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Gallaudet plots “town-gown neighborhood” near Union Market

Six years ago, Gallaudet’s Hansel Bauman and Fred Weiner began plotting development along Sixth Street NE (Sarah L. Voisin /TWP)
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Gallaudet University has been plotting development for land along Sixth Street NE to act as a gateway to the university, and now it has a partner capable of making the project happen.

On Friday the university’s board of trustees voted to give the university’s foundation the go-ahead to negotiate a deal with the JBG Cos., based in Chevy Chase, to develop seven acres along Sixth Street NE, adjacent to the foodie destination Union Market.

The project is viewed as an opportunity for the nation’s leading university for deaf and hard of hearing students to shape some of the industrial land surrounding its campus into a “town-gown neighborhood” designed to accommodate its student body and better integrate the school with the city around it.

The project is being handled by the university’s charitable foundation, an independent non-profit whose board includes Natwar Gandhi, former D.C. chief financial officer, Joe Sternlieb, chief executive of the Georgetown Business Improvement District and Tom Murphy, former mayor of Pittsburgh.

JBG is one of the region’s largest developers, with projects throughout the District and in numerous neighborhoods in Northern Virginia and Suburban Maryland. The board chose the firm from a pool of more than 30 interested developers, a sign of the intense interest developers have taken in the wholesale district long known as Florida Avenue Market.

Gallaudet’s Fred Weiner issued a statement saying the foundation “felt that the breadth and depth of JBG’s experience in the District, as well as its careful attention to nuances of the deaf community” and said the company’s proposal “will go a long way toward enriching this neighborhood through our culture and language, as well as allow for greater interaction between our campus community and our neighbors.”

Gallaudet President T. Alan Hurwitz, who chairs the foundation board, said the “university’s long-term goal with such real estate and economic development opportunities is to generate additional sources of revenue, as well as create academic and social value.”

The project will incorporate elements of DeafSpace, an approach to architecture and design that accentuates vision and touch — rather than hearing — as primary means of spatial awareness and orientation. It was developed by university architect Hansel Bauman in conjunction with the school. 

Once the university and JBG reach a development agreement, the two can work through more specific plans for design and financing.

The selection of JBG could set up an interesting competition between JBG and Edens, which developed Union Market and is planning a series of apartments as well. Both companies are also planning movie theaters for the neighborhood.

Follow Jonathan O’Connell on Twitter: @oconnellpostbiz