- The Washington Times - Monday, June 30, 2014


Microsoft? Not yet.

Citelum, a France-based lighting firm? Not yet.

SmartBIM, an architectural modeling company out of Atlanta? Not yet.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security? Maybe never.

Rebranding St. Elizabeths Hospital campus, home to wannabe presidential assassin John Hinckley Jr.? Not quite.

A spanking new public hospital? Hold that proposal.

The “new” Congress Heights? It’s on hold, too.

That is a partial tally of what’s happening in the poorest of the District’s eight political wards, where jobs, financial insecurity and poor-quality schools are the norm.

The Microsoft et al venture was supposed to change that, with not only jobs, but workforce training and small-business incubator-like programs of innovation.

The very potential “demonstrates that St. Elizabeths is going to be a different kind of project. We’re going to have some leading-edge technology — national and international,” D.C. Council member Marion Barry, who represents the area, said in October 2012.

But that was before — long before — the sheen of Mayor Vincent C. Gray wore off, long before Congress began reining in the Homeland Security build and long before the mayor had to pull the plug himself.

A lame duck, the mayor saw his No. 1 planning and economic development chief, Victor Hoskins, jump the D.C.-Maryland border to work in Prince George’s County. He now is the District’s chief economic development competitor.

Several other Gray Cabinet members have also split since he lost the Democratic primary, including Terry Bellamy of transportation, Nicholas Majett of consumer and regulatory affairs and Harriet Tregoning of planning.

In the eastern reaches of the District, political clout rests in the hands of veteran movers and shakers, but mostly the development problems still rests in the hands of the people appointed by the mayor, who was shunted by Democratic voters.

Dems in Ward 8 backed a second Gray term over chief rival Muriel Bowser, 57 percent over her 31 percent of the vote. Citywide, Ms. Bowser, a sitting lawmaker, was preferred to the known entity, 43 percent to the mayor’s 33 percent.

Now a lame duck, Mr. Gray is going back to the drawing board with the Microsoft et al project.

“The District has canceled the solicitations tied to the planned infrastructure work on the 183-acre Southeast D.C. site, pushing back construction there until at least the spring of 2015,” Michael Neibauer with the Washington Business Journal reported Monday. “No new tenants — Microsoft, Citelum or otherwise — will be able to open at St. E’s until the basic infrastructure is in place to support them.

“That includes new roadways, curbs, gutters, water lines, sewers, footings and walls. The existing St. E’s infrastructure, where it exists at all, is antiquated and deteriorating.”

D.C. planners just aren’t what the mayor thought they were.

The high-tech project is a worthy of the nation’s capital, and for Microsoft to commit to education, employment and entrepreneurship is what the city needs. Moreover, Microsoft already has more than 100 Microsoft Innovation Centers — in Brazil, India and Eastern Europe — just none in the United States. The one at the St. Elizabeths site would have — could be — the first. And the project would be strategically located near two Metro stations, Anacostia and Congress Heights, on the Green Line in Southeast.

At this point, I raise the spectre as to whether the mayor’s plan to build a new general hospital on the grounds is a wrench to the Microsoft et al project. If it is, the mayor, the lame duck mayor, should take it off the table, chiefly because the taxpayers can’t afford it and the public works projects at St. Elizabeths anyway.

In the meantime, city hall needs to play catch up — lest Prince George’s County, affectionately called “Ward 9,” snatches Microsoft et al, too.

Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

• Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

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