What the District decides to do with the site of the old Walter Reed Army Medical Center will be vital to the long-term development of Georgia Avenue. That parcel of land effectively operated as a mini-town, supplying people to nearby businesses and to a certain extent, adding an element of safety to the area.
I know this, because I grew up across the street from Walter Reed. I have fond memories of playing in my backyard and hearing the horn playing, signaling the end of the work day on the base.
The Washington Business Journal has reported that one developer is in talks to bring a Wegman’s to the grounds as part of a new project. The city according, to WBJ “is looking for a developer, or a team of developers, to handle planning, design, entitlements, infrastructure, financing, permitting, construction, community engagement, sales, leasing and ongoing management at Walter Reed.”
I sincerely hope that the city plans to be more hands on in the process of converting such a large ground to public property. It’s more than just a big plot of land. We’re talking about a multiple city-block parcel that, if passable, would connect Takoma and Shepherd Park. Prior to the facility’s move, it was essentially the anchor of the neighborhood.
But if the city allows a developer to move in and effectively let the land continue to be its own small town, that would be unfortunate. Hopefully, a developer can find a way to mesh the old with new in a manner that’s less plastic than what’s happened in, say, NoMa.
I’ll be sad, personally, when they finally tear down those old buildings behind the gates along Georgia Avenue. And I’m sure traffic will be a nightmare for years while someone puts up a spanking new collection of buildings. But when the physical fences do eventually come down, it’ll be even tougher to stomach if a new community creates a new set of virtual barriers.