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Georgetown eyes satellite campus at White Oak

Georgetown University needs space to grow. Montgomery County needs a university to anchor a research and development center they want to create in White Oak. There's a college campus for sale in the neighborhood that can satisfy them both.

Could this be coming to White Oak? Photo by ehpien on Flickr.

Jonathan O'Connell reports that Georgetown is interested in buying the National Labor College, a 47-acre campus at New Hampshire Avenue and the Beltway. The AFL-CIO bought the former Catholic school to educate union workers nearly 40 years ago, but chose to sell it due to declining enrollment.

Over 300 potential buyers expressed interest in buying the campus for its redevelop­ment potential. One was Tysons Corner Center owner Macerich, which considered building a "high-end retail outlet center for name brands like Prada" on the site.

National Labor College
Bird's-eye view of the National Labor College campus from Bing Maps.

Georgetown would use the property to consolidate its sports programs in one location and to use the Lane Kirkland Center, a conference facility completed in 2006, for meeting space. Meanwhile, growing Montgomery College may want it for an entire new campus, though they haven't submitted a formal bid yet. While both schools would make a great use for the property, having Georgetown at the National Labor College is particularly interesting.

Last week, county planners submitted preliminary recommendations (PDF) for the White Oak Science Gateway Master Plan, which envisions creating a new center for research and technology around the Food and Drug Administration's new campus on New Hampshire Avenue, a half-mile from the National Labor College. Under the plan, which is similar to the proposed Great Seneca Science Corridor in Gaithersburg, the area could have as many as 40,000 new jobs and 8,000 new homes.

Quad, LifeSci Village
Rendering of LifeSci Village, a proposed research and development park with housing, offices and shops. Image from Percontee.

The county's already picked a developer for what would be the plan's largest component, a massive mixed-use development called LifeSci Village. However, a county-funded study by consulting firm Partners for Economic Solutions last year found that the Science Gateway won't work without an affiliated research institution.

Georgetown could potentially fill that void. The university conducts a lot of research, and while much of it is not in science or technology-related fields, they are looking to expand. Georgetown is looking for up to 100 acres for a satellite campus somewhere in the District of Columbia to accommodate their future growth needs.

While a few potential sites exist, many of them would require building a school from scratch. The National Labor College, with dorms, classrooms, a library and an auditorium, would allow Georgetown to hit the ground running. That is, if they sought to use the campus for more than athletic fields and conference rooms.

With a new campus, Georgetown could expand into new fields of study and scientific research. Meanwhile, the White Oak Science Gateway would have a prestigious anchor that could draw scientists and companies from around the world. In turn, they would attract investment in the kind of amenities that East County residents are clamoring for, like more jobs and better shopping.

Potential BRT Routes in White Oak
Potential rapid transit routes in the White Oak Science Gateway. A stop would be located at the National Labor College near the bottom of the map. Image from the Montgomery County Planning Department.

Of course, one advantage to sites in the District is proximity to Georgetown's main campus, while the National Labor College is over 10 miles away. If built, Montgomery County's proposed Rapid Transit Vehicle system would have three routes serving the White Oak Science Gateway and a stop serving the National Labor College, improving its accessibility to the main campus and the rest of the region.

As I've written before, the National Labor College campus is a big opportunity for East County to reinvent itself. However, it also gives Georgetown University a chance to grow and become an even stronger research institution. Meeting the school's athletic needs is important, but there's potential for much more on this site.

Dan Reed is an urban planner at Nelson\Nygaard. He writes his own blog, Just Up the Pike, and serves as the Land Use Chair for the Action Committee for Transit. He lives in downtown Silver Spring. All opinions are his own. 


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What does it mean that they will consolidate the sports programs? All undergrad athletes will have to hike from the main campus to this place?

One interesting questions is whether this is the consequence of Georgetown residents and the DC Office of Planning's hostility toward Georgetown U. OP pushed for really strict enrollment caps, so Georgetown wants to move a lot of stuff to Montgomery County.

This might be great for White Oak, but is it bad for DC?

by David Alpert on Oct 1, 2012 11:16 am • linkreport

"One was Tysons Corner Center owner Macerich, which considered building a "high-end retail outlet center for name brands like Prada" on the site."

Seriously? I live in eastern MoCo and there is no way that area could support that level of retail. There are a few that could shop there, but not the saturation that a good retail location would need. We have that already in Friendship Heights, and if they need to expand, i'd think the greater White Flint redevelopment would be better.

