D.C. launches search for St. Elizabeths east academic anchor

The District on Thursday launched its search for an academic institution to anchor St. Elizabeths east, continuing its incremental approach to landing key tenants for the 183-acre campus.

Roughly 250,000 square feet, or half of the planned Innovation Hub at St. E’s east, will be dedicated to an academic institution, or a consortium of institutions.

D.C.’s cluster of major colleges and universities play a vital role in the city’s success, Mayor Vincent Gray wrote in a letter that will be delivered to members of the academic community with the RFEI.

“It is because of this,” Gray said, “that we see the presence of a strong research university at the core of the St. Elizabeths East Innovation Hub as a key to its larger success.”

Through the RFEI, D.C. expects to gather information about the range of institutions that may be interested in St. E’s, the types of programs they might bring, how they will engage the local Ward 8 community, and the terms and timeline of their occupancy. An informational session is scheduled for April 25 with Mayor Vincent Gray, and responses are due by July 26.

“Overall, the District is interested in high-quality academic and research programs that have a focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics-related fields that will prepare the next generation of talent with the skills demanded by a rapidly evolving job market while offering potential for commercialization by private industry and government,” according to the RFEI.

The redevelopment of St. Elizabeths east, from a sprawling campus of shuttered mental health buildings to a mixed-use community of some 5 million square feet, has had its fits and starts, but it does appear to be moving forward even as the strategy has shifted.

It started with a bid for anchor tenants last July, which landed proposals from Microsoft Corp., Citelum and SmartBim. Then in August came the search for a contractor to lead the infrastructure work on the campus, then another RFP for a firm to develop a strategy for attracting a university user to the site.

In late November, D.C. launched its most important search to date, for a private team to lead the first phase of development. Two months later, that search was abruptly halted, in part because top developers weren’t willing to join the team when so many questions — academic and private anchors, for example — were unanswered.

The District sees huge potential in St. E’s east, despite massive delays, and perhaps an all-out cancellation, of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security consolidated headquarters project on the west campus. Within months, 3,000 U.S. Coast Guard employees will relocate to their new headquarters on St. E’s west, and the east campus remains a huge, untapped, undeveloped, Metro-accessible swath of land three miles from the U.S. Capitol.

The first phase of the St. E’s project is expected to feature 500,000 square feet for academia, innovation and private sector anchors (the Innovation Hub), a 400,000-square-foot town center and 100,000 square feet of office space in existing historic structures.

If all goes according to plan, at full buildout St. E’s will include 1.8 million gross square feet of office space, 1,300 mixed-income residential units, 206,000 square feet of retail and 330,000 square feet of hospitality space, likely two hotels.

Read the full story from the Washington Business Journal.
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