The Washington Post

Walter Reed developers prepare to wow the crowd

Three competing development teams — Forest City Washington, Roadside Development and Hines/Urban Atlantic — are scheduled to present at a meeting held by the D.C. government at Tifereth Synagogue on 16th Street NW in Shepherd Park.

Because a community’s input often carries a lot of weight with the District government in choosing developers for such high-profile projects, competitive presentations like the one planned for Thursday can become something of a beauty contest, with developers suggesting ideas they may not necessarily be able to pull off.

In 2007, when developers were competing to develop Poplar Point, the ideas they floated with the people of Anacostia included a D.C. United Stadium, a concert hall that would attract Jay-Z, a deck over Interstate 295 and “a waterfront version of New York’s Central Park.” None of those have come to pass yet.

A year and a half before that, developers had promised to build the equivalent of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor at the Southwest Waterfront. (Little has been built there either, save a temporary tennis stadium, although the plans have advanced dramatically.)

There may have been more ideas for Walter Reed but for a surprising withdrawal of two of the five teams invited to compete. The District initially received interest from nine development teams and narrowed the field to five before two dropped out voluntarily, leaving Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) and Deputy Mayor Victor Hoskins a pool of only three from which to choose.

Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), who represents the area, said she wishes the city had more than three options remaining. “I am concerned about it because at the end of the day I want to be sure that the city has a robust group of options to consider when it comes to choosing a partner,” said Bowser, who is running for mayor.

Hoskins’ spokeswoman Chanda Washington said the deputy mayor was not concerned. Although Hoskins has specifically forbidden the teams from sharing their plans with the media, details have begun to emerged as all three teams began wooing the community in advance.

Hines and Urban Atlantic have begun surveying residents online for their proposal, dubbed “Walter Reed Tomorrow.” So has Forest City Washington, using the Popularise platform. Roadside went so far as to hold a bus tour for residents of the area on July 13, after distributing flyers to neighbors’ homes.

Georgetown University, in a difficult quest to find some 100 acres to expand away from its historic campus, has thrown its hat in the ring via a bid from Forest City Washington, which the university hired as a consultant.

In an e-mail to alumni and supporters last week, Georgetown officials said the Forest City proposal “includes exploring the possibility of expanding the university’s graduate education activities, research facilities, collaborations with private sector firms, and potentially other non profit and government entities to both accommodate growth and provide a catalyst for broader collaborations.”

University stakeholders wonder if the plans include the possibility that Georgetown’s hospital and medical school might be relocated there, particularly because Dr. Howard Federoff, dean of the medical school, is one of the senders.

Officials from another hospital, Children’s National Medical Center, toured the site with developer Herb Miller. Miller dropped out of the competition, although his sons Ben and Daniel Miller could play a role in multiple bids with their Fundrise crowdsourcing platform. Miller says he expects Children’s to seek space with other teams.

Bowser agreed. “I think Children’s wants to grow. I think they need more space,” she said.

Much of the sizzle surrounding Walter Reed to this point has been the prospect of a Wegmans grocery store. The chain has acknowledged it is working with Roadside, which built a Wegmans in Woodbridge and is planning one in Tysons Corner, but there are already a host of questions around that proposal. Would Wegmans still open if the “living wage” bill becomes law? Would it simply join another team if Roadside was not selected? Safeway has also expressed interest in Walter Reed, which would allow them to redevelop their dated Piney Branch store.

What’s known about Walter Reed is that the State Department plans eventually to build a chancery center on 43.5 acres on the west end of the campus, and housing for the homeless, a charter high school and a Howard University ambulatory care unit are planned for the remaining 66.6 acres.

More should become clear Thursday.

Follow Jonathan O’Connell on Twitter: @oconnellpostbiz

Jonathan O'Connell has covered land use and development in the Washington area for more than five years.



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