The site as a sattelite campus for a college is a good idea actually. I know the planners talked about possible redevelopment into higher density uses along NH Ave and retaining the green area in the rear as a buffer, but this would be best at keeping existing community character, while improving and intensifying the use. If not Georgetown, I hope another college then.

by Time for class on Oct 1, 2012 11:22 am • linkreport

I guess I can imagine this for some GU grad programs, but for undergrad stuff? How the heck are students supposed to get there? I can't imagine many undergrads are going to want to take a 30-50 minute shuttle ride to get out to classes, or sports programs, or pretty much anything.

by MLD on Oct 1, 2012 11:33 am • linkreport

@David, MLD

According to the Post, Georgetown's varsity sports programs currently take place at 9 different sites throughout the region, so athletes are already leaving campus to play. That said, the "satellite campus" described would be self-contained, so students would already be living there, wherever it is.

@Time for class

There may be more of a market for high-end retail in East County than you think. The website for White Oak Shopping Center says that there are nearly 400k people living within 5 miles, and the median household income is nearly $100k/year. (This compares to the data on Mapping America, so it's legit.)

5 miles from White Oak doesn't even reach Rock Creek Park, so we know these are people already in East County - and they currently have to go to Bethesda or Rockville or Columbia for shopping beyond Target and eating beyond TGI Friday's.

That said, I agree that high-end retail probably wouldn't have worked at NLC. Better to have that stuff in LifeSci Village, which if built out would have nearly 12 million square feet of development.

by dan reed! on Oct 1, 2012 11:45 am • linkreport

Will think this one over a bit before posting a response. In immediate response to you, David:

1. Many Hoya sports either lack any home facility (field hockey, track), have to use a far off-campus site (baseball), will soon be homeless (tennis) or otherwise have very subpar facilities. The main campus is also out of buildable space, basically. They blew the chance to get Mount Vernon College decades ago and see what GW has done with that. Doing something similar, albeit nowhere bear as convenient as MVC, holds a lot of appeal.

2. Yes, neighbor hostility to the university and just about any sort of growth/impacts certainly plays a role. Ultimately, though, the campus is basically built out. There's a lot of very contradictory hearsay about whether MedStar wants to leave the Hilltop or is dead set on staying. That was always assumed to be the long-term contingency for Main Camous growth: move the Medical Campus and take over its space. Now it seems like a different approach is being tried. Georgetown Downtown is part of that, as is this search for "the next 100 acres."

by Dizzy on Oct 1, 2012 11:47 am • linkreport

@ David Alpert:This might be great for White Oak, but is it bad for DC?

Of course it's terrible for DC. It would be yet another university being harassed out of DC. GW already has its campus in Ashburn. Give it a decade or two and AU will start doing the same.

DC has the second worst school system in the nation, and they're harassing the private good schools out as well. And all because DC's rich inhabitants think that they live in the equivalent of Halfway, VA.

by Jasper on Oct 1, 2012 11:57 am • linkreport

Very interesting. I appreciate White Oak not being referred to as "Silver Spring," which is incorrect and really annoying, but the clueless media does it anyway.

I strongly support Georgetown U acquiring the campus. While Georgetown isn't really known as a life sciences research institution, the satellite campus could anchor the Science Gateway and presents a excellent opportunity for the the university to expand into the bioscience field.

As for Montgomery College adding another campus, I think the location is too close to the TP/SS campus to make much sense. Not to mention they've already heavily invested in that campus (it's literally been transformed over the past 5 years), just completed a new science building in Rockville, and are working on a bioscience center in Germantown (with a new hospital coming up next door). MC should continue to focus its resources on its existing campuses instead expanding to a new one.

It's nice that Micerich is considering purchasing the property to build high-end retail, but I agree with "Time for class" in that would be a very poor use of the location for 2 reasons:

1. New retail (especially short-supply high-end retail) should be built in dense, transit-accessible areas. If Micerich wants to build high-end retail there's a far better location right down the street--downtown Silver Spring (which is sorely lacking in this area). They could tear down City Place or redevelop the Giant plaza on East-West.

2. While there may be a few high income enclaves in close proximity of the campus (particularly in White Oak and Burtonsville), Eastern Montgomery doesn't have enough high-income households to support that type of retail and the location (apart from being right off the Beltway) isn't really that attractive for it either.

by King Terrapin on Oct 1, 2012 2:42 pm • linkreport


I think you're misreading the "self-contained" bit. That is meant to sigify that the institutions/tenants of the new campus will be wholly in one place, rather than broken up as some offices are now. One thing that has always been non-negotiable throughout the campus plan discussions is that undergraduate student housing will NOT be moved off of main campus. Doing otherwise would represent a fundamental shift in the University's philosophy. Simply put, if something like that had happened, I would have heard about it (as would have many others).

