The long-fallow east campus of St. Elizabeths Hospital will have a dramatic new centerpiece by next summer, city officials announced Saturday morning.
A $5 million “gateway pavilion” is planned for what is now a weedy, fenced-in plaza fronting Martin Luther King Avenue SE in Congress Heights. It will be replaced by a low-slung multipurpose structure that offers an outdoor recreation and performance space on top and a community gathering space below, providing “a venue for casual dining, a farmers’ market and other weekend and after-hours community, cultural and arts events,” officials said.
The pavilion is expected to open in time to serve the 4,000 employees slated for the new Coast Guard headquarters now in the final phases of construction on the St. Elizabeths west campus. It is also a physical indication of the District government’s commitment to the east campus, where leaders are hoping to create an technology hub featuring major international companies.
“It’s sending the message that we’re serious about this,” Mayor Vincent C. Gray said of the pavilion, adding that city residents “will have some concrete evidence of what’s going on.”
He also pledged to make good on a decade of hopes that St. Elizabeths development would deliver an economic jolt to the surrounding neighborhood, particularly through employment. “Those who want opportunities will have opportunities to get jobs,” Gray told the crowd Saturday morning. “That’s a promise.”
The project is a collaboration between the construction firm Kadcon, the engineering firm Robert Silman Associates and architects Davis Brody Bond. The design includes numerous green elements, including a “rainwater harvesting” system to supply irrigation and water for restrooms, as well as recycled or renewable materials such as canvas, burlap, “grasscrete,” and reclaimed wood.
Officials would not say whether the fence along King Avenue, long a physical and psychological barrier between the mental hospital’s campus and the greater Congress Heights community, would be removed. Gray said in an interview that access from the street would improve and the gate would remain open, even if the fence remains.
Here are some renderings: