GW entered a 15-year lease to occupy all rooms in the St. James Suites June 29, keeping a promise not to buy off-campus properties for school use while securing enough beds for a freshman class one-fourth larger than last year.
With the luxury hotel suites, the University has added 779 new beds for on-campus housing from last year. None of those beds lie within campus boundaries.
GW scrambled to find beds as 350 more freshmen than expected accepted offers to enroll and a housing shortage last spring left 358 students on the waiting list.
Earlier this summer the University entered a three-year lease to occupy 78 rooms in the Pennsylvania House apartment building at 2424 Pennsylvania Ave. GW will also convert 70 double rooms in the Hall on Virginia Avenue, which also lies out of official campus boundaries, into triples.
The St. James Suites, which GW will dub “City Hall” in its residence hall system, will offer 543 beds in the building’s 189 units. Rooms at the 950 24th St. building come with separate phone lines for each resident, kitchens and marble bathrooms. The rooms do not offer ethernet connections that most other residence halls provide. Students will use their phone lines to dial up to their own internet provider. The building has an outdoor pool.
Neighborhood representatives said the move to occupy all St. James Suites rooms for an extended period of time will have the same impact as purchasing the building. GW agreed not to purchase off-campus buildings for University use for five years in its campus plan.
Michael Thomas, former Foggy Bottom Association president, said the building owner will continue to pay property tax but the city will lose other important revenue sources.
“Just like with the Howard Johnson, it isn’t just the property tax, it’s the hotel tax, sales tax, the spending by visitors for business in the city,” Thomas said, referring to the hotel GW turned into HOVA. “It was a source of revenue to the District in about four different ways.”
The D.C. Board of Zoning Adjustment ordered GW in its campus plan approval in March to house 70 percent of students within campus boundaries. A District Court judge has since lifted this requirement for one year pending a University lawsuit against the plan order.
“When the campus plan is enforced by its terms, they’re not going to get credit for housing students in the St. James,” Thomas said. “The fact that (the lease) is for 15 years may be a sign if they think they’re ever going to come into compliance.”
Director of Housing Services Andrew Sonn said GW will offer St. James rooms to the 160 students who remain on the guaranteed waiting list. Returning students assigned to Crawford, Madison and Strong halls and 2109 F St. — buildings designated to house some freshmen — will then have a chance to opt for the new properties.
Housing Services notified students by mail and e-mail about the new housing choices. Sonn said students have until July 11 to accept the offer before being placed on the non-guaranteed waiting list for housing. Students who wish to change their housing assignment can apply online or by mail.
“We’re really excited to have this opportunity for students,” Sonn said. “It’s been a great response so far.”
Bob Ludwig, assistant director for media relations, said the University chose to lease a building rather than purchase more housing facilities. He would not elaborate on why leasing was a better option than buying a property.
“We were obviously looking to expand our housing options and this was the best way to do that,” he said.
The search for more housing came as freshman retention jumped from previous years. About 35 percent of accepted freshmen chose to enroll at GW this year, a 6 percent increase from last year. It is the largest enrollment jump in at least a decade.
The 2,250 freshmen bring GWs enrollment to more 8,000 students, the point University officials have said they wanted to reach.
Sonn said HOVA doubles numbered 01-09 and 24-25 on each floor will house three students each next semester. These are larger rooms because they do not have balconies that other rooms provide.