Georgetown University is looking east in D.C. to expand

Mark Gail/THE WASHINGTON POST - This isn’t the first time Georgetown, the city’s largest private employer, has created campuses away from its original grounds.

Georgetown University has run out of space on its historic hilltop campus, and its leaders — long reluctant to stray from the neighborhood that shares its name — are charting the school’s expansion to emerging District neighborhoods to the east, in Mount Vernon Square and possibly Capitol Hill or Anacostia.

The university’s efforts to grow have long faced neighborhood opposition, and a plan approved this week to allow modest updates to the campus was an acknowledgment that Georgetown’s only realistic options for growth are well beyond the property that Roman Catholic Bishop John Carroll acquired in 1789.

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Two recent moves demonstrate the school’s new commitment to find space for it to grow elsewhere. On Thursday, officials from Georgetown’s School of Continuing Studies finalized a deal to move that school and its more than 1,100 students to a 91,000-square-foot location in Mount Vernon Square, dubbed Georgetown Downtown.

This month, the school received bids from development companies interested in helping the school acquire and develop a new campus of as much as 100 acres — an addition potentially as large as its 104-acre main campus. Tops on the school’s list are sites at the eastern end of Capitol Hill and Poplar Point, a waterfront parcel abutting Anacostia.

This isn’t the first time Georgetown, the city’s largest private employer, has created campuses away from its original grounds. The law school has its own campus at Judiciary Square, and in 2005, Georgetown became one of the first American universities to open a campus in Qatar.

But although the campus plan process forced Georgetown to concede the limits it faces on the main campus, university officials have also come to appreciate opportunities in parts of the city that once might have held little appeal but today are in the throes of revitalization.

The continuing studies program will consolidate operations from the main campus and Clarendon, where Georgetown has leased space since 2004. The new location, on four floors at 650 Massachusetts Ave. NW, will host professionally based degree, certificate and non-degree programs beginning in fall 2013, according to Kristen Consolo, the school’s assistant dean for planning.

Consolo said the new location’s proximity to Metro lines and major employers provides convenience for students with jobs.

University President John J. DeGioia issued a statement comparing the new location to the law school campus.

“Just as the construction of our Law Center did 30 years ago, this new home provides us with an opportunity to extend the impact of the university into new parts of the city and to broaden the reach of our work,” he said.

During the more than two-year battle over a required update of the university campus plan, however, the school’s outlook began to evolve, said Ron Lewis, chair of the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission. School officials made concessions to neighbors furious at the partygoers wandering through their streets. The school agreed to provide housing for 450 more students on its current campus, but also to identify a large plot of land where it can grow over coming generations.

“They’ve never really considered, until now, a major full-service, satellite campus,” Lewis said. “And during discussions on the campus plan, they came to this realization that their main campus is full.”

Georgetown issued a 12-page request-for-proposals recently seeking private-sector development partners who can evaluate the university’s existing campus and begin evaluating large blocks of land in the area, specifically Hill East, a 50-acre site next to RFK Stadium, Poplar Point, a 110-acre swath of parkland in Ward 8, and “two additional to-be-identified parcels,” according to the document.

Competing firms are encouraged to consider potential redevelopment of the school’s existing Medical Center zone, a signal that the hospital, operated by MedStar, could relocate in the future.

Hill East and Poplar Point are two of the largest and most valuable properties under the D.C. government’s control and have been considered for major mixed-use developments. They, along with the east campus of St. Elizabeths Hospital, have been discussed as possible hubs of high-tech academic centers akin to the science graduate school that Cornell University and New York City plan for Roosevelt Island.

“This was a bruising campus plan process for us, for Georgetown, for the community,” said Harriet Tregoning, D.C. director of planning. The ANC voted 6 to 1 to oppose Georgetown’s initial update to its campus plan, and some members of the community considered litigation before an agreement was finally approved by the Zoning Commission on Monday.

But Tregoning said that with the search for a new campus, the school has begun engaging with the city on long-term economic, development and employment issues that could bear fruit. DeGioia and his chief operating officer, Chris Augostini, recently accompanied Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) on his trade mission to China. Victor Reinoso, who was deputy mayor for education under Adrian M. Fenty, is managing the new campus search.

“Georgetown is taking a longer and much more strategic view of their future,” Tregoning said.

 
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