On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
One of the nation’s most famous military installations moved from D.C. to Bethesda nearly 10 years ago, leaving behind acres of historic buildings and rolling fields. Today, the site of the former Walter Reed Army Medical Center is emerging as The Parks at Walter Reed, one of the most ambitious mixed-use developments ever undertaken in the District.
When it’s done, it will include hundreds of apartments, condos and townhomes, two schools, a Whole Foods and housing for veterans and people experiencing homelessness. There are also plans for restaurants, a public pool, a hotel, bike lanes, parks, assisted living and co-living communities.
Some of these projects are already completed. Others are still in the early stages of development. What does the transformation of these 66 acres between Georgia Avenue and 16th Street mean for the region — now and well into the future?
Produced by Lauren Markoe
KOJO NNAMDIFor more than 100 years Walter Reed was the U.S. Army's Flagship Medical Center and a Washington D.C. landmark. Millions of soldiers and civilians from privates to president received care there. Ten years ago as part of the federal government's consolidation of military bases, Walter Reed moved a few miles north to Bethesda, Maryland, but what of the nearly 120 acres of historic buildings and green spaces left behind?
KOJO NNAMDIMost of that federal land wound up in the District's hands and is now being developed as The Parks at Walter Reed, an ambitious mixed use project that will include apartments, condos, schools, a Whole Foods, housing for veterans and seniors and maybe a public pool and a hotel. Here to discuss the transformation of a storied piece of D.C. land is Dan Reed, an Urban Planner, the Author of the popular "Just Up The Pike" blog and occasional guest host of this broadcast. Dan, good hear you.
DAN REEDHappy to be here, Kojo.
NNAMDIThank you for joining us, Dan. Let's start with a little history of this place. Why was the Walter Reed Army Medical Center important? And what did it mean to D.C.? And by the way, who was Walter Reed anyway?
REEDSure. Walter Reed was an Army physician who helped confirm the theory that yellow fever was transmitted by mosquitoes instead of by direct contact. That was in 1901 and just eight years later he got a hospital named after him for his achievements. It expanded pretty significantly over the 20th century. It was a real visual landmark, you know, growing up in Silver Spring and coming down Georgia Avenue.
REEDIt was a place where soldiers went to be treated but also, you know, major luminaries in the United States, a number of famous people passed away there. Colonel McArthur passed away there. President Eisenhower and his wife, Mamie Eisenhower, both treated there. And this might be interest to you, Kojo, as a fellow Guyanese person, the former President of Guyana, Cheddi Jagan was treated and passed away at Walter Reed.
NNAMDIWow. That was a factoid that I did not know. Of course, Cheddi Jagan also attended medical school at Howard University here in Washington. Dan, the Walter Reed land in the District is in the city, but not downtown. For those who don't know exactly where it is, can you describe the surrounding neighborhood?
REEDSure. That's always been a challenge, you know, growing up telling people where it is. It's sort of near Takoma. It's on the way to Silver Spring. It's passed Petworth. It's on Georgia Avenue, I guess -- what's the cross street? Elder Street where all the tree streets are.
NNAMDIWhen it was a medical center, what was its relationship to the city and how might that change with the new development?
REEDIt was a place that I think people understood as where our nation's veterans were being treated after they returned from war. It was a major job center for that part of Northwest D.C. In downtown Silver Spring, it was a major source of business as many of the people who came to stay there while their family was being treated. They would go to stay at hotels in Silver Spring. They would shop and eat in Silver Spring, and even though it was in D.C. it was I think a big part of that community as well.
NNAMDIActually Butternut Street Northwest leads directly into the front entrance of Walter Reed. Joining us now is Caroline Kenney, Managing Director of Public-Private Ventures for Urban Atlantic, one of the major development partners of The Parks at Walter Reed. Caroline Kenney, thank you for joining us.
CAROLINA KENNEYThank you so much for having me. Happy Thanksgiving.
NNAMDIHappy Thanksgiving to you. Caroline Kenney, can you give us an overview of what is replacing the old Walter Reed? What is The Parks at Walter Reed going to look like?
KENNEYAbsolutely. Well, as you mentioned before the prior site was about 110 acres and the District was able to secure nearly 70 of that for what will become The Parks at Walter Reed, and the full build out will be about 3.1 million square feet. Most of the buildings are somewhere in the four to six story high range. So very appropriate for being in the middle of a large solid residential community. And about two-thirds of the program is residential. So condos, apartments, townhomes, a wide range of income everywhere from, you know, formerly homeless to market rate.
