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Facing the prospect of having to restart one of the city’s biggest development projects from scratch, Mayor Vince Gray is urging the federal government not to change the terms of its transfer of land at the former Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
The U.S. Army, which owns the campus, situated between Georgia Avenue and 16th Street NW, has been planning to transfer 67 acres of it to the District government for use in a mixed-use development that could transform the northern end of the city. The U.S. State Department would receive the remainder of the campus, about 45 acres.
But following news that the Children’s National Medical Center is looking to take about 13 acres of the land designated for the State Department, the State Department is now trying to recoup that land by cutting into the city’s allotment. Under the proposal, the State Department would take back 7.2 acres of the land currently set to be transferred to the District, according to department spokeswoman Christy Maier.
In a letter yesterday to Secretary of the Army John McHugh, Gray strenuously objected to such a change and pleaded with the feds to stick with the plan, more than five years in the making, to allow the city to develop the bulk of the Walter Reed campus. “Such a change would drastically shrink the land area the District would receive and would have a devastating impact on the District’s ability to deliver on the priorities the Congress, the Army, and our residents have expressed,” he wrote.
Last November, after a competitive bidding process, the city selected a team led by developers Hines and Urban Atlantic to build on the site. The team’s proposal called for a “town center” at the north end of the site, a commerce and science center in the middle, and a senior village in the south, with facilities for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, George Washington University, a Hyatt hotel, and an arts center featuring Artomatic, Dance Place, and the Washington Glass School, as well as new housing.
An official in the mayor’s office who was not authorized to speak on the record says the boundary changes, if executed, would most likely kill the existing plans and force the city to re-bid the property. “I think right now it’s pretty difficult to see how we could salvage it,” says the official.
Maier says the medical center land set-aside, written into a bill by the House Armed Service Committee, would deprive the State Department of land needed to build a new chancery center on the site—-a plan that bears a “strong national security interest” as the government seeks to establish new embassies abroad. In order to allow that plan to go forward, the State Department would need part of the 13 acres back.
“The District would have to contribute part of the 13 acres, and we would contribute part,” says Maier. “We understand that they’ve done a lot of work. We’ve also done work on our project.”
The State Department has floated this proposal to the relevant congressional committees, Maier says. Congress is currently in recess and won’t be able to weigh in on the proposal until it returns on Nov. 12.
Gray’s letter is below.
This post has been updated with comment from Maier.
Rendering from Hines and Urban Atlantic