An early rendering of the Gateway Pavilion
An early rendering of the Gateway Pavilion

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The ballyhooed development of the St. Elizabeths East Campus finally took a turn for the tangible this morning with the groundbreaking of the site’s Gateway Pavilion. The structure, set for completion this fall, will host an array of interim functions, including casual dining, a farmers market, and arts events.

“Today is a day I have long anticipated, along with many other District government officials, business leaders and everyday residents,” Mayor Vince Gray said in a statement. “This groundbreaking ceremony marks the start of implementation of a vision we’ve shared for St. Elizabeths East, Ward 8 and the entire East End of our city, and I’m thrilled that we are on track to have this facility completed by the fall.”

The start of construction on the Gateway Pavilion raises two questions. The first is something of an existential one for St. Elizabeths: Who, exactly, will it serve? The Gateway Pavilion will feature food trucks and a pedestrian walkway to the St. Elizabeths West Campus, with the goal of bringing the Department of Homeland Security employees who are moving to the West Campus out of their complex and into the neighborhood for lunch and shopping. If those employees can be persuaded to explore the surrounding area—-and, in the long term, even to start moving there—-it could provide a much-needed economic boost to Congress Heights and Anacostia and fulfill city officials’ promise that these developments will mean growth in Ward 8.

The second question is what comes next. Back in November, the city issued a solicitation to developers for mixed-use development on the southern edge of the East Campus as a first step to get the site’s development underway. But the city later rescinded that solicitation in favor of beginning with an academic anchor institution—-it put out a call to interested academic institutions or groups in April. Responses are due on July 26; at that point, we’ll start to get a better sense of what the overall development will look like. In the meantime, it’s on the Gateway Pavilion to get activity at St. Elizabeths to match the hype.