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Where will Georgetown get 100 acres?

The agreement on the Georgetown University campus plan says that so long as relations go well, the parties will start discussing in 2018 some long-term goals, including one to "identify and develop next 100 acres."

Photo by the author.

The agreement doesn't give context for this goal. Given the timing, I'd guess the purpose of this new 100 acres is to relocate the hospital and medical school. But regardless of what purpose this 100 acres would serve, the bigger question that jumps to mind is: where is GU going to find 100 acres?

Georgetown University's main campus is 100 acres. There aren't many available parcels close by that are that large. But there are a few:

St. Elizabeths

St. Elizabeths is a historic psychiatric hospital located across MLK Ave. in Ward 8. It has 350 acres spread over its west and east campuses. At one point the hospital served 8,000 patients. Nowadays it serves only a very small group of patients, primarily those determined mentally incompetent to face trial (including Albrecht Muth).

In 2007, the Department of Homeland Security announced plans to consolidate its many offices around the DC area onto the west campus of St. Elizabeths. The District kept the east campus, and is planning to redevelop it. The east campus is 170 acres itself. So there's definitely room if GU wanted to be an "anchor tenant" of the development. The city would probably be happy to make a deal with GU if it meant the construction of a top notch hospital square in the middle of the city's poorest ward.

Alternatively, DHS has dragged its feet actually moving to the west campus. A senior DHS official said that they doubted the move would ever happen. It's remotely possible that DHS might be looking to back out of the deal, and GU could step in.

Old Soldiers Home

The Old Soldiers Home is a massive 250-acre plot of land in Ward 5 that contains the historic Lincoln cottage, where Abraham Lincoln escaped the summer heat. Right now the campus still houses a small population of retired veterans, but about half of the property is a golf course.

In 2005, the administrators of the home proposed to develop the southern section of the property. After some pushback from the surrounding neighborhood (and, as I hear it, from retired generals who like to golf) the plans seem to have been shelved.

It's a lot less likely an option for GU than St. Elizabeths, but you never know.

Reservation 13

Reservation 13 is the location of the old DC General hospital. The city has been working on plans to redevelop the parcel for years. Despite having issued an RFP several years ago, the city recently went back to square one on the project.

If building a hospital is part of plans, rebuilding a hospital on the site of the old DC General could make GU's pitch appealing to the city. But I doubt this would happen.

For one, the whole Reservation 13 is only 67 acres. And the city doesn't want to go from one single use to another for the property. Second, even if the city thinks it's a good idea, the neighbors really don't want one large institutional use for the property.

Those are the only properties I can think of in the District proper. GU, of course, could explore site in Virginia or Maryland, but I suspects they want to remain more central.

So if I had to bet, I'd say St. Elizabeths.

Topher Mathews has lived in the DC area since 1999. He created the Georgetown Metropolitan in 2008 to report on news and events for the neighborhood and to advocate for changes that will enhance its urban form and function. A native of Wilton, CT, he lives with his wife and daughter in Georgetown.  


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Are those 100 limited to inside the DC boundaries?

by spookiness on Jun 12, 2012 1:47 pm • linkreport

I think it will be fascinating to see how this plays out. And if I had to guess, I would bet it winds up as one chunk in the 40-60 acre range, plus a few smaller parcels elsewhere.

by Jacques on Jun 12, 2012 1:57 pm • linkreport

No way the hospital is moving. They have several what-if plans in place for building a new facility right there. Lot A, Yates, etc.

They could be talking about building academic space out in Loudoun for all we know, like GWU already has done. But the Med school and hospital are not leaving Reservoir Road. MedStar just launched a new identity campaign at GU which shows even more commitment to that site.

by PaulB on Jun 12, 2012 2:14 pm • linkreport

One other option that was pointed out to me is Poplar Point. That's got over 100 acres.

You're right. Medstar doesn't want to move and their PR department has denied the possibility. However, I have been told by multiple sources that GU is nonetheless moving forward with plans to move. I don't know all the ins and outs of GU's deal with Medstar, but GU seems fairly confident that it can move the hospital, whether that means buying out Medstar or convincing them or what, I don't know.

by Topher Mathews on Jun 12, 2012 2:33 pm • linkreport

One point on which people appear to be saying very different things is how content MedStar is with the current location. Some are saying that they can't wait to move and find the facilities to be obsolete. Others say that GU is their most profitable campus in the area and they would be loath to move to another location (which would inevitably be in much lower-income surroundings), but see the writing on the wall that GU is going to kick the hospital out before too long and absorb the space into Main Campus. Whatever their true attitude is - and it may well be undecided or inconsistent - will probably have a significant impact on the direction this goes.

