City officials took another big step toward opening up the long-cloistered St. Elizabeths campus Wednesday with the opening of a new meeting center and “demonstration space” in the historic former mental hospital’s onetime chapel.
It has been deemed the RISE Demonstration Center — for “relate, innovate, stimulate and elevate” — and it opens after four months and $8.3 million worth of city investment. It includes two large lecture-hall-type spaces, plus a computer lab and smaller classrooms. In a nod to the building’s history, there’s also a small “reflection room” and an exhibit on the hospital campus.
Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D), who has staked his legacy on development east of the Anacostia River and at the city-owned St. Elizabeths east campus, called it “a tremendous example of what can be done and what will be done” in what he calls the “east end” of the city.
“This has been done with intentionality,” Gray said, deploying one of his favorite terms to describe his mayoral tenure.
The ribbon-cutting drew dozens of city officials and neighborhood muckamucks, including D.C. Council members Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) and Anita Bonds (D-At Large), and interim Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Jeff Miller. The city has a long-term plan to create an “innovation center” on the 183-acre east campus, featuring private technology companies including Microsoft. But procurement issues have pushed the opening date to at least 2017.
The RISE Center joins the neighboring Gateway Pavilion as a city-funded attraction not only for the tech crowd but for the neighborhood at large, giving residents of Congress Heights and other areas the ability to participate in classes, events and more. Early programming for the space includes a Sept. 1 Microsoft “pop-up” where the computer giant shows off its latest wares, free Microsoft Word classes running through the fall, a Sept. 22 panel on entrepreneurship and an Oct. 4 Humanities, Arts and Technology Festival.