Developer signs on for Square 54

A large developer signed a 60-year lease with GW last week to build on the space formerly occupied by the GW Hospital, in a deal that will provide an annual $9.1 million to the University’s endowment.

Boston Properties, a corporation with offices around the country, is a national developer of commercial real estate and plans to turn the space into a mixed-use resource for the community. The deal brings GW one step closer to starting construction on the empty lot, which has been vacant since the hospital moved in 2002.

The developer is planning to install a mix of commercial and residential units on the spot as well as a grocery store on the bottom floor. The grocery store is planned to be better stocked and have a larger selection than either Trader Joe’s or Safeway, said Michael Akin, director of community relations.

Gross income from the lease will garner a total $540 million for the University’s endowment. This will increase annual endowment payout and help support educational and research objectives laid out in the 20-year Campus Plan, said Tracy Schario, a University spokesperson. This includes the construction of a new Engineering and Research Center in place of the current University Garage on 22nd Street.

“(The lease) is one more cog in a wheel that will help drive the University’s future success,” said W. Russell Ramsey, chairman of the Board of Trustees, in a news release.

Construction on the Square 54 lot is scheduled to begin before the end of 2008 and is expected to be finished before 2010, Schario said. The project has already received a green light from the D.C. Zoning Commission and is now in the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs’ permit review phase. Additionally, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority must review the project because it will be constructed adjacent to a Metro line. Both of these review processes are expected to take several months.

“Pending a successful conclusion of the permit process, we can expect building to begin in either the summer or fall of this year,” Schario said.

Foggy Bottom residents have expressed mixed reactions to the proposed construction. Many feared that the addition of new commercial and residential housing would exacerbate the already bustling traffic of the Foggy Bottom/West End area.

Others have expressed optimism about the new building, particularly the prospect of a fully stocked grocery store.

“Although this is not how I would have liked to have seen Square 54 used, I am hopeful that a Whole Foods type of grocery store will come to Foggy Bottom,” said L. Asher Corson, the chairman of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2A and a GW alumnus. “It would be nice to see something beneficial for the community come out of all of this disagreement.”

“This neighborhood needs a national retail grocery store like it needs oxygen,” said Abraham Avidor, a Foggy Bottom resident who lives at the Savoy Apartment building. Avidor and other community members expressed their concerns to University officials at their monthly FRIENDS meeting, a community group that promotes dialogue between GW and its neighbors.

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