D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray, locked in a heated reelection battle, began a search Monday for developers interested in building a mixed-use center on the 183-acre east campus of the former St. Elizabeths Hospital in Southeast Washington.
Issued on the eve of the Democratic mayoral primary, Gray’s 34-page request for proposals seeks companies interested in developing the project’s first phase, envisioned as a 1.6-million-square-foot hub for technology companies and an employment center for local residents. It’s the second time Gray has sought a partner for the project. An initial search was canceled.
Since early in his administration, Gray has made a priority of building a technology hub on the east campus of St. Elizabeths, which was established as a mental-health asylum in the 1850s and has been largely vacant for years.
Across the street, on the west campus, the federal government plans a consolidated campus for the Department of Homeland Security that could accommodate 16,000 daily workers and visitors.
“This is an unprecedented opportunity to transform one of the District’s most historic properties into an innovative and inviting community,” Gray said in a news release. “My administration remains committed to ensuring this project moves forward and creates the jobs and economic benefits needed in Ward 8.”
Progress has been halting on both halves of the campus. Gray secured commitments from Microsoft, the French lighting firm Citelum and architectural modeling firm SmartBIM (and its sister company VIMtrek) to open offices there, but the mayor’s economic development team canceled a previous search for a development partner, citing insufficient interest.
On the west campus, the federal government built the headquarters for the Coast Guard, where 3,700 employees work, but members of Congress have raised concerns about whether the rest of that project should be completed, given its costs.
Last week, the mayor surprised stakeholders by announcing plans to use $300 million in city funds to build a hospital on the east campus that would replace the financially ailing United Medical Center.
Gray’s staff has maintained that adding a safety-net hospital to a campus designed as an innovation hub would not harm the project’s prospects for jump-starting the economy east of the Anacostia River, where unemployment and poverty run the highest in the city.
The request for proposals outlines how the east campus could eventually accommodate 5 million square feet of development but makes no mention of the proposed hospital.
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