The complex of buildings that began as Washington Technical Institute and became the Van Ness campus of the University of the District of Columbia has attracted at least some interest from real estate developers who view it as potential corporate headquarters or an office park.
Although the campus isn't on the market and may never be, one real estate broker has approached the staff of Senate District Appropriations subcommittee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) on behalf of a potential buyer, and a District official said he is also aware of broker interest in the site.
What raised the notion -- titillating to those in the real estate industry -- that the Van Ness campus might be up for grabs is continuing uncertainty over the city's plans to build another campus at Mt. Vernon Square downtown.
While the city has remained committed to the notion of putting some of the urban university's buildings in the center of the old downtown, an area nearer to many students than the far north-west campus, Leahy has questioned the need for a downtown campus. As a result, construction funding for the Mt. Vernon campus has been tied up.
The Van Ness campus is a group of modern, attractive buildings on a large landscaped site above the still unopened Van Ness subway stop. The area around the 22-acre site for rapid development in the next few years, including an embassy compound and a major commercial and office complex being developed jointly by Metro and Prudential Insurance Co.
Leahy's staff was contacted last fall by a broker inquiring on behalf of "a large firm interested in locating a national headquarters here along with training facilities," according to John Gnorski, an aide to Leahy.
Several sources said that federal agencies looking for more space also have eyed the complex with interest.
Last February the board of the UDC voted to make Van Ness the school's main campus, with a small satelite campus downtown, if efforts to build a large campus at T. Vernon fail. The resolution was an effort to end the deadlock over construction funds for the university. Whether it works remains to be seen once the resolution is forwarded to Leahy's committee.
"We haven't heard any discusson for the last four months" of any real estate speculations about the Van Ness campus, said Claude Ford, vice president of the UDC. Ford also noted that the buildings "are fairly specialized" and might not be adapted to other uses easily. For instance, the complex includes a gymnasium.
Still, the fantasy persists, the kind of speculation that sounds like it has something for everyone at first hearing:
The UDC gets its main campus in the symbolically important center of the city and makers enough money on the sale of Van Ness to help fund construction.
Leahy prevals on an issue in which many have argued he has no business intervening.
The city acquires another corporate headquarters or office tenant.
A corporation gets a complex built at yesterday's prices.
And a broker gets a commission.