In December 2003, D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams proposed creating a government-owned corporation, the Anacostia Waterfront Corporation, to promote redevelopment of the neighborhoods, roads, parks, and other areas adjacent to the Anacostia River. The proposal was the culmination of a more than four-year effort by city and federal officials, developers, private organizations, and citizens. The proposed corporation was modeled after the Battery Park City Authority, which oversaw the redevelopment of Battery Park and the residential Battery Park City neighborhood in New York City.
The AWC would be funded by $250 million in revenue bonds, and implement a 20-year program which would raise $8 billion in public and private funds (including $1.5 billion for cleanup of the river). The plan called for 5,000 new residences (both new homes and apartments), new retail districts, office buildings, a riverwalk, new bridges and roads, and a light rail transportation line to be built in the area by 2011. The Council of the District of Columbia approved the legislation on July 13, 2004, and Mayor Williams signed it into law on August 5, 2004.
The chairman of the AWC's board of directors was Stephen Goldsmith, a former mayor of Indianapolis, Indiana, and its chief executive officer was Andrew Altman, Director of the Office of Planning for the District of Columbia.
The AWC was a proponent of building Nationals Park, a new baseball stadium, to be the home field of the Washington Nationals Major League Baseball team. The stadium quickly became AWC's biggest redevelopment project, which the corporation called the "Baseball District." The AWC began negotiating in August 2005 to buy land near the ballpark in order to spur development and turn the area around the stadium into an attraction similar to area around the Verizon Center in Chinatown. A 40 acres (16 ha) site with hotels, office space, parks, residential housing, retail shops, and restaurants was envisioned. As part of its development effort, the AWC feuded publicly with the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, calling for underground rather than surface parking. The Washington Nationals' ownership demanded above-ground parking as well. A deal was struck in June 2006 to build both parking garages above-ground, but to surround them with high-rise condominium buildings so they would not be eyesores. When the deal collapsed three months later, the AWC tried to buy the land for $1 million.
In December 2005, the AWC named two master planning teams to help oversee the design of the Baseball District. When the cost of building the stadium soared by 25 percent to $667 million, the AWC was asked to sell development rights on its land adjacent to the stadium to cover the cost overruns. By June 2006, feuding over the development had resulted in Mayor Williams' creating an Office of Baseball on his staff to oversee development of the Ballpark District. A draft master plan was released in late June 2006.
A second major initiative was the Southwest waterfront development — a mile-long section of land bordered by between the 12th Street SW, M Street SW, Maine Avenue SW, and the Anacostia River. The proposed development was the first revitalization effort in the area since the mid-1960s. But the property was controlled by the National Capital Revitalization Corporation (NCRC), another quasi-government corporation established by the D.C. government. In February 2006, the NCRC agreed to give the waterfront property to the AWC in exchange for $25 million, $24.5 million in city-owned land, and the right to develop three other large city-owned parcels of land.
The AWC asked for proposals that included "cultural space" (such as a museum, musical performance space, or theatre), a hotel, office space, parking, residential housing, and retail space. Seventeen companies responded with proposals. Five were chosen in June 2006 by the AWC to submit more detailed proposals, and two selected to submit final proposals two months later. PN Hoffman/Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse was chosen in September 2006 to be the lead developer. But the development proposals were stalled because, two years after AWC and NRCR agreed to the land swap, the transaction had still not been formalized. The D.C. City Council attempted to pass legislation in November 2006 to force the land swap through, and the AWC offered to buy out leaseholders for $20 million to encourage NCRC to turn over the land. The transfer finally occurred in mid-February 2007.
Other AWC development projects included:
Anacostia Metro Station — The AWC proposed in August 2005 to build its corporate headquarters at the Anacostia Metro station to promote development in the blighted neighborhood of Anacostia. No further action was taken until November 2006, when the AWC asked Metro's Board of Directors to move the transit agency's headquarters from downtown D.C. to a new, $65 million building to be constructed on top of the Anacostia Metro station.
Barry Farm and Lincoln Heights — The AWC also held title to two parcels of land, one in the impoverished Barry Farm neighborhood near Poplar Point and the other in Lincoln Heights near the far eastern corner of the District of Columbia. The District of Columbia agreed in December 2006 to issue $350 million in municipal bonds to help build 1,400 residential housing units in both areas on AWC-controlled land.
