Wegmans, large corporations could fill vacant D.C. sites

WASHINGTON – Supermarkets and large corporations, and the jobs that go with them, may be in store for two D.C. neighborhoods as the city government considers leasing space on two partially vacant public sites to a series of private businesses and retailers.

At a monthly breakfast meeting, the D.C. Council discussed potential lessors for the 183-acre east campus of St. Elizabeth’s in Southeast, the partially abandoned home of the city’s main public psychiatric facility, and the site of the former Walter Reed Army Medical Center, which the military vacated last August.

For St. Elizabeth’s, D.C. is considering Siemens, GWU, Citelum, Landmark Theaters, Microsoft, FEMA and General Dynamics.

At Walter Reed, it is weighing a Whole Foods, Wegmans, Harris Teeter, Lowe’s, Costco, Safeway, Giant or Home Depot.

Any development is slated to start at St. Elizabeth’s first.

“When you look at strategically locating at St. Elizabeth’s, you catch a huge market and they are very aware of that,” says Victor Hoskins, deputy mayor for Planning and Economic Development.

The first Request for Proposal for the 400,000 square foot development will go out this summer, she says, with roughly 50,000 square feet for a grocery store and 40,000 square feet for “veneer retail.”

“We’re talking about a structured parking garage with residential above. One of things we’ve been talking about is putting the theater on top,” says Hoskins. “The veiws are spectacular. These are the creative things we’re trying to tie together, but this is all very realistic.”

“This could be 500 to 600 new jobs, easily, on the first development phase,” he says.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation considers the St. Elizabeth’s site home to “the most famous mental hospital in America,” according to its website, and “one of the most endangered.”

It previously housed John Hinckley, who shot President Ronald Reagan, and poet Ezra Pound.

The Department of Homeland Security broke ground in 2009 at St. Elizabeth’s on a new DHS headquarters. The project, funded partially with federal stimulus money, would employ thousands while maintaining a National Historic Landmark, the agency said.

A Coast Guard headquarters is slated to open in May 2013, bringing 4,400 employees to the St. Elizabeth’s west campus.

The Trust said the DHS move “could be disastrous for one of Washington’s most important landmarks and the Southeast neighborhood that adjoins it,” according to a subsequent op-ed.

The closure of the military medical center at Walter Reed staggered area businesses who subsequently lost up to three-quarters of their business, some owners told WTOP.

“It’s like a tsunami came,” Kate Singh, co-owner of Mayfair Liquors on Georgia Avenue near the hospital, told WTOP.

Singh says business is down 75 percent and she spends her days looking at the door. “I’m so overwhelmed. All day long, I’m looking at the door, and wondering is someone walking in here?”

The last patients left the facility in late August 2011, bound for the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.

WTOP’s Paul D. Shinkman and Mark Segraves contributed to this report. Follow Paul, Mark and WTOP on Twitter.

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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