NNAMDIOh cool. We're having a little trouble with your line. While we check on it, let's listen to Jim in Alexandria. Jim, you are on the air. Go ahead, please.
JIMYeah. Thank you for taking my call, Kojo. Hey, for the guests, I used to work at Nebraska Avenue Complex before I retired. Occasionally I would drive over to the old north annex where they had the old Japanese pagoda and some of the other offbeat architecture. It was just so cool to look at. So, again, it's been 20 years. I don't know if that stuff is still there, but if it is, will you guys be retaining that, you know, funky architectural stuff that was there?
NNAMDIDo you have any idea, Dan Reed?
REEDYes. You might be talking about the National Park Seminary, which is a few blocks miles north of Walter Reed in Silver Spring and next to the Walter Reed Annex, which was built in the 40s. National Park Seminary was a girls seminary that opened in the late 19th Century and that's when all the quirky buildings were built, a pagoda, a Swiss chalet. They were sorority houses and then in the 20th century it became a place for returning veterans to recuperate. So that might be what you're remembering specifically. It was abandoned for most of like my childhood, and you could see the buildings decaying from the Capital Beltway, and then about 15 years ago, a pair of developers bought it. Restored a lot of the historic buildings and built new houses around it. And so you can go there today and see it.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue with the development taking place at Walter Reed or what used to be Walter Reed. You can still call us 800-433-8850 with your questions or comments. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about what's new at the old Walter Reed. We're talking with Dan Reed. He's an Urban Planner, the Author of the popular "Just Up The Pike" blog and occasional guest host of this show. And Caroline Kenney, Managing Director Of Public-Private Ventures for Urban Atlantic, one of the major developing partners for The Parks at Walter Reed. Caroline, tell us about the condos, townhouses and apartments you're building. How many units will there be an in what price range?
KENNEYSure thing. We expect to have just about 2300 units at full build out. And we and our partners Hines and Triden Development have really focused on developing as wide a range of types of home and homes serving different income levels as possible. So we have everywhere from the just over 150 formerly homeless veterans and low and middle income seniors who already live on the site today to another couple of thousand units that will be delivered over the next few years.
KENNEYEvery one in the 0 to 30 percent of area median, 50 percent area median, 80 percent area median and market rate. And those units are spread throughout the entire site. We really think that we're bringing a great opportunity for people to get to live right in the city, but on a site that has an unbelievable historic fabric. Many of the historic -- all of the historic buildings actually will be preserved through adaptive reuses. And nearly a third of the site will actually be open green space at full build out. And a lot of people in the local community have had a chance to enjoy events on our great lawn already over the last two or three years.
NNAMDIWhat about affordable housing? How much will there be and who will it be for?
KENNEYSure. So just over 20 percent of all of the units on the site will be affordable. And there's a mix. And this mix was actually determined through a community planning process that the District led. Our primary partner on this project is the Deputy Mayor for Economic Development. And they worked with a local community to develop a really deep affordable housing plan. And so you've got everywhere from units that serve people in that 0 to 30 percent area median range over 100 units in that range. You've got units serving people at 50 percent of area median and then 80 percent. And some of them are low income housing tax credit developments really designed to provide very deep affordability.
KENNEYSo the seniors and the veterans, we're developing some of those. And they're actually non-profit partners that are developing some of those. One of the ones we're most excited about that we hope to get under construction next year will actually be affordable senior assisted living. So many different district agencies have come together to work with us to make that a reality. And then in each of the market rate buildings there will be typically between 8 and 11 percent affordable units as well. And those are at the 50 and 80 percent area median levels.
NNAMDIDan Reed, before I go to the phones, everyone knows there's an affordable housing crisis in the Washington region. Does The Parks at Walter Reed sound like a project that will help to make that situation better do you think or do you think it could do more to help?
REEDI think will make a difference. You know, we have a regional housing shortage. We're building fewer homes in the D.C. area than we have in 20 years. And that is one of the reason why house prices have gone up so quickly. And any little bit helps whether it's affordable housing or even the market rate housing at Walter Reed is helping to meet that demand. So I think what the project is doing is pretty good.
NNAMDIOkay. On to the phones now. Here is Tim in Shepard Park, D.C., which is of course, close to Walter Reed. Tim, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
TIMThanks. I'm highly supportive of the project, but I have a question. During the development of the project, during the selection of the developer, one of the promises made and not yet kept was to help support the local businesses on Georgia Avenue corridor. My question is what's being to meet that promise and when can we expect to see it? I'm working as another business owner on the corridor.
