Wednesday, October 22, 2008

St. Elizabeths Plan Envisions Massive Redevelopment

The District announced a new plan today to kickstart redevelopment of the old St. Elizabeths mental institution in Ward 8. If approved by the District Counsel, the series of projects will beef up one of DC's poorest neighborhoods with nearly 3 million square feet of mixed-use development. Mayor Adrian Fenty, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, and Office of Planning Director Harriet Tregoning were on hand today to announce the release of the St. Elizabeths East Redevelopment Framework Plan, which recommends transforming the hospital’s eastern, District-owned flank into five neighborhoods, "each with their own character," and pushes for the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) proposed relocation to federally-controlled St. Elizabeths West. The government transferred ownership of the eastern portion to the District in 1987, while retaining the western campus for its own use.

The Plan is sprawling in its scope – the size of the District-owned eastern half alone measures in at 173 acres. Together, construction on the two campuses - separated only by Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue, SE - would be second only to the revitalization efforts underway on the Southeast Waterfront in terms of size and scope.

“I think what we have proposed…will not only benefit the people who live in Ward 8 and east of the river, but, just as importantly, the entire city,” said Fenty.

Redevelopment at St. Elizabeths East would create up to 2 million square feet of new mixed-use projects and 750,000 s.f. of renovated historic space. The proposed neighborhoods (pictured, below) are being broken down into the North Campus, Maple Campus, Town Square, CT Village and Metro Station; each would feature a distinct blend of commercial, retail and/or residential space, in addition to “civic and community” areas. The northern portion of the site has been reserved for DHS office space and parking – a move made to sweeten the deal for the Feds, no doubt (more on that in a bit). Meanwhile, the historic St. Elizabeths Hospital, its new 435,000-square foot secondary building and John Howard Cemetery on the grounds would be retained.

The Plan also includes provisos for a cohesive link to the two local Metro stations and MLK corridor, where the City is betting on seeing an influx of retailer and developer interest.

On the western campus, DHS’ proposed relocation would include the construction of new, secure headquarters meant to accommodate roughly 14,000 government employees. If and when the project moves forward, it would mark the first time the federal government has ever crossed the Anacostia River, according to Congresswoman Norton. DHS currently lacks a consolidated headquarters, with offices at different locations throughout the city.

The impact of such large workforce on the environment, Metro capability and local traffic is still being evaluated, while the inclusion of the site in the proposed southeast street car system is still a possibility.

The District will submit the Plan to the City Council next month with a decision to follow in December. A Request for Proposals regarding the DHS parking lots and offices is planned for December as well, the District hopes to break ground on that phase of the project in the first half of 2009. Norton described development as moving along an “unusually fast track.”

The Plan is the product of more than 5 years of parallel development by the General Services Administration (GSA) and the District. According to Norton, it's has been included in the Bush administration's budget for three straight years, but has only been able to move forward, ironically enough, since the Democrats came to power in Congress. The challenge now lies in convincing that same body that moving DHS to another, federally-owned piece of property in Southeast would be beneficial and, most importantly, cheap. It would appear that the future of both East and West hinges on a decision by the federal government; if DHS settles on another location or Congress blocks the site, it could be a deal breaker for both halves of St. Elizabeths.

“There will be great potential here if we continue to do it right. The city and the government will work closely together, as we have on projects in the past,” said Norton.

A budget for the project is forthcoming, and Norton will be holding a town hall meeting tonight from 5:30 - 7:30 PM at the UPO /Petey Greene Community Service Center (2907 MLK Jr. Ave SE) to disclose more details and listen to questions from the public. Another community meeting will be held at St. Elizabeths on October 28th.


IMGoph on Oct 22, 2008, 5:07:00 PM said...

have to say, this looks impressive. goddamn shame that the same can't happen for the west half of st. e's. the DHS thing will be like dropping a giant moat-surrounded castle into the middle of a village.

Anonymous said...

Look closely at the second image. I'm assuming that it was completely inadvertent that the "U" looks quite a bit like an "H."

Anonymous said...

That's funny! And accurate - anon is referring to the street at the top of the picture.

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