$46 Million in Tax Abatements for “A Damn Near Skyscraper” in Adams Morgan

Thursday, December 16, Advisory Neighborhood Commission 1C held a community forum on the proposed $46 million tax abatement for the planned luxury boutique hotel in Adams Morgan, which would displace City Paper and WPFW 89.3 FM, Pacifica Radio. After hearing from a divided audience at Mary’s Center, the ANC gave their stamp of approval to the proposed tax abatement, but with nine conditions.

Tuesday, December 21, the D.C. Council is scheduled to vote on the deal. At the Council’s last legislative session, At-large Councilmember Phil Mendelson pointed out that sufficient notice regarding the proposed tax abatement bill had not been given and therefore the Council could not vote on it. Had Mr. Mendelson not protested, Thursday’s forum on the proposed tax abatement would have taken place after the D.C. Council had already voted on the matter.

Tuesday’s vote will be on emergency legislation which would grant a tax abatement of $46 million to 32-year-old developer Brian Friedman and his financial backers (his family). Friedman has said that he cannot build the luxury boutique hotel in Adams Morgan without the tax abatement, so it’s understandable why he sees this as an emergency.

It’s less clear – in a city with 43 percent of African American children living in poverty and an HIV/AIDS rate at more than 3 percent – why D.C. Councilmembers would agree to use emergency legislation to push through a massive subsidy for a luxury boutique hotel.

Unlike a regular bill before the D.C. Council, which requires two “up” votes before the Committee of the Whole, emergency legislation requires only one vote. But emergency legislation, rather than needing a simple majority, must receive the approval of 9 of the 13 Councilmembers in order to become law.

Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham is a sure bet to vote in favor of the massive subsidy on Tuesday. When the tax abatement was set at $61 million, just two weeks ago, Graham was a strong supporter. And now, with the abatement set at $46 million, Graham continues his advocacy, calling it the proper amount of subsidy.

At the ANC 1C forum, I challenged Graham to explain why he pushed for the higher tax abatement if the lower figure is the proper amount. The Councilmember had difficulty answering, as City Paper’s Lydia Depillis noted , “Graham stumbled over a question about how that number had been reached, saying he wasn’t a financial expert.”

* Video of Thursday’s ANC 1C forum was made possible by ANC 1C03 Commissioner-elect Olivier Kamanda  and can be found here.

TheFightBack.org has posted a ten-minute clip which includes comments from Amy Melrose, Graham Boyle (“you’re talking about putting [up] a damn near skyscraper”) and Pete Tucker.

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