WASHINGTON (CN) - A massive project to convert the old Washington Convention Center into a hybrid building of condos, offices, a hotel and a shopping mall does not constitute a public work, a federal judge ruled.
Known as CityCenterDC, the development on the D.C.-owned convention center site will host condominium and apartment buildings, two office buildings, a hotel, shops, and some public open spaces.
The Department of Labor in turn classified the project as a "public work," thus requiring contractors to pay workers on the project prevailing wages as determined by the federal agency.
In an ensuing lawsuit, the District of Columbia and CCDC Office argued that the only thing public about the project is the ground beneath it. The rest of the project will be privately funded, occupied and maintained for the duration of a 99-year lease.
U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson explained that public work projects feature two signature elements: "public dollars going into the project, and a public facility coming out of the project."
"CityCenterDC has neither," she wrote. "It is being privately financed by for-profit entities, and it will result in the creation of condominiums, apartments, office space, retail space, and a hotel that will be privately owned and operated."
Jackson saw no reason to emphasize the city's involvement in planning and oversight.
"It may be true that the District has been more involved in this project than in a typical condominium or hotel construction project, but that is a feature of the size and mixed-use nature of the project and the fact that the district owns the land," she wrote.
The Department of Labor brought a counterclaim against the city and CCDC based on their failure to pay prevailing wages, but the judge dismissed it as moot.
A few retail boutiques and offices have already opened in the project with many more posting "coming soon" notices on the development's website. Condos are already for sale.