Special to The Washington Post
Last summer, Walter Reed Army Medical Center closed its doors forever, at least at its main location between 16th Street and Georgia Avenue. What it left behind was a huge piece of property in a prime location with great traffic connections for businesses and commuters alike. And of course, people in the surrounding neighborhoods have wondered and worried about the redevelopment of the 113 acre campus. And so have I.
Since I don’t live that far away and drive by almost daily, I’d be happy to see a new park, some nice shopping and cultural facilities, and even some cool new condos appear there.
That’s why I stopped by Tuesday night when neighbors were invited to Shepherd Park Elementary School to attend an “open house” and “workshop” hosted by the mayor-appointed Walter Reed Local Redevelopment Authority, to learn about the current state of the planning. It was not the first meeting for concerned or curious citizens, but the first in this form.
The school’s gym was turned into a sort of gallery. About a dozen or so “stations” with illustrated poster boards were manned by workers from a wide range of city agencies — from the Department of Transportation to the Historic Preservation Commission to the Environmental Protection and Planning Commission. Visitors could move around, ask questions of the experts and write down their concerns on provided posters and handouts. It was a very engaged and, for the most part, civilized scene.
The Walter Reed compound is fraught with history, pain, pride and comfort. For 102 years and through the worst wars in American history, wounded soldiers, presidents and congressmen were treated here. Shepherd Park — one of my favorite D.C. neighborhoods — immediately north of Walter Reed didn’t exist before 1909. Many of its first residents were military doctors and surgeons.
After several adjustments, the federal government has now divided the land into two pieces: 45.5 acres along Alaska Avenue are expected to be handed over to the State Department, and the city is in line to get the other 67.5 acres that were declared “surplus.”
Originally built into what was then Rock Creek Park (it borders the park on the west side), the current campus contains a lot of open space, some of it in a park-like recreational setting. But there are also an astounding 4.1 million square feet of existing real estate. Some of that is found in historically significant buildings such as the original hospital or the twin mansions for the commanders, but much of it might be torn down rather than modified for new purposes.
But just what are those purposes going to be? Urban planning and feasibility studies have now produced a basic frame and concept that includes a mix of residential, institutional, recreational and commercial uses. Projected total real estate footage: 3 million square feet. That’s a lot less than what’s there now.
The details, however, are a work in progress. Anybody who has an interest is invited to get involved. The Project Team promised to make all the posters and materials from the open house available on their Web site within a week.
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Catarina Bannier is a real estate agent with Evers & Co. and a blogger on Active Rain cati.activerain.com.
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