Gallaudet looking for partner to develop land along Sixth Street NE

Gallaudet University is seeking a development partner for four properties its owns along Sixth Street NE by the wholesale district known as Capital City Market or Florida Avenue Market.

Founded in 1864 and still the world’s only university entirely tailored for deaf and hard-of-hearing students, Gallaudet long fenced off its campus from neighborhoods around it.

But with a need to grow enrollment, the university has changed its tune in recent years, pledging better neighborhood connections and passing a campus plan last winter tagged with the motto “From Isolation to Innovation.”

“Today’s Gallaudet students expect more from their college experience, and we recognize that their experience extends beyond our campus,” Fred Weiner, Gallaudet interim assistant vice president, said in an e-mail.

The area is changing. To the west, NoMa has become a major office hub, home to the Justice Department, National Public Radio and CNN’s Washington headquarters. A short walk away is the booming H Street NE corridor and next door is Union Market, a foodie getaway developed by Edens that opened last fall.

Weiner said he has long viewed the university’s properties along Sixth Street, some 250,000 square feet of land made up of parking and some small university functions, as an opportunity for a mixed-use strip that could integrate the school with the neighborhood in an accessible way for deaf or hearing-impaired students. With Union Market open and Edens planning more development, he said now was the time. “We had two options: Sit back and wait to see what sprouts up in the area or to seize the moment and help create something special. We chose the latter,” he said.

In late May, the university began testing interest among developers with a 26-page “request for qualifications.” Responses are due July 19, and Weiner said Gallaudet plans to then conduct a more formal search for a partner, with a selection expected in winter or spring of 2014. Neighbors are taking notice.

“You kind of see the neighborhood getting knit together from the commercial area to the residential neighborhood, and I think Gallaudet is an important piece of that,” said Robin-Eve Jasper, president of the NoMa Business Improvement District.

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