KENNEYTim, thank you so much for that question. And we are really excited about the opportunity to be working with local businesses on Georgia Avenue. So far because construction has really been our main focus a lot of our outreach to local businesses has been businesses related to construction. And we've done well over 35 percent of all of our contracting to local district based businesses. And we've worked with a local non-profits such as Emory Beacon of Light to make sure that we are connected to that local business community.
KENNEYAnd as we start to open up buildings along Georgia Avenue we will be looking for chances to get to really connect with and find ways to have synergies with local businesses. Another example is for our annual farmer's market that we run for two months every fall, we have almost entirely local vendors. We work with -- we had local coffee, brewery, food, artisan. So any time that we have an event on the site, we're also looking to bring in local businesses, local artists, local crafts people.
KENNEYSo it's a conversation that, you know, I think has just begun over the last few years and we really hope to get to do more. So we'd love to get your contact information after this show and see how we could be working together.
NNAMDITom, we'll have our caller screener take your contact information and pass it on to Caroline Kenney, but thank you very much for your call. Caroline Kenney, what about Howard University, which is just a few miles south on Georgia Avenue. Does it have any plans for the historic Walter Reed site?
KENNEYAbsolutely. We are really excited about Howard coming to the site. The District did a really unique thing in that even before selecting our master development team as part of planning the site, they ran a competitive process with a number of non-profits who would be able to make use of existing buildings on site. And Howard was one of the successful bidders. And so they've got two buildings that are right around 150 square feet combined that are sort of midway on the site towards the eastern border. They're labeled six and seven.
KENNEYIf you go to our website, theparksdc.com, you can see a site plan and you'll see buildings six and seven. And so they are planning a medical office building where they'll actually be providing care. And they're also planning to bring some of their academic uses up to the campus. I think that the nursing school is likely the top choice right now. And we hope to see them on the site as soon as 2022. But we're working with them closely now and planning both of those buildings.
NNAMDIHere's Ronald in Northwest Washington. Ronald, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
RONALDGood afternoon. You spoke of -- you may have given the raw numbers while I was on hold and couldn't hear. But I heard you talking about percentages of low income and market rate housing. What is the actual number? I mean, if you say 8 percent out of 100 that's only homes. So what is the actual number?
RONALDOf low income and market rate housing.
KENNEYCertainly. Great question. It will absolutely be a minimum of 20 percent affordable across the entire site. And the way a site like this is planned to be able to accommodate changes that happen in the market over time is zoning governs the amount of square footage that can be developed. But sometimes you're able to respond to opportunities to develop more or less units. I'll give you one example. The affordable assisted living project that I mentioned that we hope to get started in 2021 that space was originally going to accommodate call it 25 affordable apartments. But by going to affordable assisted living we were able to do over 50. So that increases slightly the number of units. So based on today's unit count we would expect to have -- overall unit count we would expect to have about 450 affordable units. In some buildings it means the entire building is affordable like our veterans housing in Abrams Hall.
KENNEYAnd in some buildings it means that a percent, a portion of the units will be affordable anywhere in that 8 to 11 percent, but at the end of the day, it will be 20 percent overall.
NNAMDIAlmost out of time in this segment, Dan Reed. But it is my understanding that you have a question for me about this topic. I'm usually the one asking the questions on this show, but since you do fill in for me sometimes, I'm prepared to make an exception. What would you like to ask me, Dan?
REEDThat's right, Kojo. Well, I'm told that you live fairly close to Walter Reed. So as a neighbor, I'm curious what your reaction to this project is.
NNAMDII can't wait. I am sitting in the sun room in the rear of my house and I can see Walter Reed from here. I live on Whittier Place Northwest, which is one block down from Walter Reed. But in my backyard it's only half a block away from Walter Reed. And I can see it. And we have talked a lot on this broadcast about aging in place. I am aging, and this development will allow me to age in place. I'll be able to walk to the Whole Foods. It's just like a block and a half from where I live. I'll be able to walk to everything else that is there. And there are going to be bike paths so I'll be able to ride around there until they kick me out of the joint. So I'm really looking forward to all of this, Dan Reed. And, Dan, again, thank you so much for joining us.
REEDThanks for having me.
NNAMDIAnd Caroline Kenney, thank you for joining us.
KENNEYThank you so much. I'd be happy to take you on the golf cart tour any day.
NNAMDIOkay. Short break. When we come back, Danielle Evans talks about race, grief and belonging in her new collection of short stories "The Office of Historical Corrections." I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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