University seeks advice on former hospital site

Following a series of discussions, land use experts suggested Thursday that GW develop a variety of retail, residential and office facilities on the site of its former hospital and use other campus space to meet its housing and academic needs.

Specialists from the Urban Land Institute, a development research organization, conducted a three-day redevelopment study last week of Square 54, the vacant lot on I Street between 22nd and 23rd streets. The investigation involved three roundtable discussions that brought together GW officials, local business owners, city officials and Foggy Bottom and West End residents.

After the talks, ULI members suggested the site would “be inappropriate for academic uses” due to its location and retail value. Instead, the panel recommended placing a retail venue, such as a grocery store, on the space along with world-class office buildings and two condominium towers.

Foggy Bottom and West End community members at the panel’s presentation expressed displeasure with the experts’ recommendation not to use the site for additional University housing or classrooms. In response to the University’s expansion, GW’s neighbors have been trying to keep students within campus boundaries.

“There are some students who shouldn’t be certain places, specifically in our neighborhood,” Foggy Bottom resident Ellie Becker said. “This is also a University that doesn’t have enough classroom space. Kids sit on the floor.”

Tracy Schario, GW’s director of media relations, said using the space for commercial ventures allows the University to invest in the land and use the revenue earned to develop other parts of campus to meet its housing and academic needs.

“If we use (the site) for commercial development it generates revenue,” she said. “Right now, the University is very dependent on enrollment and tuition revenue.”

University officials estimate that they need 1.5 million square feet to meet classroom needs and fulfill other projected projects such as constructing a science center, a School of Public Health and Health Services building and a cancer center. They also said 500,000 square feet, or 1,000 additional beds, will be needed to meet on-campus housing requirements set by city zoning officials.

Several community members were skeptical that the University would be able to meet all of its housing and academic needs without using any of the space on Square 54.

“I was pleased to see that one of your major assumptions was that GW would address its academic needs within its campus boundaries,” community resident Michael Thomas said. “But we cannot make that assumption. We need to have conditions on this vital issue.”

Schario said the panel’s suggestions are “only one piece of the picture.” She added that the University is looking for a variety of input from different sources before the developers make a decision about what to build on the site. President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg has said in past discussions that the majority of the former hospital site would be used for commercial purposes.

Throughout the summer the University will be hosting open meetings with the community to discuss the site’s development and get ideas. At the first meeting, which took place on May 4, Louis Katz, executive vice president and treasurer, explained the initiatives the University is taking for the site’s development and opened up the floor for community comment.

Community suggestions for the site included creating open space with gardens or a greenhouse, opening a grocery store or a Laundromat and building a food court.

While some attendees participated in the forum, others seemed skeptical that GW would actually take into consideration community concerns.

“Why should we spend time giving them suggestions?” community resident Ken Barrow said. “The people who pay have a greater influence.”

“If it gets us into trouble paying let’s not pay,” Trachtenberg joked from the back of the Elliott School of International Affairs building room. “We don’t want to pay for it.”

While Trachtenberg received angry grunts from Barrow, Katz explained that GW’s goal is to engage with the community and the city in the development process.

Schario said the evaluation of Square 54 is only one part of GW’s initiative to re-evaluate land use across campus. Ehrenkrantz, Eckstut and Kuhn, the site’s developers, have been looking into the University’s land use as a whole since January and should issue a report sometime this summer.

Schario said that by next fall, the University hopes to be at the next phase in the development process, which is to obtain the proper zoning permits for Square 54. The process could take 15 to 18 months.

-Michael Barnett contributed to this report.

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