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The development of the St. Elizabeths East Campus, arguably the most significant development project the city’s likely to see in the next 10 years, is officially underway. The office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development has just issued a Request for Expressions of Interest for four parcels of land on the former mental hospital grounds.

The four parcels comprise just seven of St. Elizabeth East’s 180 acres, but they’re important ones, stretching along the southern edge of the Ward 8 property from Congress Heights’ main thoroughfare of Martin Luther King Avenue SE to a stretch of Alabama Avenue near the Congress Heights Metro station. The RFEI calls for mixed-use development of four to seven stories in the westernmost parcel, medium-density residential units in the middle two parcels, and four-story mixed-use development in the eastern parcel as a transition to the denser development by the Metro station.

The city’s oversight of the St. Elizabeths East development will be led by Catherine Buell, who has chaired the Historic Preservation Review Board since the summer of 2010. Buell is stepping down from both the HPRB and the law firm Patton Boggs to run the St. Elizabeths East development.

The RFEI serves largely as a sales pitch to developers for the low-income, amenity-poor neighborhood.

“In the spring of 2012,” the RFEI boasts, “the highest priced home sale in the neighborhood jumped by nearly $50,000 from a year ago, while the average sales price increased by over $10,000.”

DMPED paints the lack of retail as a plus for developers. “The local market has little retail or service amenities and is ripe for retail investment, backed by strong neighborhood demand for additional products,” the RFEI says. “Almost all retail categories are underserved within a one-, three-, and five-mile radii. Particular areas of unmet need include full-service restaurants and neighborhood-serving retail.”

But the biggest perk, according to DMPED, is the presence of the Metro station. “St Elizabeths East has its own Metrorail (Metro) station—-Congress Heights—-allowing riders to exit directly onto the campus via Metro’s Green Line,” the RFEI says. “The bulk of all job growth over the last ten years in the D.C. Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) has occurred within one-quarter mile of a Metro station; concurrently, land adjacent to existing Metro stations has become an increasingly rare commodity. The Congress Heights Metro station gives St Elizabeths East a compelling competitive advantage as the single remaining large, undeveloped parcel within the City with this level of transit access.”

The RFEI explains the factors that will allow responding developers to earn bonus points in the selection process:

i. Maximize economic value to the District ii. Improve quality of life for the surrounding community iii. Advance opportunities for local residents and businesses

The St. Elizabeths West Campus is being concurrently developed by the Department of Homeland Security for a new headquarters for DHS and the Coast Guard; the latter is expected to begin moving to St. Elizabeths in August. City officials hope that DHS and Coast Guard employees will cross Martin Luther King Avenue to use the amenities on the East Campus and provide a big boost to the local economy. Whether they do so or stay bunkered down on the West Campus remains to be seen, and giving them incentives to eat and shop on the East Campus is one of the city’s biggest challenges.

Image from the RFEI