With its rolling hills and forested paths, the Armed Forces Retirement Home, located on 272 acres in Northwest D.C., provides American veterans a bucolic setting in the middle of the city.
But the home is also in need of a funding source to provide for its future. And with neighborhoods on all sides booming, its managers see a real estate opportunity.
Next month the Old Soldiers’ Home, as it is often referred, will begin seeking a private partner capable of developing up to 80 acres of its campus, located between North Capitol Street to the east, Rock Creek Church Road and Park Place to the west and Irving Street to the south.
The home’s master plan calls for an entire neighborhood’s worth of housing, offices, medical facilities, retail and a hotel in the southeastern corner of the property. In all, it calls for 4.3 million square feet of development, a project larger than the one planned for 67 acres on the former Walter Reed Army Hospital northwest of the home and roughly half the size of what’s been built at National Harbor, the riverfront complex in Prince George’s County.
The plan leaves the majority of the home’s property as it is, including veterans’ housing, gardens, trails and a nine-hole golf course, as well as President Lincoln’s summer cottage, a tourist attraction.
It also could put the home on permanently stable financial footing. The home is an independent federal executive agency that relies on a trust fund to pay for its operations, and it has been planning to redevelop part of its campus in order to support the fund since before the recession.
The recession derailed the home’s earlier development plan, but in the intervening years its prospects have likely improved. Development and home prices in the neighborhoods surrounding the property — including Petworth, Park View and Brookland — have spiked dramatically.
And although the home’s campus is still walled off from the community and under the watch of security guards, the home has had more interaction with its neighbors in recent years. A non-profit group, Friends of the Soldiers Home, puts on volunteer events for the soldiers and the home opens its gates for events like fireworks on the Fourth of July — a chance for neighbors to enjoy the picturesque views of the Washington Monument and other sites from the top of the hill.
“It’s probably the last great, large tract of land to be developed in D.C.,” said John Gibb, of the real estate services firm JLL, who has been hired to market the project.
Gibb pointed to proximity to Washington Hospital Center, Howard University, Catholic University and Trinity Washington University. “From that area, you can stand on the hill and actually see the U.S. Capitol, you can see the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.”
Still, the project is likely to stir intense feelings because it is in such close proximity to long-time residential neighborhoods, some of which have been pushing for greater access to parks and open spaces.
A plan to redevelop the former McMillan Sand Filtration plant, south of the Old Soldiers’ site, only passed a historic preservation panel and the D.C. Council after considerable community opposition in which residents requested less development and more park space.
The General Services Administration, which is overseeing the project for the home, says it will issue a request for proposals seeking a development partner this month. Companies will have 120 days to respond and the GSA hopes to pick a partner by the fall of 2015.
GSA spokeswoman Kamara Jones said in an e-mail that the aim was to “build a profitable mixed-use development that is consistent with, and complements, the surrounding communities and preserves AFRH’s historic and cultural resources.”
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