What’s Happening at St. Elizabeth’s East Campus?

Looking at Development Past, Present and Future

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Mayor Bowser cuts the ribbon at District Towns. The townhomes are an opportunity for ownership at St. Elizabeth’s East. Courtesy: EOM

In April, Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) cut the ribbon on the new District Towns development at St. Elizabeth’s East. The 88-unit townhome project offers home ownership opportunities on the St. Elizabeth’s East Campus. 27 of the residential units will be affordable dwellings.

A sprawling 180-acre site is located in the Congress Heights neighborhood and borders Anacostia to the north. St. Elizabeth’s East is planned to be a place for residents to live, work, rest and play.

“The transformation of St. Elizabeth’s East is truly bringing the community’s vision for this campus to life,” Bowser said at the ribbon-cutting. “What the community asked for here – jobs, entertainment, housing, health care – it’s all happening.”

The redevelopment of St. Elizabeth’s East has been underway since at least 2008, when DC Council approved a framework for redevelopment on the site. However, activity has accelerated in the last five years, beginning with the 2018 opening of the Entertainment and Sports Arena and continuing with groundbreaking on the new $375 million Cedar Hill Regional Medical Center this past February.

But it can be hard to keep track of what’s built, underway and planned for the site.  What’s going on at St. Elizabeth’s?

Background
Originally chartered by Congress as a mental hospital by famed social reformer Dorothy Dix, the St. Elizabeth’s site was chosen for its therapeutic landscape. In 1987, the federal government transferred the east campus to the District. In 1990, it was declared a National Historic Landmark.

In 2004, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) selected the west campus as the site of a new headquarters. The District saw the expected influx of federal employees as an opportunity to revitalize the east campus by expanding retail and services needed by federal workers and creating opportunity for residents and business owners in the community.

To that end, the DC Office of Planning (OP) finalized a St. Elizabeth’s Master Plan in 2012, outlining the expected use of the various parcels.

What’s Happened
Development at St. Elizabeth’s began slowly. The first investment came from the District, which constructed the R.I.S.E. Development Center and Gateway Pavilion in 2013.

Development really kicked off when the Entertainment and Sports Arena opened in 2018. The 4,200 seat multi-purpose events facility plays host to the WNBA Washington Mystics. The next year, the Residences at St. Elizabeth’s East (1201 Oak St. SE) welcomed the first tenants to the 252-unit development, which includes a fitness center, clubroom, parking and community spaces.

In 2020, the District completed stabilization of the horse stable and barn, part of the original hospital structure. In 2021, Congress Heights Main Street Program – Destination Congress Heights (DCH) partnered with the Deputy Mayor of Planning and Economic Development (DMPED) to create a marketplace at the barn. A six-member market venders’ council works with DMPED to operate the marketplace and activates the 40,000 square foot space on Saturdays from February until mid-December.

Just a few months before District Towns welcomed the first residents, the new 801 East Men’s shelter opened at 2700 Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. SE. At the January 2022 ribbon-cutting, Director of the Department of Human Services (DHS) Laura Zeilinger said that new program space in the shelter “is designed to respect the dignity and humanity of the people that will be served there.” The 396-bed facility includes a low-barrier shelter, a work program and daytime services such as a mailroom, computer lab, barber shop and laundry.

Underway
The projects that have been completed at St. Elizabeth’s East are significant. However, additional projects are slated for the coming months and years. Two in particular enhance health care services in the area.

On Parcel 17, work began in July of last year at 1200 Alabama Ave. SE on a new 118,000-square-foot community health center operated by Whitman-Walker.

The new clinic builds on the services currently provided at Whitman-Walker’s Max Robinson Center (2301 Martin Luther King Jr Ave. SE), providing primary, behavioral, dental care and treatment for substance use disorders.

The Whitman-Walker site includes a ground-floor pharmacy and the headquarters of the Whitman-Walker Institute – the organization’s research, policy and advocacy arm. When the new clinic opens in 2023, it will allow Whitman-Walker to triple the number of patients seen annually, from 5,000 to 15,000.

But the project with the biggest impact to health care services broke ground in February 2022, when construction began on the new Cedar Hill Regional Medical Center and GW Health ambulatory clinic.

The $375 million project includes a 136-bed, full-service hospital, ambulatory pavilion for physician offices, clinics and community space, a 500-car garage and a helipad for emergency transports. Children’s National Hospital will provide neonatal intensive care and newborn delivery. Over 2,500 new Washingtonians are expected to be born at the new hospital in its first year of operation.

Scheduled to open in December 2024, the new hospital will be the first inpatient facility to open in the District in over 20 years.

“Residents must have access to the health services they need, when and where they need them,” Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White (D) said at the groundbreaking. “The new full-service hospital east of the Anacostia brings us a step closer to providing equitable health care access to all Washingtonians, especially residents in Wards 7 and 8.”

Over on Parcel 13, the Neighborhood Development Company (NDC) is reportedly winding down planning to build a 2.9 acre, 7-story mixed-use development a short walk from Congress Heights Metro. The plans presented in 2020 call for 421 mixed-income apartment units and approximately 21,000 square feet of retail. Social services organization A Wider Circle is slated to be a tenant on the campus, where the organization will extend its Workforce Development program.

Upcoming
But that’s not all that is planned for the site. At the Whitman-Walker groundbreaking, Bowser announced that the new full-service Congress Heights Library would be built on Parcel 16 of the St. Elizabeth’s East campus. The new library will replace the existing Parklands-Turner Library (1547 Alabama Ave. SE), now one of the DC Public Library’s smaller outposts. Design work is expected to begin in October of this year, with construction to begin in January 2025.

The District started looking for a developer for Parcels 7,8 and 9 last spring. The parcels are on the western end of the campus near to the new Residences at St. Elizabeth’s and the Entertainment and Sports Arena. Parcel 7 allows for new construction but requires that the developer rebuild the R.I.S.E. Demonstration center, constructed as a temporary measure in 2013. The other development opportunities on Parcels 8 and 9 involve the adaptive reuse of historic buildings. The District has not announced the results of that competition, which closed last July.

Whatever the future holds, it is clear that St. Elizabeth’s presents opportunity for the surrounding communities.

“Our residents have long awaited the same access to amenities as the rest of the city,” said Councilmember Trayon White at a St. Elizabeth’s East groundbreaking. “We are seeing a beacon of light and hope here today. For me, it’s really about equity and access and there is no time like the present.”

A map of the St. Elizabeth’s East Campus, showing the division of parcels for development. Image: DMPED

KEY:

PARCEL # 18
1 Site of Historic Barns (Soul of the City Marketplace)
2 Site of 801 East Men’s Shelter
3 Site of Gateway Pavillion
4 Opportunity for historic preseration and rehab of 1902 buildings; plan calls for innovation hub
5 Opportunity for historic preseration and rehab of 1930s buildings (former General Hospital)
6 Under construction: 750-space Parking Garage
7 In solicitation (mixed use residential, retail, office; requires rebuild of R.I.S.E. facility)
8 In solicitation (community and innovation hub)
9 In solicitation (commercial educational use)
10 Opportunity for up to 53,847 sq foot by right development
11 Residences at St. Elizabeth East
12 Entertainment and Sports Arena
13 NDC mixed-use development with A Wider Circle
14 Opportunity for up to 135,413 by right development
15 Awarded to Redbrick. Proposed mixed use  project with 2 residential units; hotel; office building; retail; plaza.
16 Proposed site of New Congress Heights Library
17 Under Construction: Whitman Walker Clinic
18 Opportunity: Proposed Metro Station/transportation Hub