Hill East/Reservation 13 waterfront — The AWC was the lead agency to redevelop the public land known as Hill East, which consisted of L'Enfant Plan Reservation 13, a section of the city bounded by the Anacostia River, 17th Street SE, and Potomac Avenue SE. The corporation made 14 cash grants to community development groups to encourage them to provide greater use of this section of the waterfront. In June 2006, the AWC released plans to extend Massachusetts Avenue SE into Hill East, build 2,000 units of residential housing and 1,000,000 square feet (93,000 m2) of office space across the river in the Kenilworth neighborhood, and construct a pedestrian bridge across Kenilworth Avenue to the Deanwood Metro station (to connect the residential development to the subway). A year after President George W. Bush proposed transferring the land to the AWC, the corporation had done little to effect the land transfer. The AWC began a push for federal legislation to transfer the site in mid-2006, but the federal government refused to hand over the land until the city found a site for a congressional mail-sorting facility located at Hill East. Despite the lack of title to the land, the AWC hired two engineering teams to plan for infrastructure improvements and to begin laying out a medical office complex, a mixed-use residential development, an office park, and a replacement for the D.C. Jail. In March 2007, the AWC unveiled six draft designs for the Kenilworth Avenue pedestrian bridge.
Kingman and Heritage Islands — Mayor Williams also proposed transferring Kingman Island and nearby Heritage Island in the Anacostia River to the AWC for development as parks and for the construction of bird and wildlife education centers.
Poplar Point — This 110 acres (45 ha) parcel of land is bordered by the Anacostia River, South Capitol Street, Interstate 295 (also known as the Anacostia Freeway), and the 11th Street Bridges, and is part of Anacostia Park. Although only the federal government held title to Poplar Point, the AWC assumed it would eventually gain control of the area and issued a request for design proposals that would include parks, memorials, and residential housing while maintaining at least part of the area's wetlands. A master planning exercise began in June 2006. A year after President George W. Bush proposed transferring the land to the AWC, the corporation had done little to effect the land transfer, and AWC officials had still not come to agreement on redevelopment plans. In November 2006, the AWC said it was delaying development of Poplar Point until the federal government replaced the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge. The AWC released a master plan for Poplar Point in January 2007 that included a 27,000-seat soccer stadium, a hotel, a conference center, 2,000 residential housing units, and a park.
Washington Canal Park - AWC planned to create a park-like area along 2nd Street SE between M and I Streets SE, which would provide space for the construction of residential housing, office and retail space, and public parks. The AWC hoped to break ground on Washington Canal park in early 2007.
By June 2007, however, the AWC had yet to break ground on any redevelopment project.
The AWC's chief executive officer, Andrew Altman, resigned on October 6, 2005. He was replaced by a local developer, Adrian G. Washington, on November 11, 2005. A month after his appointment, Washington approved the creation of an advisory council to help oversee the AWC's redevelopment efforts.
AWC's initial development efforts were funded by several bond sales. Mayor Williams first proposed a $230 million "payment in lieu of taxes" (or PILOT) bond financing plan in June 2006. The bond sale was expected to generate about $75 million for the AWC, which would use the money to make infrastructure improvements at Hill East, Poplar Point, and the Southwest waterfront. Another $140 million of the PILOT bonds would fund infrastructure improvements around the new United States Department of Transportation headquarters (then being built at 1200 New Jersey Avenue SE, near the Navy Yard – Ballpark Metro station) and within the Federal Center Southeast. In November 2006, the AWC said it would offer a second bond issue to raise $100 million to make infrastructure improvements at and remove trash from Hill East/Reservation 13 and Poplar Point. The AWC said it would receive a share of a September 2006 sale of $248 million in Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement bonds to build a $60 million medical office building complex at Hill East. The city sold $140 million in PILOT bonds to build a $40 million park along the Anacostia River between South Capitol Street and 2nd Street SE and to fund $75 million in miscellaneous AWC projects. Another $90 million in PILOT bonds went on sale in February 2007 to help pay for infrastructure improvements at Federal Center Southeast.
The AWC also acted on its mission to assist in cleaning up the Anacostia River. In November 2006, the corporation made river clean-up a priority for the organization, which included watershed-wide education efforts to address non-point-source water pollution. The corporation announced strict environmental standards for its developers in February 2007 in order to help reduce wastewater runoff into the river. The AWC's efforts to develop site-specific environmental design guidelines won awards from the National Capital Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers and GreenHOME (an organization which recommends environmentally safe products for residential homes).
