Although the city owns a large parcel of cleared land just north of Mt. Vernon Square that might not now be needed for the University of The District of Columbia, city officials say they have rejected the idea of shifting the proposed location of the convention center to that site.
"We have been asked by the Senate Appropriations Committee to look at that," said D.C. planning director Ben GIlbert. "We have taken a look and don't think it's feasible."
The convention center proposal, as it has been approved so far by the City Council and the House Appropriations Committee, would locate the center on the opposite, southwest side of the square between 9th and 11th Streets and H Street and New York Avenue. That site is currently occupied by a variety of businesses and some low-cost housing.
The question of looking at the site again arose after officials of the University scaled down enrollment projections and told Mayor Walter E. Washington that they will not need extra new buildings worth $115 million which had been part of the original plans for the university.
"I don't think it's a technical impossibility" to locate all the buildings proposed now for the University at the Van Ness location on upper Connecticut Avenue, said Bryant G. Harris, chairman of campus planning for the University. The location is the site of what was formerly Washington Technical Institute and is now part of the University.
He said, however, that building there would be difficult because of hilly terrain. "We also believe it would create environmental congestion out there that wouldn't be acceptable," including heavy traffic, he said. Too, the downtown location for the main campus is more in keeping with the UDC's urban image, he said.
The planned location for the downtown campus of the city's newly consolidated university, was one of 13 sites originally considered as the location for the convention center that city officials and the business community hope to build.
Consultants who chose the Mt. Vernon South location for the center rejected the 10-acre UDC site for a variety of reasons. Aside from the fact that the University was planned for the site. the consultants pointed out that it is farther away from the downtown shopping area and called its size and shape "not ideal."
"We went over all the work we had done and took another look at it," said Gilbert. "The only thing that had happened was the reduction in the program at UD."
"We did not think it made sense to move the campus to the Van Ness site. It would have been a change in the direction of the Van Ness site, which was originally planned as a technical center," he said. Possible negative reaction from people who live in the neighborhood around the Van Ness site was also a factor, said Gilbert, who lives nearby.
"We didn't want to overtax the site in terms of transportation and parking, which was of concern to the community. We made some checks out there," Gilbert said. "We did not find that this was something that would have had community support because of concern about transportation and parking."
The Van Ness location is just north of a site being developed for embassies and chanceries and is at a planned Metro stop. Across the street are large apartment developments and commercial development, which is expected to increase once the Metro stop is open, Gilbert said.
An even bigger objection raised by the city to shifting the convention center site is the possibility of costly delay in the $10 million project. The city's first draft of an environmental impact statement for hte Mt. Vernon South location is almost complete, the National Capital Planning Commission has indicated some possible objections to the UDC site that would have to be worked out, and considering the design and traffic implications of the site would create delay, said Gilbert.
Acquiring the land and relocating business and residents who now occupy the Mt. Vernon South site will take less time than re-doing the work already done on the center for a new location said Gilbert.Acquisition would be carried on at the same time the center is being finally designed, he said.
Although the UDC site "might be cheaper in land costs. I think the saving in land cost would be offset" by the delay and the more limited spint-off development that city officials predict for the UDC site, said Gilbert. The lower land acquisition costs involved in using the UDC site would save about $3 to $10 million, according to estimates.