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Microsoft, 2 other firms are D.C.’s picks for tech centers on St. Elizabeths campus

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Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s economic-development team has selected Microsoft and two other technology companies as preferred candidates to open facilities on the east campus of St. Elizabeths Hospital as part of a plan to develop the 170-acre campus into a center of innovation.

D.C. officials chose the companies from among 10 proposals the city received after issuing a search for concepts in July. French lighting firm Citelum and Atlanta-based SmartBIM, an architectural modeling company, round out the trio that Gray hopes will jump-start the transformation of the area, according to Ethan Warsh, who manages the city’s project for Victor L. Hoskins, deputy mayor for planning and economic development.

The mayor aims to turn the east campus into a job generator for one of the poorest parts of the city as well as into a center for the development and commercialization of new technology. The grassy, tree-lined campus, in Southeast between Anacostia and Congress Heights, is across the street from the 176-acre west campus that is slated to become the consolidated headquarters for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

According to D.C. officials, Microsoft has proposed building a Microsoft Innovation Center, a hub of services and programs aimed at growing software companies in emerging economies. The software giant currently operates MIC programs in more than 20 countries but has none in the United States. They are open to students, software developers, entrepreneurs and researchers.

Microsoft declined to confirm any proposal. “We have nothing to announce at this point,” spokeswoman Tonya Klause said.

SmartBIM and Treasury Advisory Services, based in Rockville, proposed a training center for modeling energy-efficient building improvements. Fred Deluca, a partner at Treasury Advisory Services, said the center would teach architecture modeling, solar panel installation, cooling system management and other skills.

“Hopefully, we can create a lot of jobs with the many Washington buildings that need to be remodeled,” Deluca said.

Citelum operates streetlight, traffic light and public facilities in 22 countries and has been working to make inroads in the U.S. market. Edouard Ayguesparsse, technical and innovation director for Citelum USA, said the company wanted to open its U.S. headquarters in Washington to be near government agencies that could become clients.

He said the company proposed investing $3.6 million in renovating a historic St. Elizabeths building — once part of the mental-health facility that occupied the campus — into an office, training center and research lab for 40 employees. Citelum also plans a lighted outdoor art exhibit reminiscent of the display it installed on the Tower Bridge in London for the Summer Olympics.

Citelum’s proposal has been complicated, however, by a disputed $100 million contract to operate the District’s own streetlight system, which the company initially won but which was later awarded to M.C. Dean, based in Dulles. Ayguesparsse said the company would open a Washington office regardless but could opt for a less-distinct location depending on the contract’s outcome. “We don’t want to be regular,” he said. “We want to do something different.”

The D.C. Council has not yet weighed in on the mayor’s plans. Gray has repeatedly supported Microsoft’s concept but could still decide to negotiate deals with all three of the companies or none of them. Among the proposals not selected were those from the National Children’s Museum, United Planning Organization and the Anacostia Community Outreach Center.

The mayor views St. Elizabeths as a prime opportunity to improve the economy in one of the most economically troubled areas of the District, having committed more money — $122 million over five years — for the planning and preparation at St. Elizabeths than for any other economic-development initiative.

The project is envisioned in a somewhat similar vein to New York’s plan to turn Roosevelt Island into an applied-sciences center anchored by Cornell University, Warsh said.

Warsh said he expected the project to quickly provide opportunities for residents of Southeast and become a go-to place for companies in the region developing technologies. Officials plan to pick university and development partners to create as much as 5.5  million square feet of offices, housing, classrooms and retail space.

“We’re balancing the short-term needs to create jobs that connect with the surrounding community while at the same time not compromising the need for long-term change,” Warsh said.

Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), whose district includes St. Elizabeths, said that the project would create “tremendous community benefits in terms of jobs, in terms of hiring opportunities.”

Barry said Wednesday that he was impressed at the caliber of companies that want to play a role. “It just demonstrates that St. Elizabeths is going to be a different kind of project. . . . We’re going to have some leading-edge technology — national and international.”

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