Athletic facilities are not institutions or departments per se, so there's no inherent objection to clustering some off-campus; that is already the status quo in many cases, as you mentioned.

by Dizzy on Oct 1, 2012 2:55 pm • linkreport

@ King Terrapin

I agree with your comment assessment, though I do have to tactfully point out that White Oak is actually Silver Spring (so is Wheaton, Glenmont, Aspen Hill, Cloverly, Colesville and Kemp Mill). Silver Spring is the name given to almost all of the zip codes in the eastern 1/3 of Montgomery County.

Back to King's comments, Dan argues otherwise about their not being enough households in the area to support high end retail, so I expand upon the second part of your (2) comment - people with the means to shop at high end retail will not want to shop in Hillendale. Much like a lot of the nicer developments that have been tried in Prince Georges County recently, a lot of lower income, and especially young people tend to go to these new nice centers and just hang out, as if they just want to be seen there and cause trouble. Whether there is any real danger or inconvenience to these people being at these centers is not the same as the perception a lot of wealthy patrons. There is also an economy of scale that is not met in Hillendale. There are multiple centers of high end retail all up and down the 355 corridor, so it may take me 10 more minutes to get over there, I can probably run more errands at the same time.

by Time for class on Oct 1, 2012 3:12 pm • linkreport

@Time for class

a lot of lower income, and especially young people tend to go to these new nice centers and just hang out, as if they just want to be seen there and cause trouble.

Two issues with this statement: the assumption that low-income or young people are always causing destructive behavior, and the assumption that any place where "these people" will go is automatically undesirable. If either of these things were true, Downtown Silver Spring and Wheaton Plaza wouldn't be so successful. There are going to be people who won't want to visit these places for whatever reason, and that's their loss.

Yes, there's a lot of shopping centers along 355, and I don't think anything in White Oak will compare to that. But Macerich was right to see the untapped demand for better shopping in the area, even if their idea wasn't fully baked. I'm confident that given good places to shop, East County residents (of all stripes) will gladly shop in their own backyard.

by dan reed! on Oct 1, 2012 3:28 pm • linkreport

@ Dan

as a resident of Downtown Silver Spring, I personally don't have a hang-up on who is or inst hanging out somewhere (as long as they are not being destructive), and agree it's unfair to stereotype low income with bad behavior (It is the un-chaperoned youth that does at times drive me away from DT SS as they do tend to be the most un-behaved), however people do have that stereotype about income. I'd also say Silver Spring has come a long way from where it was, and it's moving in the right direction, but it's not successful in attracting anything high end in the market share. I still have to go to Bethesda for that.

I'm not saying that the market study is wrong in saying there is a supply of money in close proximity that *could* support higher end retail in that area, I just disagree that it would ever work out for the owner of that retail center.

by Time for class on Oct 1, 2012 4:25 pm • linkreport

@ Dan Reed

A few points:

First, $100k household income can't support retail at the "like Prada" level. Not even close, especially with housing prices in the County.

Second, to say that DTSS and "Wheaton Plaza" are successful for retail is a gross overstatement, especially when it comes to high end products (and especially Westfield Wheaton). For example, I was speaking with one of Macy's regional purchasing managers a few months back when at the Wheaton location looking for a specific, mid-range product. He told me that, at least in Macy's case, they only ship their higher end merchandise to Downtown, Montgomery Mall, and/or Tysons. Wheaton simply doesn't have the demographics to support that type of product. Hence, at Westfield Wheaton you get down-market Macy’s, forever-21, Shaw’s Jewelry, dollar stores, and tattoo parlors. At Westfield Montgomery you get Nordstrom, an Apple Store, Liljenquist & Beckstead; and in Friendship Heights you get Tiffany, Cartier, Neman Marcus and Barney’s.

While most of this is due to income, a lot is due to perception. I don’t want to be shopping for a $10,000 watch when there are packs of thugged out teenagers walking round. I know I’ve stopped going to the Silver Spring movie theater with my young son because of the clientele that hangs around Ellsworth Dr. If I didn’t live right around the corner from Westfield Wheaton, there would be absolutely no reason to go there, considering the fact that they only sell bottom of the barrel goods and you have to deal with stuff like this:

by Wheaton on Oct 1, 2012 4:28 pm • linkreport


Thanks for writing. I never said that East County can support Prada, but there is a gap between Unique Thrift (which is in Hillandale today) and what families making $100k/year can support.

Downtown Silver Spring hasn't had significant vacancies since the first phase opened in 2002. And while the Hecht's wing of Wheaton Plaza suffered after Hecht's was bought by Macy's in 2005, they've drawn a number of new tenants in recent years, like DSW and H&M - stores that until a few years ago were only found west of Rock Creek Park. I call that success.

