Grand Vision for Former Home of Walter Reed Hospital
Eugene L. Meyer – The New York Times
WASHINGTON — The boxy Brutalist hospital built in the late 1970s stands virtually vacant, as do brick buildings erected during World War I, officers’ quarters dating to the 1920s or before, and myriad other structures that together make up the former Army medical center named for Walter Reed, the physician who linked mosquitoes to yellow fever at the turn of the 20th century.
But the 110-acre site that has been dormant since September 2011 after 102 years in operation will not remain so. The former Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where generations of wounded soldiers received treatment and where President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Gen. Douglas MacArthur died, is due for a civilian makeover.
This month, local officials in Washington named a master development team headed by Hines, a national firm based in Houston, with two local companies, Urban Atlantic and Triden. Plans call for 3.1 million square feet of development, costing $1 billion, over perhaps 20 years of construction — including 2,097 residential units, 250,000 square feet of retail space, 90,000 square feet of offices, a science center, restaurants, a Hyatt hotel and conference center, and 20 acres of open space.
The plan says that historic buildings are to be preserved. Some housing will be at lower than market rates, including units for the elderly and the homeless. And there may be an upscale grocery, possibly a Wegmans or a Whole Foods. The Hines team has also recruited Weingarten Realty Investors, a national shopping center developer, and Toll Brothers, a luxury home builder.
The development is projected to create 4,500 construction jobs and 2,900 permanent jobs, with annual local tax revenues of $37 million.
Perhaps more important, the site, long secluded behind security fences, will again be a part of the neighborhood of single-family detached homes, garden apartments and rowhouses at Washington’s northern tip.
“Projects like Walter Reed loom large because it’s rare to get large hunks of land for development,” said Harriet Tregoning, Washington’s planning director.
Victor L. Hoskins, deputy mayor for economic development, added, “It’s an opportunity for us to put a mix of uses on a site essentially off limits to the city.”
Hines declined to discuss any details beyond its public proposal. The company is completing the $950 million CityCenterDC, a mixed-use project in the heart of downtown Washington that was largely financed by the real estate investment arm of Qatar.
The new project, to be known as the Parks at Walter Reed, will encompass 66.7 acres. The State Department is to take over 43.5 acres on the site’s northwestern side for a “foreign missions center” to accommodate 20 to 30 chanceries.
The Army hospital merged with nearby Bethesda Naval Hospital in 2011 to become the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. The change was part of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closing Act that trimmed the number of bases nationwide as part of defense budget reductions.
At the former hospital, a skeleton staff of 60 maintains the buildings and patrols the grounds, which otherwise resemble a ghost town. Marcus Craig, the Army’s BRAC project manager for Walter Reed, said he hoped the property would be transferred soon.
More than 200 parties expressed interest when the selection process began last January, with three submitting proposals. A round of public meetings with resident groups helped give Hines an edge with neighborhood organizations.
Chuck Watters, Hines senior managing director, said in an emailed statement: “We regard this as a very important project given its historical significance and the interest of the community to have the Walter Reed campus connect to the surrounding neighborhoods.”
Steve Whatley, whose home in the Shepherd Park neighborhood faces Walter Reed’s northern fence, said Hines’s plan won support from the neighborhood advisory commission because it “matched almost to a T what we wanted to see.”
Tim Shuy, another resident who owns a nearby pizza shop and is co-president of the Shepherd Park Citizens Association, said it was “an incredibly participatory process,” with all three finalists reaching out to the community.
While the neighbors look forward to promised amenities, Walter Reed’s closing has affected adjoining blocks. Mr. Shuy said his pizza business, dependent in part on the base, had declined.
“Did we go down double digits? Yes,” he said. “Did we survive it? Yes. There was a little bit of pain, but not to a point where we can’t operate our business.”
Mr. Whatley said: “During Desert Storm, Vietnam, it was a very active post. There used to be people waiting to get my parking space. There’s no traffic hardly at all now. It’s really quiet.”
It is likely to remain quiet for a while longer, with the makeover staggered over the next two decades. Now that a master developer has been chosen, the next step is for local Washington officials to negotiate a purchase price with the Army and then convey the land to Hines. The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development must also approve the plan.
Mr. Hoskins said he hoped for approval from the department early next year, and for negotiations with the Army to be concluded by July or soon thereafter.
Some historically insignificant structures will be demolished and some infrastructure work done before a formal groundbreaking takes place, probably in 2017. Meanwhile, housing for the homeless and a charter school “will be moving forward sooner, almost immediately,” Mr. Hoskins said, as well as a farmers’ market, outdoor musical performances and art exhibits open to the entire neighborhood.
“This was a parklike area you could see but couldn’t really go to,” Mr. Hoskins said of the tract. “It was like you can see it over the fence and can’t get there.”