Relevant information:

Howard Federoff, executive vice president for health sciences at the Medical Center, raised in a June letter the prospect of the entire Medical Center moving off campus in the years ahead, as he anticipates that the Main Campus will ultimately need the space and the Medical Center will outgrow the current location.


Federoff: In five years, we have to have an organization and financial model that produces limited but nonetheless sustainable growth in the Medical Center. It has weathered incredible adversity, and the fact that it has survived suggests we have very talented people here. But we have to look to the future, and that means recruiting young, talented, best-in-class faculty.

Beyond five years, I anticipate that we will need a new physical location. I don’t believe this medical center can legitimately be competitive within the region or nationally if we remain here on the Hilltop. Not because the Hilltop isn’t a great location, but our infrastructure here is tired, and it’s extraordinarily, some might say prohibitively, expensive to renovate for world-class research. Moreover, I believe strongly the entire Hilltop will be needed for the university’s main campus so, like the Law Center, we’ll have to pick ourselves up and move to another location.


by Dizzy on Jun 12, 2012 2:34 pm • linkreport

A new facility is all but off the table in the new campus plan, as it requires MedStar to submit plans through the Zoning Commission before beginning any serious planning (Ask GU what that's like.)

by Dane on Jun 12, 2012 2:36 pm • linkreport

I wouldn't call St E's central. Or desired for a medical campus.

Old Soldgiers Home is interesting. What happened to Walter Reed? Any space left?

To be honest, RFK seems to make the most sense.

by charlie on Jun 12, 2012 2:52 pm • linkreport

One other option that was pointed out to me is Poplar Point. That's got over 100 acres.

Not really. The legislation that transferred that land to DC (which still hasn't officially happened yet, as far as I know) mandated that 70 acres of PP's 110 total remain as open space of some kind.

by Alex B. on Jun 12, 2012 3:31 pm • linkreport

The hospital is going to want to stay near its current upmarket clientele and its staff. Here's my list:

1) Grosvenor: Might be able to straddle Rockville Pike between G'town Prep and Holy Cross.

2) Medical Center: Demolish Walter Reed and rebuild

3) A failed shopping mall

by Kevin C on Jun 12, 2012 3:31 pm • linkreport

How about at the West Hyattsville metro station? Depending on the source you reference, there are between 150 and 200 developable acres at the metro station and in the surrounding streets. It's a 15 minute metro ride into downtown DC, with relatively easy access to 495.

GU Hospital would be an excellent building block for a medical research campus.

by Scott on Jun 12, 2012 3:51 pm • linkreport

I didn't see anything stating that the 100 acres needed to be contiguous. GU could pick several different parcels through the city. I suspect though the St. Elizabeth's would not be high up on the list given its isolation from the rest of GU. Also, the timeline in this post said 2018 as the start date to have "conversations about identifying..." the 100 acres. It could take another decade before they actually make a move, which also changes the list of tenable options. I also agree with Jacques that 40 - 60 acres seems much more likely.

by Nicoli on Jun 12, 2012 4:12 pm • linkreport

100 acres is a square .4 miles by .4 miles. That's huge. And inside the DC metro area, that kind of land is crazy expensive, as we all know, and a logistical nightmare to acquire. It might be cheaper for the University to just pay for a subway station, we're talking so much money. And while G.U. is certainly not suffering, its endowment is very small compared to a lot of other elite privates. It's going to need the city to hand it that land.

by Tom Veil on Jun 12, 2012 4:22 pm • linkreport

Extraordinarily unlikely that any undergraduate classes or housing would be moved off the current campus. Its fine to set that as a goal to appease the neighbors, and I can see more offices, particularly grad school offices, moving to their buildings on Wisconsin Ave and over by the School of Continuing Studies in Clarendon, but the ludicrous idea that either the whole school or the hospital would/could move must be permanently put down.

by Patrick on Jun 12, 2012 4:22 pm • linkreport

Not quite 100 acres, but the block containing the International Graduate University and the SE Safeway between 13th, 14th, E and F streets SE should be considered. The IGU is a travesty of poor land use, and the Safeway is due for an urbanist upgrade. If the whole block were redeveloped, it could contain a new grocery and significant campus or medical infrastructure. It's also right off of PA ave and a stone's throw from Potomac Ave. metro.

by Will on Jun 12, 2012 5:55 pm • linkreport

The city did not "go back to square one" as this story claims on Res 13 aka HillEast Waterfront. DMPED said it would restart the process with two parcels (rather than bid out the entire site) but would continue to follow the Master Development Plan for the site. That plan calls for a small healthplex on the site (about 3 acres) -- not a medical complex.

by Ken on Jun 12, 2012 7:41 pm • linkreport

@Patrick - As the author noted, they could try to move the hospital and medical school.

