- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 1, 2001

District of Columbia Mayor Anthony A. Williams has endorsed long-range redevelopment plans for Southeast that do not include a hospital or jail on land currently occupied by D.C. General Hospital and the D.C. Jail.

The National Capital Planning Commission's (NCPC) plans, supported by Mr. Williams, do appear to violate the District's federal charter for the land, but Congress is unlikely to interfere, despite the D.C. Council's opposition.

The city's financial control board is scheduled to decide by tomorrow whether to keep open the beleaguered hospital that serves some of the city's poorest residents.

A majority of the council members oppose the NCPC plans.

"We need development that's not done quietly, but done in public," council member Kevin Chavous, Ward 7 Democrat, said yesterday.

The NCPC, of which Mr. Williams is a member, has planned to demolish RFK Stadium and the D.C. Armory and construct a huge memorial, environmental center and parks in their stead.

The plans do not mention the hospital or the jail, but show new construction of commercial and residential buildings.

Mr. Williams spoke about his plan to curtail services at D.C. General during a heated meeting last night with neighborhood residents.

"Over the years, we've made a lot of mistakes when it comes to D.C. General," he told the people packed into Union Temple Baptist Church in Southeast. "The only viable proposal is the one we're presenting to you today. You need to listen to real facts, not rhetoric."

He did not mention plans for the land now occupied by the stadium or jail.

A NCPC report titled "Extending the Legacy" promises that "the existing neighborhood of quiet streets and historic row houses will remain intact, the riverfront will be transformed into a lively civic playground with festivals, concerts, marinas, and hike-and-bike trails.

"The area now occupied by the Robert F. Kennedy (RFK) Stadium and its surrounding parking lots will become a new eastern gateway, featuring museums, memorials, parks and education centers extending to the riverfront. Larger institutions will be concentrated to the south, near the present jail and hospital, while smaller cultural and commercial buildings will be woven into the existing fabric of the neighborhoods to the north."

Supporters of the project applaud the city's vision, but critics say it's a "land grab" by the mayor.

"It is obvious what the mayor is doing," said Mr. Chavous. "There is no jail or hospital on the 25-year plan for the city. The only way to connect the dots is to follow the land and the money."

Mr. Chavous wrote a letter yesterday asking Rep. Constance A. Morella, Maryland Republican, and Rep. Joseph Knollenberg, Michigan Republican, to seek a review of the contract by the Office of Management and Budget in order to "ascertain the true and accurate cost of privatizing this operation."

Mrs. Morella is chairman of the House Government Reform District of Columbia subcommittee, and Mr. Knollenberg is the new chairman of the House Appropriations District of Columbia subcommittee.

"I am deeply concerned about committing to this kind of financial uncertainty at a time when the District now enjoys a hard-fought financial recovery," Mr. Chavous wrote.

Mr. Chavous and D.C. Council member David Catania, at-large Republican, also are concerned that the costs in a contract currently being negotiated between the city and Doctors Community Hospital Corp. (DCHC) to take over some of the services will far exceed the $450 million over five years they bid. DCHC operates Greater Southeast Community Hospital.

Currently, D.C. General has cost taxpayers $109 million over the past three years. Greater Southeast wants about $85 million annually for five years to run the hospital. The control board expects to bring down that cost to about $70 million.

Mr. Catania also has expressed concern about the company's financial standing and business practices. These include a large debt, unprofitable status, not completing deals and 11th-hour demands in negotiations, according to Mr. Catania and news accounts. DCHC officials were unavailable for comment.

Mr. Knollenberg said through a spokesman that he understands the council's concern, but doesn't intend to intervene.

"No one on Capitol Hill has the stomach to jump into the fire," said Paul Wellday, spokesman for Mr. Knollenberg. "While we have concerns, we are reluctant to get involved in the 11th hour of the debate. The fat lady may have already sung in regards to this property."

Mr. Chavous asked the mayor in a letter Tuesday to support the council's position to maintain inpatient care and Level 1 trauma unit at D.C. General and a measure to be introduced that day supporting the hospital. He also requested that the mayor discourage the control board's involvement since the body will dissolve in six months.

Under the plan currently being negotiated, Greater Southeast Hospital would provide health care to uninsured D.C. residents. This would end almost all services at D.C. General Hospital and cost the nearly 200-year-old institution two-thirds of its 1,700 jobs on April 1.

Private medical offices will serve residents in place of the hospital and its six clinics. Greater Southeast would operate outpatient services in one building of D.C. General's complex.

The council wants Greater Southeast to provide a first-level trauma center as required by the request for proposal. That is currently being negotiated. Opponents to the deal say providing the trauma center would jack up Greater Southeast's price.

Currently, the control board, whose authority ends Sept. 30, is negotiating with Doctors. The board could impose a contract without approval from the council, something many council members fear will happen.

Regardless, the city has to act soon because funding for the hospital runs out March 15. Officials from D.C. General yesterday delivered a plan to close to the control board yesterday.

While opponents to the deal complain about finances and leaving a "vulnerable" population without adequate health care, proponents express frustration at the way the issue has been portrayed.

"This is a fiscally responsible approach," said Francis S. Smith, executive director of the control board. "Since 1980, we have tried to figure out what to do with that hospital. Nothing has worked. We want to upgrade medical care in the area, not close the hospital. There is a lot of smoke here, but no fire."

Mr. Smith also brushed off the idea that city officials are making a "land grab" by asking, "who would want to live near a jail, an armory and a cemetery? Those aren't going anywhere."

"This is going to be the most closely scrutinized contract in the city's history," he added.

Mr. Smith said the federal government owns the land the hospital sits on and would have to approve any redevelopment plan.

If the land did become available for redevelopment, he said it is unlikely any developer would be interested in it.

Several city developers said they are not aware of plans for the site if the hospital closes. Some said they are not sure if they would be interested in redeveloping the property if it became available.

"If it was in the middle of downtown, I'd have an interest. But the last time I checked, Southeast hadn't moved," said one developer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Albert R. "Butch" Hopkins Jr., president of the Anacostia Economic Development Corp., a nonprofit group that works to bring new businesses to Southeast, said his preference is to keep the hospital open. But if the site were redeveloped, he would like to see it used for shops and restaurants.

"I would want to see something that would further the city's bid for the Olympics," Mr. Hopkins said, referring to the joint effort by the District and Baltimore to host the 2012 Summer Olympics.

The federal government has been successful attracting new development to other parts of Southeast.

The U.S. Navy is moving 4,200 jobs from Crystal City in Arlington, Va., to the Washington Navy Yard, near the hospital. Developers are building hotels and offices to accommodate the naval contractors who are moving an additional 5,000 jobs to the area.

Last year, President Clinton signed legislation that allows the federal government to partner with developers to redevelop the Southeast Federal Center, a 55-acre public-office compound along the Anacostia River that has been vacant for 30 years.

• Chris Baker contributed to this report.

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