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In a major move to cement his legacy before leaving office, Mayor Vince Gray has selected a master developer for the first phase of the St. Elizabeths project that could transform one of the poorest sections of the city.
Gray announced today that his administration has chosen a partnership led by two D.C.-based firms, Redbrick LMD and Gragg Cardona Partners, to tackle the first phase of the redevelopment of the mostly defunct St. Elizabeths mental hospital between Anacostia and Congress Heights. This phase covers 1.6 million square feet of the most valuable land at St. Elizabeths, adjacent to the Congress Heights Metro station. The District’s total portion of the site is 183 acres, while the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is working to move its headquarters to the federally owned portion across Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE.
The effort to return St. Elizabeths to productive use has stumbled several times, with an earlier solicitation for develop bids rescinded last year by the city. This latest solicitation received five responses by the summer deadline, but none from the truly big-name developers that have undertaken other major projects in the city, like CityCenterDC and Walter Reed.
According to a recent presentation, Redbrick currently has a development pipeline of around two million square feet, meaning that the St. Elizabeths project will nearly double its active portfolio. The only past District project listed on Redbrick’s website is the Canal Parc development in Palisades, although the company has built a handful of large projects in northern Virginia. Gragg Cardona has developed several apartment buildings in the U Street-Columbia Heights area.
The city sought to construct a 175,000-square-foot technology “innovation hub” in the project’s first phase, as well as about 200 housing units and 600,000 square feet of office space. Redbrick and Gragg Cardona’s proposal was largely along these lines: 716,000 square feet of offices, 425,866 square feet of innovation uses, 122,000 square feet of retail, 1.1 million square feet of residential (20 percent of which will be set aside for low- and moderate-income residents), and a 150- to 180-room hotel, according to an earlier report on the various proposals in the Washington Business Journal. The team pitched 2.5 million square feet of total development, which will include an event space, a culinary school, and an amphitheater. Redbrick did not return a call for comment.
“Their experience with large-scale projects, financial capabilities and strength of the team is what pushed them over the top,” says Chanda Washington, spokeswoman for the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development. “They were also the only team to put forth a significant financial proposal as part of their community benefits package.” She cautions that “there are a lot of conversations that still must be had before we present to D.C. Council.”
With just one week remaining in his mayoralty, Gray is hoping to make his mark on a number of major projects. Last week, he announced that Walmart had signed a lease at the Skyland Town Center development, allowing that project to move forward in his home Ward 7. Today, Gray is cutting 17 ribbons in Shaw, including on some businesses that have been open for months. His transportation officials are still scrambling to try to open the first line of the streetcar before he leaves office, although recent hiccups might make that impossible.
But St. Elizabeths, a project with the potential to revive the economy of part of Ward 8, the city’s poorest ward, now has more momentum than ever in the past. If Redbrick and Gragg Cardona are able to deliver on their promises, the initiation of the St. Elizabeths development could go down as one of Gray’s signature accomplishments.
This post has been updated to include comment from Washington.
Map from the city’s request for proposals