Georgetown University became the nation’s first Jesuit institution of higher education in 1792, hired the first African American to be a major university’s president in 1873 and became one of the first American universities to open a campus in Qatar in 2005.
What’s the next frontier for Georgetown? It might be Northern Virginia.
Georgetown, one of four D.C. universities completing new 10-year campus plans this year, is stuck between the Potomac River and a neighborhood of residents so opposed to further campus growth that the bluffs across the river might look inviting. A report from the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, responding to the initial campus proposal, said that the university’s disruptive growth put the neighborhood “at serious risk of being lost and becoming a rental property student enclave.”
Georgetown, which had 6,652 undergraduates and 14,033 total students on its main campus as of last fall, is looking to add at least 250 beds for students but does not have an ideal place for them.
“The problem is college kids have different hours and different approaches to lifestyles than older people, so there’s always an edge,” said Herb Miller, the developer and Georgetown resident.
Over the years, Georgetown has considered housing across the river, only to decide against it. University officials are adamant that they will not house undergraduates far from campus, writing that off-site housing “would erode the kind of learning community the university has worked hard to create.” The best on-site location the school identified was a hotel that is used to augment the university’s conference center but could be converted into dorms in about 3 1 / 2 years.
Georgetown has some facilities in Virginia and is already considering further growth there. In 2004, Georgetown opened a Center for Continuing and Professional Education campus on Wilson Boulevard in Arlington, near the Clarendon Metrorail station, and recently renewed its lease. The university is now searching for educational or classroom space to accommodate another 1,000 students for its continuing education programs. Rachel Pugh, a university spokeswoman, said the search is being conducted throughout the Washington area.
Scott Shinskie, a partner at Bethesda-based Potomac Holdings, a developer specializing in student housing, said that given the affordability of opportunities across the Key Bridge, Georgetown’s expansion there was inevitable. “Ultimately it is not a matter of if university-related expansion happens in Northern Virginia, it’s a matter of when,” Shinskie said via e-mail.
If Georgetown were to reconsider locating housing across the river, it would not be the first time. Years ago, the school attempted to transition what is now the Virginia Suites hotel , just across the Key Bridge from the central campus, into Georgetown housing. Terry Holzheimer, the longtime head of Arlington Economic Development, also remembers the school considering the purchase of a 314-unit apartment building on North Oak Street in Rosslyn, what is now a private building called the Archstone Rosslyn.
Holzheimer pointed out that George Washington University, Virginia Tech and George Mason University had all added or expanded in the corridor between Rosslyn and Ballston in recent years. He said he has a long-standing relationship with Georgetown and would like to see the institution consider locating more of its programs and students across the river.
“We would love to have more of the facilities here and we have talked to them on and off for years on both residential and educational facilities,” he said.