HU Eyes Walter Reed Land

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Howard University officials have announced their interest in purchasing 62 acres of prime real estate that will be vacated by the Walter Reed Army Medical Center once it consolidates with the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., in September 2011.

The university’s interest has been spawned by the need to expand its own hospital, which is located in close proximity to WRAMC in Northwest Washington; and, if the acquisition comes to fruition, HU is poised to construct a new hospital and campus to the tune of $1.1 billion.

“[The land in question] is a huge site and that was part of [the federal government’s 2005] Base Realignment and Closure,” said Mary-Margaret Plumridge, spokeswoman for the District of Columbia’s Office for Planning and Economic Development.

“Which meant that the WRAMC property was offered to federal government agencies first,” she continued. “Initially, the State Department and General Services Administration were going to take the whole site, but last fall the State Department ended up giving back 62 [of WRAMC’s 100] acres.”

Plumridge further explained that the way BRAC works is that “whatever (land, in this case) federal agencies don’t want, goes to a local redevelopment authority”—which the city quickly moved to establish. She said HU became involved by put out a notice of interest as a nonprofit entity.

“So, what we’re doing now is evaluating all of those notices of interest and the LRA, which includes community [input], will then determine if any will be part of the larger development,” Plumridge said.

HU spokesman Ron Harris refrained from comment, but referred the AFRO to the university’s health care services Web site.

According to HU’s proposal for acquiring the property, it would relocate several of its hospital’s services and activities – including outpatient care and doctors' and dentists' offices – over to the WRAMC campus.

In addition, the university’s plans for the property– which would also bring more jobs to the community and boost tax revenues from commercial and retail enterprises – call for development of graduate student housing, a conference center and child care and community center.

Likewise, WRAMC’s move to Bethesda would result in expansion o f that campus, which already provides medical treatment and research. Following the merger, the new facility will be known as the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

WRAMC spokesman Chuck Dasey said the hospital, which celebrated its centennial last year, will reassign some of its employees to either Bethesda or Fort Belvoir in Northern Virginia, where another military hospital in being constructed.

He also said that its current community has been supportive over the years.

“When an institution has been in one place for a long time, it builds up ties,” Dasey said of the upcoming move. “One good thing is that other government agencies such as the District of Columbia will move onto the campus,” he said. In turn the District will be in a position to offer some of the acreage to HU.

“And I think that’s the D.C. government’s interest in part of the land,” said Dasey.