Commerce Department awards grants to benefit neighborhoods around former St. Elizabeths site

Washington Post staff writer
Wednesday, September 22, 2010; 9:42 PM

The Commerce Department is providing more than $500,000 in grants to benefit areas around the former St. Elizabeths Hospital as the Department of Homeland Security consolidates its operations in Southeast Washington.

The grants are part of a federal effort to help distressed communities by working with local governments to "create higher-skill, living-wage jobs, advance regional competitiveness and generate private sector investment," said officials from the Commerce Department's Economic Development Administration.

The 4.5-million-square-foot Homeland Security headquarters on the west side of the St. Elizabeths campus is the largest federal construction project since the Pentagon was built in the 1940s. Eventually, 14,000 workers and 2,000 visitors are expected every day on the campus, which is divided by Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue.

City officials hope the project will stimulate redevelopment in the Congress Heights neighborhood. They want 170 acres on the east campus to provide a mix of jobs, housing choices, shops and community facilities.

The money is "a great opportunity to [improve economic development] in our own back yard," said John Fernandez, the U.S. assistant secretary of commerce for economic development.

The grants will be used, in large part, for studies to benefit the neighborhood and adjoining jurisdictions. The Obama administration has been awarding such grants across the country, working with local governments to take a regional approach to stimulating the economy, Fernandez said.

A $300,000 grant will be given to the District and Carnegie Mellon University to study Wards 7 and 8. The university is being given an additional $232,000 to develop a strategy for the District, Maryland and Virginia.

"The District is very excited about the potential for an innovation hub that leverages the consolidation of DHS . . . and draws on District and regional assets," Harriet Tregoning, director of the D.C. Office of Planning, said in a statement.

"These connections could directly link residents to educational, business and employment opportunities and stimulate economic and community revitalization east of the river."

Fernandez said he expects the studies to be completed in a few years.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company