@Will - According to google maps, that site is only about 7.8 acres. I think they have slightly more ambitious plans than that.

What about the old pepco site EOTR? That has 80 acres and wouldn't be ready for development for a decade, which seems to be the right timeframe for GU.

by Nicoli on Jun 12, 2012 8:41 pm • linkreport

Will, for what it's worth, a block is about 1.5 acres.

WRT the West Hyattsville suggestion, it doesn't serve GU's hospital clientele. Remember that Medstar owns the hospital. They already have Washington Hospital Center serving the eastern part of the city/close in suburbs.

Plus, a large teaching hospital there would interfere with the PG County/UMD plans to deal with the PG Hospital mess.

by Richard Layman on Jun 12, 2012 10:24 pm • linkreport

um, I can't multiply. A 300x300 foot block is slightly more than 2 acres. More importantly, as I always point out, in the eastern quadrants in the L'Enfant pPlan, the 13000 block is a triple sized block. So it is bigger than 2 acres, more like 7 acres. But still, 7 acres is less than 40, 60, or 100 acres. And it's a lousy place to try to insert highly used infrastructure.

WRT the Safeway, expect it to be redeveloped some day to be an appropriately sized City Vista type development. Although doing even 6 stories there will be very difficult politically (cf. Hine development).

by Richard Layman on Jun 12, 2012 10:30 pm • linkreport

McMillan Reservoir? Too close to VA & Washington Hospital Center?

by tour guide on Jun 12, 2012 10:42 pm • linkreport

Moving the hospital or medical school out of Georgetown or that region of DC would be heartbreaking. The current situation around the campus is entirely too congested and disorganized however good planning, design, and phasing can address the problems which really stem from the low density brutalist style plaza and pavilion classroom and lab building that stretches on eastward from the hospital for several city blocks. If this sprawling underutilized area was rebuilt without the unused plaza and other inefficiencies into a bucolic ivy covered brick, stone, and ivy cluster of buildings more respectful to the fantastic icon of Healy Hall there would be space to replace the medical center, expand the medical school, deal with transportation, and integrate new parking within the buildings. The campus would benefit as would the neighborhood while the great spirit the medical school and hospital bring to the Georgetown University experience would be retained and enhanced.

by AlexW on Jun 13, 2012 6:02 am • linkreport

Having used GU's outpatient clinics, the clientele seems pretty mixed economically. The current location is not great. Moving to the Soldier's home seems like the most viable choice. Some but not ideal public transit access, but good road access. A lot of GU staff also work at WHC and it would be easier for them. It's not unusual for urban hospitals to have different facilities on a single campus with different target audience--in fact, it's a very old model.

Very few academic med centers relocate to the 'burbs. Loyola is the only one I can think of, off hand and it's in an old inner ring suburb and I believe that it started with an existing campus.

by Rich on Jun 13, 2012 10:02 am • linkreport

Move it to McMillan? Or the Soldiers' home area?

I dunno if you guys noticed, but there's already a hospital right there! And another hospital a mile away!

Clearly what that area needs is more hospitals.

by MLD on Jun 13, 2012 10:23 am • linkreport

@MLD - lots of cities have hospitals concentrated in a single neighborhood (see San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, San Diego, Boston). In addition to making access to specialist easier - it can spur related development (bio-tech, pharma...).

by Andy(2) on Jun 13, 2012 12:54 pm • linkreport

If GU hospital moves out of NW, it's great news for the more modern, state of the art GW Hospital and Medical Center!

by LoyalColonial on Jun 13, 2012 1:17 pm • linkreport

I have always thought the west campus of St Elizabeths would be perfect for a college campus. I did the walking tour and it has amazing views, not to mention it already IS a campus. The first buildings were built in 1800's.

The public would get to enjoy this historic campus instead of being a secure, closed off facility. There are 2 metros and (maybe) a streetcar line coming that would serve students and faculty.

by Brian on Jul 24, 2012 10:31 pm • linkreport

There were thoughts of moving UDC there bout 15-20 years ago. It would have given them the best campus in the City. It is too bad the powers that be insisted on keeping the neo-70's bunker campus in Van Ness.

by William on Jul 25, 2012 7:15 am • linkreport

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