I'm sorry that you don't feel comfortable going to downtown Silver Spring. My brother is 13 and neither myself nor my parents have had any problem taking him there since he was younger.

by dan reed! on Oct 1, 2012 4:41 pm • linkreport

@ King T: Not gonna happen. GU just opened Regent's Hall, it's new experimental science building. And they're also not gonna move the bio-research that the hospital is doing. That's the whole reason why the hospital is still on campus. If GU is gonna spin stuff of, it is gonna be whole units. Like downtown campus, and the law center. Since (half of the) sciences just got themselves a M$100 new building, they're not going anywhere.

by Jasper on Oct 1, 2012 4:50 pm • linkreport

Since Georgetown is considering this site; whats with all the excuses of suggesting sites that are near WMATA stations about previous stories or articles about some University/Business/whatever looking for a new site ?

Is there any chance that Georgetown could get Walter Reed site, Pepco site, St Elizabeth site, A portion of Anacostia Park if could be done, Ft Lincoln, or simple buy out an area.

by kk on Oct 1, 2012 7:00 pm • linkreport

@ Wheaton

Ditto. Friendship Heights, MD/DC is the premier high-end retail destination for the DC Area (arguably superior to Tysons Galleria) and Montgomery Mall is the most upscale mall in the MD suburbs. Neither collection of retail outlets would be successful east of Connecticut Ave. (I wouldn't call Macy's "down market" though).

@ Time for class
Only the USPS (which is notorious for misnaming locales) refers to those areas as "Silver Spring." The Census Bureau definitions is the best source for identifying the boundaries of unincorporated areas (CDP's). According to the USPS Aspen Hill doesn't even exist but is divided between Rockville and Silver Spring.

by King Terrapin on Oct 1, 2012 8:13 pm • linkreport

First off, let's not go down the rabbit hole of trying to define what is and is not Silver Spring. That could be the subject of a whole other blog.

MC should continue to focus its resources on its existing campuses instead expanding to a new one.

True, there's been a lot of expansion at the existing MC campuses but that's because enrollment is growing so fast. At this rate of growth it seems MC will need another campus in a few years.

Also, a full fledged MC campus would have alot more potential for building a walkable, dense community around it then putting some athletic fields ouy there. Athletic fields would be a lot less likely to create a lot of jobs and kickstart growth than a college campus teeming with students.

by Falls Church on Oct 1, 2012 8:34 pm • linkreport

If the broker has had 300 inquiries (of which many probably never resulted in a walk around), a lot of them probably weren't serious. A big piece of property set-up for institutional purposes will get a lot of looks "for the heck of it". The Postie probably based this article on hype he heard from some friend of the broker or a press release.

A fancy outlet mall might be seen as a counterpart to the one in Leesburg with Beltway access to the rest of MoCo, and relatively good proximity for Balto and Howard. Unfortunately, outlet malls are struggling nationally and Arundel Mills might be too close (outlet malls go for wide spacing). Probably unlikely.

GU has considered some big ideas for itself, but that's not unusual for a university, plus they might be used as bargaining chips with their neighbors. For example, GU has talked about a school of public health which many universities are starting because of they operate on soft money and can use a lot of existing infrastructure. Unfortunately, the area already has JHU (which has some courses in the DC area) and GW, which is about to move its school into a new building, plus the community health program at UMD, and a new health policy program at GMU. GU's med school also lacks strengths in areas related to public health and doesn't have GW's relationships with DC DoH. No one mentioned where GU has its athletic teams practice, but I wonder if any location is as inconvenient as White Oak would be.

by Rich on Oct 1, 2012 10:18 pm • linkreport

@ Rich:GU's med school also lacks strengths in areas related to public health and doesn't have GW's relationships with DC DoH.

But it does have the Lombardi Cancer Center.

by Jasper on Oct 2, 2012 10:54 am • linkreport

Why don't they move the Medical Campus AND the Burleith residents to Hill East and expand into those areas?

by Jeff on Oct 2, 2012 1:29 pm • linkreport

Maybe GU should leave DC completely and move to Maryland, after all, their seal says Maryland, not Washington, DC! I'm sure GW would give them a fair price for their DC holdings. George Washington always knows a good land deal, i.e. the Mt. Vernon campus in NW.

by GWalum on Oct 3, 2012 5:17 pm • linkreport

FWIW, I read "outlets" as factory outlets, not as full-price boutiques. As Rich mentioned, outlets typically like to have wide spacing between not only their own stores, but also from their full-price stores (e.g., Chevy Chase, Tysons, or Georgetown); I'd be surprised to see any open in Montgomery County, not with Arundel Mills and Potomac Mills relatively close by and with a proposed new outlet mall at National Harbor (not the worst idea, IMO).

It's hard to imagine how Georgetown could end up fragmenting their campus, particularly once various graduate and professional programs get hived off to downtown or elsewhere. Doing so kind of defeats the purpose of having a comprehensive university in the first place.

by Payton on Oct 6, 2012 8:04 pm • linkreport

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