serious step of ordering injunctive relief. We are committed of the Capitol Riverfront neighborhood as evidenced by our investment of tens of millions of dollars in this project over the past several years. We've always had a grand vision for Half Street and realize the importance of the project as it is the gateway to Nationals Park. It is great to know that we still have the opportunity to make the city's goal of having a coordinated development plan. A successful project for us also equals success for the city and for The Nationals."
In February’s injunction, the District Court found that WMATA was obligated, based on its own Policies and Procedures, to offer the host government (here, the District) the first right of refusal on any property it sells, priced at fair market value. The decision stopped transfer of the land until the court could review the merits of the case, and left the highly valued property in legal limbo, just as the stadium was getting ready for opening, and set the stage for today's resolution.
It never felt so good, it never felt so right
The compromise announced today will grant Monument a smaller parcel than Akridge, while WMATA happily walks away having closed a deal for about the same as Akridge's $69 million bid. And it will avoid alot of icy stares across high-priced skyboxes.