With plans to consolidate the Department of Homeland Security at the federally-owned western campus of Saint Elizabeths long delayed, the city has slowly brought the east campus to life over the past half-decade.
Last month city officials, construction workers and contractors, local business owners and financiers joined nearby residents and community leaders to break ground on the Residences at Saint Elizabeths East, a redevelopment project that will bring 252 apartments to seven historic buildings.
According to city officials, the $109 million project is expected to be completed in 18 months.
Gates and fences that have isolated the southern campus of St. Elizabeths East from the surrounding communities on Alabama Avenue SE for decades are coming down. On pathways leading from the Congress Heights Metro station new street signs stand over freshly laid asphalt and sidewalks. A modern electric grid powers the Sports and Entertainment Arena which opened this fall.
After nearly a decade of planning, the first water storage tower built since 1945 has sprouted on the periphery of the historic grounds.
Rubbing her hands together to stay warm, Tiera Ali, a native Washingtonian in her late 20s saw the announcement of the ribbon cutting on a social media account and decided to attend before her evening classes at Prince George’s Community College.
“Eventually I want to own a home in DC, so since they’re building the residences here, I just want to be informed and to know what’s going on so I can come back,” said Ali.
Before introducing the mayor, long-time 8C Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Mary J. Cuthbert recalled that she initially began working on redevelopment plans for the east campus in 2000.
“I am most excited about our Entertainment Arena,” said Cuthbert, who lauded the ability of Ward 8 residents to now spend their money locally as opposed to driving to National Harbor in Prince George’s County. “This is our own. We have to keep it. Respect it and make sure everyone can enjoy it.”
Deputy Mayor Kenner
In an interview inside the arena, Deputy Mayor of Planning and Economic Development Brian Kenner said the success of the development of Saint Elizabeths East will be measured in engagement with and impact on adjacent neighborhoods.
“For developments and redevelopments we measure success in small businesses, or, job opportunities, especially for DC residents and getting more micro, residents around this community in particular,” Kenner said. “This campus has remained fallow for a long time and hasn’t contributed anything to the immediate neighborhood.”
During the construction of the Sports and Entertainment Arena Kenner said that $10 million dollars worth of small business opportunities were delivered to businesses based in Wards 7 and 8.
Kenner pointed to MLK Deli (3113 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE), an eatery that opened last year next-door to the offices of the Washington Informer (3117 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE) as a prime example. Instead of Aramark or Sodexo, MLK Deli serves as the arena’s anchor concession vendor and caterer.
“They have seen their sales go up exponentially,” Kenner reports.
Of the 252 apartments planned across seven buildings, 80 percent have been designated as affordable, with incomes restricted to 50 percent of the Area Median Income, according to a mandate between DMPED and the developer. The average square footage of units is planned to be 907 feet with 4 percent of apartments being studios, 44 percent one-bedroom, 17 percent two-bedroom and 35 percent three-bedroom.
Kenner says the recruitment of potential residents will be done in coordination with community development partners, such as the Anacostia Economic Development Center.
For more information on housing opportunities at Saint Elizabeths East visit www.steapts.com.
Advisory Neighborhood Commission 8C meets the first Wednesday of every month at 6:30 p.m. at the R.I.S.E. Demonstration Center (2730 Martin Luther King, Jr. Ave. SE).