GW acquires share of Columbia Plaza

The University purchased a share of the Columbia Plaza apartment complex and will have first priority in referring students and staff to apartments there, said Walter Bortz, vice president for Administrative and Information Services.

GW closed a deal Friday that gave the University 28.55 percent ownership of the 23rd street complex, along with other limited partners. Bortz said the University was approached by several partners who wanted to liquidate their share of the property.

The University looked at this one over a period of a few months and said, as an investment, it makes sense, Bortz said.

Bortz would not specify the amount the University paid for the property or its estimated value.

As part of the agreement, the University has the right of first refusal to purchase a larger percentage of the property when other owners sell. It will work out a communication plan with the property management company, Polinger, Shannon and Luchs Co., giving the University the first opportunity to refer students, faculty and staff to any apartment that is vacant. Bortz said the details on the plan have not been worked out yet, but no current residents will be required to move and there are no plans to turn the apartments into a part of the residence-hall system.

But Bortz left open the idea of using the apartments when the housing lottery is full – which has happened several times in the past few years – and acquiring the entire property if the occasion arises. Recently, several apartment buildings, including the Dakota, Schenley and West End have been placed into the student housing lottery.

Students currently occupy one-quarter of the 800-unit complex, and it is unknown how many staff and faculty live there, Bortz said. The partnership is for the entire property, meaning the University does not control any specific units or buildings but has a stake in the entire complex.

The University received complaints from residents and the management company about the behavior of Columbia Plaza residents in the past, Bortz said. Because of the University’s new affiliation with the property, all students living in the property will be subject to the University’s Student Code of Conduct.

I can’t imagine many students having difficulty living with (the code of conduct), Bortz said. Those students (who do) may find it an impingement on their behavior, but it may be in the best interest of the community that that occurs.

In addition, administrators are developing plans to include the complex in the University Police patrolling area and as a stop on the shuttle bus service. Columbia Plaza will retain its property managers and staff.

Geoff Sherman, a senior who lives in Columbia Plaza, said he is happy about the University’s role in the property.

I think the place needs a lot of work, and the University has the capacity to do that, he said. If I were a sophomore, I would be happy that GW is coming because it adds a level of respectability to this place.

But Sherman said the new affiliation will increase the tension between students and other residents of Columbia Plaza.

It’s going to heighten the animosity here, he said. The residents are going to feel GW is trying to push them away.

Marilyn Rubin, president of the Columbia Plaza Tenants Association, said she had been predicting for more than a decade that the University would purchase the building.

Nobody knows what the ramifications are, Rubin said. This is simply a continuation of GW’s bragging that they will eventually own Foggy Bottom.

She said though she is happy the University is giving policing support, she is uncertain what it will accomplish.

I didn’t move into a dormitory, said Rubin, who has lived in Columbia Plaza for 30 years. When I moved in, this was a classy apartment building.

Bortz said the purchase is partially in response to community requests for the University to take control of more student housing.

The institution over the last decade has made some purchases that reflect our needs and the residents’ requests to provide more housing for students, Bortz said. We believe we are doing what we have been requested to do by Foggy Bottom residents.

But Barbara Spillinger, chairwoman of the Advisory Neighborhood Commission, said the University is misinterpreting the local residents’ complaints.

That’s not where we want them, Spillinger said. We want them out of Columbia Plaza and into dorms on campus.

In addition to the 800 apartments in five buildings, there are more than 1,500 parking spaces and 34,000 square feet of retail space, 800 of which is vacant. Bortz said the University will use its business connections to try and fill that space with stores that appeal to students and the community. He mentioned a diner, grocery store and a gym as possibilities.

Spillinger said she feared this was another step in the University’s takeover of the area.

If they can do this in Columbia Plaza, they can do it anywhere else, she said.

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