- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 26, 2016

After 11 years of wrangling, the campus of Walter Reed Army Medical Center on Georgia Avenue now belongs to the District — and in coming years will become a town center featuring office buildings, shops, apartments and a grocery store.

“The wait is over, and a new beginning is in sight at Walter Reed,” D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said Wednesday at a ceremony in which the Army signed over ownership of the property to the District.

“The Walter Reed Campus is one of the most important development projects in the District,” Miss Bowser said. “It will bring jobs, affordable housing, economic opportunity and pathways to the middle class for thousands of residents.”

Walter Reed, which served as the Army’s flagship medical center since 1909, was slated for closure in 2005 by the Defense Department’s Base Realignment and Closure Commission. In 2011 the facility was officially closed and replaced by the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

After more than 100 public meetings in a planning process that started in 2009, the District struck a deal with the Defense Department to buy 66 of Walter Reed’s 113 acres (including all the land that fronts Georgia Avenue) for $22.5 million. The remaining land will go to the State Department and the Children’s National Medical Center.

“As the federal base closing process began in 2005, we saw Walter Reed as a prize Ward 4 and D.C. had to have,” said Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s nonvoting representative in Congress. “Instead of simply banking the land for no immediate federal purpose, we argued for mixed-use and economic activity today, which could only come from transferring 67 acres to the District.”

Ms. Bowser touted the project as a catalyst for jobs, housing and city revenue. The redevelopment, which will be done by Hines Urban-Atlantic, will create more than 3 million square feet of residential, office and retail space.

It’s slated to bring nearly 5,000 jobs to the areas and nearly $1 billion in tax revenue over 30 years. It also will bring 2,100 housing units, 432 of which will be set aside for affordable housing; 250,000 square feet of retail stores; a hotel and conference center; an arts space; and an innovation center run by George Washington University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Walter Reed is a clear example of this administration’s commitment to moving major projects forward in the District,” Deputy Mayor Brian Kenner said at Wednesday’s signing ceremony. “Our goal is to deliver a transformative project that meets and exceeds the expectations of the community, and to make Walter Reed a national model for job creation and urban development.”

The project is still many years away from being realized, and the developers will have to replace nearly all of the campus’ infrastructure. Some buildings still contain lead paint and asbestos. Buildings that can’t be knocked down due to their historical significance will have to be treated for those problems. It could cost developers up to $50 million just to get the site ready for construction.

Miss Bowser said the project is an example of “what can be accomplished when residents have a voice in shaping the future of their neighborhoods.

The project had its doubters, including residents who were worried that much of the green space, including the hills and foliage around the campus, would be paved over. Others worried the new buildings would tower over the neighborhood.

Those fears were allayed when the developer offered 14 acres of open space on the campus and promised to keep buildings below 85 feet tall. The Advisory Neighborhood Commission that represents the area voted unanimously for the project.

Council member Brandon Todd, who represents Ward 4 where Walter Reed sits, said the project will improve the quality of life in the city’s northern neighborhoods.

“The redevelopment of Walter Reed is undoubtedly the greatest economic development opportunity the District of Columbia will ever see,” Mr. Todd said.

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