- The Washington Times - Friday, August 26, 2005

The disappointment expressed by city officials about the federal government’s decision Thursday to close Walter Reed Army Medical Center is not shared by local real estate executives.

They consider the 113-acre campus in Northwest a windfall for developers and the community.

“It could be a blessing in disguise,” said Doug Jemal, president of Douglas Development Corp., one of the Washington area’s largest real estate developers. “It could be a great tax generator for the city.”

Walter Reed is slated for closure by the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission, which is closing military installations or reassigning employees nationwide.

Mr. Jemal said the Walter Reed property could be used for a combination of residential, retail and office development.

Other real estate executives and city officials agreed.

“If the federal government turns it over to the District, that’s what you’re likely to see,” said Sandy Paul, vice president of Delta Associates, an Alexandria real estate research firm.

City officials, such as Mayor Anthony A. Williams, have said another medical facility might be appropriate for the site, where research projects like the ones found at Montgomery County biotechnology companies could be conducted.

“Anything that is productive for the community couldn’t be ruled out as a possibility,” said Lucy Kitchin, assistant vice president of Spaulding & Slye Colliers, a real estate firm whose federal practice is based in Washington.

A similar development opportunity arose in Alexandria in 1988, when the 164-acre Cameron Station, which housed the Defense Logistics Agency, was shut down.

A developer bought 100 acres of the land and turned it into condominiums and other residential units. The other 64 acres were turned into a park.

“It’s been successful,” Ms. Kitchin said.

Any decision on a new use for the Walter Reed campus will need to wait until later this year, when Congress votes on whether to approve the commission’s decision to close the almost-100-year-old hospital.

“It’s still too early in the process,” said Glenn Flood, Defense Department spokesman. “You have to take into consideration what the local jurisdiction might want to do with it.”

A change in ownership would take at least two more years under Defense Department procedures.

First, the federal government is supposed to determine whether it has other uses for the property, such as turning it over to the Department of Homeland Security or another agency.

If no federal agency claims it, the property would be turned over to the General Services Administration.

The District then could negotiate to assume control of the site for public uses, such as parks or schools.

If the District does not take the property, private developers could bid on it.

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat and the District’s non-voting member of Congress, said the federal government would be reluctant to get rid of the property because it is running out of space in the District.

“My best prediction is that nothing is going to happen to Walter Reed for at least 10 years,” said Mrs. Norton, who is the ranking member of the Transportation and Infrastructure economic development, public buildings and emergency management subcommittee.

If no government entity claims the property, she said private development would be a viable alternative.

Cameron Station and other military base redevelopments “are good examples that show that this is doable,” she said.

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