One of the AWC's final projects was the funding of a worker training center. Since its inception, the corporation had required that 51 percent of each developer's workforce come from the District of Columbia, and that at least 10 percent of the workforce be residents of the city's impoverished Ward 8. But developers complained that few D.C. residents were prepared or trained for the jobs offered. The AWC established an employment organization to help screen D.C. residents who applied for jobs, better match residents to positions that they qualified for, and improve residents' job skills to better prepare them for the workplace. The organization would also help promote awareness of AWC redevelopment projects and job opportunities at those projects among Ward 7 and Ward 8 residents. This organization, known as the Business Resource Center, opened at 2311 Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE on April 11, 2007.
Dissatisfaction with the AWC had been reported in August 2006. At that time, community activists called for the AWC to seek greater community input on its redevelopment plans. One member of the D.C. City Council began drafting a bill to require the AWC to be more transparent in its decision-making and operations.
D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams declined to seek re-election in 2006, and Adrian Fenty was elected as the new mayor. As part of his key initiatives in his first 100 days, Mayor Fenty announced the formation of a task force to assess whether the AWC and NCRC should be restructured or abolished. Days later, D.C. Council member Jack Evans, who had originally helped pass the bill to create the AWC, introduced legislation to abolish both corporations and transfer their authority and duties to the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development. Councilmember Kwame R. Brown, chair of the Council's Committee on Economic Development, held hearings on the bill in late January, during which the AWC received both praise and criticism.
The AWC's chief executive officer, Adrian Washington, resigned suddenly on February 12, 2007. Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development Neil O. Albert was appointed interim CEO in his place.
Hearings on the Evans legislation continued in March 2007. Testimony increasingly addressed the lengthy delays in transferring land between the NCRC and AWC. Albert suggested five alternatives (ranging from keeping the status quo to merging the two organizations to disbanding both companies) for the City Council to consider, but his proposals were not well received. Some neighborhood groups supported the AWC and NCRC, arguing that the two corporations needed improving but did not warrant disbandment. AWC supporters also noted that the agency was confronted with a patchwork of zoning laws, few assets, and strict requirements for affordable housing that made progress difficult and slow. They said the corporation should not be blamed for these problems. Councilmember Kwame Brown proposed creating a new "D.C. Economic Development Authority" to take over the duties of the two corporations, which would save $2.4 million in salaries alone. Fenty and Albert opposed Brown's proposal, arguing that the mayor's office should have full control of redevelopment projects and that creating another bureaucracy was unnecessary. On May 15, the City Council attached the Brown bill to another piece of legislation and unanimously passed it in a parliamentary maneuver. But after Brown met with Mayor Fenty several times over the next three weeks, Brown relented. The City Council unanimously passed the Evans version of the legislation on June 5, 2007. Mayor Fenty signed the legislation into law on July 19, 2007. The final legislation required the city to assume all assets and debts of the two companies, and their consolidation with the Deputy Mayor's office had to be complete by October 1, 2007.
Some council members were concerned that the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development would be unable to implement a $10 billion redevelopment program. Others were concerned that the AWC may not have fully accounted for all its assets and debts; Kwame Brown asked the D.C. inspector general's office to conduct an audit of the company prior to the October 1 deadline. By early December 2007, City Council members were demanding greatly expanded oversight over the Deputy Mayor's office, and Albert was strongly resisting such efforts. By April 2008, the City Council was imposing audits on the Deputy Mayor's office and the redevelopment projects it was overseeing.
On September 23, 2007 the city said consolidation of the AWC and NCRC with the Deputy Major's office would save the city $5.6 million annually in salaries and administrative costs alone. The city offered jobs to only 20 of the AWC's 31 employees. The merger was complete by the legislative deadline.
On July 23, 2007, just four days after the legislation disbanding the corporation was signed into law, the Deputy Mayor's office issued a plan for the redevelopment of Poplar Point that did not include a new soccer stadium—an apparent rejection of a major AWC proposal.
On January 16, 2008, the Deputy Mayor's office announced it was moving ahead with plans to build on the Southwest waterfront. About 18 percent of the $1.1 billion project would be funded by the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development. The city estimated that it would collect $32 million in tax revenue annually from the project (an increase of $22 million from the 2006 level), and 2,880 jobs would be created.