Yards Park — 2013 Urban Open Space Award Winner

Yards Park

About Yards Park

Location: Washington, D.C.
Owner: District of Columbia
Designer/Architect: M. Paul Friedberg & Partners / Rick Parisi, Managing Principal
Size: 5.7 acres

The Yards Park highlights a regeneration effort that brings local communities and visitors to the Anacostia River while providing a transformative and vibrant public space that generates social, economic, and ecological value under an innovative public/private funding model.

The Yards Park is part of the 500-acre (200 ha) Capitol Riverfront neighborhood. The new mixed-use community leverages $2 billion of private investment for $1 billion in public investment in order to develop one of the greenest and most active neighborhoods in the United States.

Located near a Metrorail station along 1.5 miles (2.4 km) of Anacostia River frontage close to the U.S. Capitol, the space is the result of a pioneering public/private partnership among the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), the District of Columbia, and Forest City Washington. Yards Park is the centerpiece of The Yards, Forest City Washington’s 42-acre (17 ha) riverfront redevelopment of the Navy Yard Annex as a mixed-use area with 2,800 rental apartments, offices, shops, and restaurants. From 1799 to 2010, the site was part of the Navy Yard annex, then became abandoned land with no public access. Forest City worked with the federal and local government to remediate the site and develop The Yards.

Yards Park seeks to bring Washingtonians to the long-neglected Anacostia riverfront, provide a transformative and vibrant public space, and generate social, economic, and ecological value. It offers an eclectic blend of human-scale experiences; active and passive spaces; custom furniture, shade structures, and plantings; and differentiated elements such as a sculptural bridge, public art, and circulation paths and water features. In addition to accommodating intense casual use, the space is intended to engage visitors and residents through an extensive schedule of special events.

On 5.7 acres (2.3 ha), Yards Park eschews monumental scale for a series of outdoor “rooms” organized around the central defining elements of water and topographic change. Its programming strategy includes both large-scale festivals and smaller gatherings. Yards Park serves as the cultural anchor to The Yards and the wider Capitol Riverfront area, reconnecting the city’s grid to the water.

Yards Park also provides community and health benefits. Over 55 percent of total construction costs—or more than $14 million—was spent with certified business enterprises (CBEs) in the District. In addition to the use of District contractors and the hiring of District residents, a voluntary mentor/protégé initiative was implemented in which smaller businesses team up with more established ones to mutual benefit, allowing the protégé firms to develop additional capacity. After collaborating on Yards Park, mentor/protégé teams went on to win additional business together—work totaling $2.8 million and growing.

During the recent recession, development of the park became the engine that sustained growth and maintained momentum for the neighborhood. Adjacent properties have subsequently shown some of the fastest lease-up figures, with market rents substantially above pro forma and affordable units being quickly absorbed. The $1.6 billion Yards development is the first public/private venture of its kind in the United States. It depends on Yards Park to transform perceptions of the area and achieve the underwriting assumed in the competitive price proposal submitted to the U.S. government. At buildout, The Yards is set to generate $83 million in new annual tax revenues for the District of Columbia, or a total public value creation of $2 billion at a public cost of capital of $1 billion.

Typically, a public amenity such as Yards Park would need to wait to be constructed until much later in the development cycle of a phased project like The Yards because the revenues funding debt service on infrastructure bonds would not materialize until the buildings were built. However, Forest City negotiated the waiving of a purchase option by GSA on the building housing the U.S. Department of Transportation. This purchase option waiver resulted in a creditworthy property-tax stream, implicitly backed by the federal government due to the triple-net nature of the office lease. This credit quality resulted in attractive debt terms, which in turn netted the District of Columbia the funds for Yards Park and an additional $69 million for the District to fund infrastructure on both sides of the Anacostia.

The city now owns Yards Park on land conveyed to it by GSA and has funded the park with no pledge of the District’s credit or spending from the general fund. Yards Park uses six revenue streams to fund operations, including a special assessment paid by Forest City, a portion of new restaurant sales tax revenues, naming rights and event proceeds, and other revenues. Revenues raised from events and sponsorship account for about 25 percent of the current operating budget. The operating funding strategy for Yards Park could be applied to other public assets in need of a funding strategy of their own.

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