D.C. to unveil plans for redevelopment of Walter Reed

By Jonathan O'Connell
Capital Business Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 13, 2010; 10:39 PM

For 101 years, since before the first shot was fired in World War I, Walter Reed Army Medical Center has been a place of healing for U.S. soldiers.

But with its closing less than a year away and its patients and staff members preparing to move to new suburban facilities, D.C. officials have laid out plans to redevelop 62 acres of the hospital into a neighborhood of new homes, shopping, green space, facilities for the homeless and schools.

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's economic development team will present the plans to residents Thursday night on the Walter Reed campus, between 16th Street and Georgia Avenue in Northwest Washington.

Despite its location amid residential neighborhoods, security needs have secluded Walter Reed from its surroundings, and residents say they hope redevelopment of the property will end its status as a federal island. City officials envision new uses for more than a dozen brick buildings with historical significance, such as the central hall where President Dwight D. Eisenhower died, mixed with new buildings capable of attracting new amenities to the area.

A two-block stretch of Georgia Avenue that is cut off from the neighborhood by an iron fence and a security guard station would be remade into a retail corridor, and the western end of the site, along Aspen Street, would have new housing that would integrate with neighborhoods to the south. Other buildings, arranged around a central green, would accommodate services for the homeless, a health clinic operated by Howard University Hospital, office buildings and two charter schools, Washington Yu Ying and Latin American Montessori Bilingual.

In all, the plan envisions 2.2 million square feet of development costing nearly $500 million, along with 40 acres of green space. It would create an estimated 3,200 jobs and $18 million in annual tax revenue.

D.C. Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) said that she is pleased with the concepts proposed by the city. She said a top issue for residents will be ensuring that new housing is set aside for senior citizens, whom she said make up about 20 percent of the ward's residents.

"Many of them are aging in place in their homes, and when they are leaving their homes, too many of them are moving to Maryland retirement communities," she said. "So we want this property to speak to that."

Not all of Walter Reed is part of the plans. The General Services Administration plans to eventually build federal office space on 33 acres on the northern end of the site and the State Department controls 18 acres on the western end.

Because Walter Reed is still owned and controlled by the federal government, new development is still years away. The hospital's will move to Bethesda and Fort Belvoir in September as part of the Department of Defense's Base Realignment and Closure process, and transfer of the property out of federal control is still two years off.

In the meantime, city officials will be addressing obstacles to their plans. Although the District continues to face budget shortfalls, development of Walter Reed is expected to require $34 million to $38 million in infrastructure improvements.

With no immediately accessible Metrorail station and two heavily trafficked corridors - 16th Street and Georgia Avenue - on either side, transportation and parking are additional concerns. Officials are hoping to accelerate plans to build a streetcar line along Georgia Avenue but still estimate an additional $44 million to $49 million is needed to build parking.

"Parking is going to be a big cost, because the existing parking is on the GSA site," said Eric Jenkins, who manages the project for the city.

The town hall meeting on plans for Walter Reed will be at 7 p.m. Thursday on the second floor of Delano Hall at Walter Reed, 6900 Georgia Ave. Call 202-727-6365 for information.

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