April 07, 2015 - 10:51 pm

President Obama comes to Howard, Wizards may come to Howard

President Obama visited the Howard University College of Medicine today to deliver a speech on the negative impact of climate change on public health.  I caught some footage of the president’s motorcade as it passed up 7th Street and crossed Florida Avenue.

In other news, the Wizards are considering constructing a practice facility as part of a mixed-use building on university land just west of Georgia Avenue.  No deal has been finalized and the team will likely seek a tax-exempt bond from the District Government to finance the building.

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March 18, 2015 - 1:38 pm

Howard promises to renovate the Terrell House

Mary Church Terrell HouseAfter years of neglect, Howard University has agreed to finish renovations of the Mary Church Terrell House (326 T Street NW).

Mary Church Terrell was a civil rights leader who lived from 1863 to 1954 and spent the last decades of her life in LeDroit Park.  She was instrumental in lawsuit, D.C. vs. J. R. Thompson Co., Inc., that that led the U.S. Supreme Court to desegregate all restaurants in D.C. in 1953.

Mary Church Terrell and her husband Robert Terrell, D.C.’s first black judge, willed the house to their daughter and, upon her death, to Howard University, which took control of the house in 1998.

The university had long planned to renovate the house and turn into a museum focused on the Terrells and the history of the neighborhood. Those plans never came to fruition.

However, in a Feb. 26 meeting between community leaders, including me, and Howard University President Wayne Frederick, the president assured us that restoration work will start on the house within six months.

We have not seen the exact plans of the physical restoration the university will complete, but Dr. Frederick wants to revisit the concept of housing a museum as he perceives a lack of support for that specific use.

The president is well aware of the vast community support toward the house’s physical restoration. The LeDroit Park Civic Association voted in January to send a letter to the university’s leadership expressing disappointment at the state of the Mary Church Terrell House and the Walter Washington House (408-410 T Street NW), both of which are Howard properties in different state of disrepair.

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February 03, 2015 - 10:30 am

Howard opens new buildings, reduces staff

New Dorm

Howard University is reforming its hospital while its rank as DC’s largest employer slips.  These changes come as the university looks to improve its academic program and its finances.

Financial difficulty is nothing new for Howard. In 2013 we reported that sequestration had cut its annual appropriate from Congress, enrollment had dropped, and one of its Trustees publicly warned of the university’s financial straits. Later that year, Moody’s downgraded the university’s bond rating from A3 to Baa1 as the hospital ran a $21-million loss.

The university furloughed staff and cut positions, but last year Moody’s downgraded the university further from Baa1 to Baa3, citing the hospital’s losses, which had increased to $37 million.

Since then the university has hired Paladin, a healthcare management consultancy, to reverse the hospital’s losses. University President Wayne Frederick recently told the Washington Business Journal that the hospital has made progress, particularly in billing more efficiently. (The fee-for-service model may be lucrative for healthcare providers, but the Obama Administration is trying to move the country away from it.)

Last week the hospital announced it would lay off 25 management positions and look to reduce staff further.

Meanwhile the university and its hospital have slipped in their rankings as DC’s largest employers.  Over the past ten years, the university fell from first to seventh while the hospital fell from seventh to fifteenth.

Employer 2004 Rank 2014 Rank
Georgetown University 3 1
Washington Hospital Center 4 2
George Washington University 2 3
Children’s Hospital 5 4
American University 8 5
Georgetown University Hospital 9 6
Howard University 1 7
Fannie Mae 6 8
Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. 113 9
Allied Barton Security Services LLC 10
Red Coats 40 11
Providence Hospital 10 12
George Washington University Hospital 18 13
Sibley Memorial Hospital 13 14
Howard University Hospital 7 15

But the outlook isn’t all gloomy. The university recently completed two new dorms on 4th Street just north of the neighborhood and is nearing completion of its top-notch Interdisciplinary Research Building at Georgia Avenue and W Street.

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January 27, 2015 - 12:08 pm

Restaurant Costa Brava and Howard Univ. present tonight

300 Block of T Street

The January meeting of the LeDroit Park Civic Association is tonight at 7 pm in the basement of the Florida Avenue Baptist Church (enter at U Street and Bohrer Street).

The owner of Costa Brava (1837 First St NW) will introduce the neighborhood to his new Catalonian restaurant.  I had dinner at the restaurant late last year and I highly recommend it.

Howard University representatives will propose changes to university policy regarding student conduct and public safety:

  • Expanding the area around the campus deemed subject to the reporting of crime statistics.
  • Giving universities broader authority to address student misconduct that takes place off-campus.
  • Giving the Mayor or a university President the ability to request the assistance of other campus police personnel in cases of emergency, thus allowing the Metropolitan Police Department to focus their resources elsewhere.

The meeting will also include the usual committee reports and a community open forum.  Everyone is welcome to attend.

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July 26, 2013 - 4:33 pm

Is Howard University in financial trouble?

Over the past few months, reports have trickled in warning about Howard University’s fiscal health. The news is not good. The school’s enrollment had dropped, its annual Congressional appropriation has fallen, and the hospital is furloughing workers to make up for large losses.  On the bright side, Howard’s capital improvement program is underway and several cranes tower over three active construction projects on the campus (more on that later).

As for fiscal issues, the first warning came in June, when a Howard University trustee warned, “Howard will not be here in three years if we don’t make some crucial decisions now.” Whether the trustee was exaggerating Howard’s fiscal straits due to internal politics remains unknown, but a potential sequester of the university’s Congressional appropriation adds to the unease.

Since its founding in 1867, Howard has received an annual appropriation from Congress much the way state universities receive appropriations from their state legislatures.  The appropriation has remained steady over the past few years, but sequestration is expected to reduce the amount.  Federal funding accounts for a sizable 27% of the university’s operating budget, meaning any change will be noticeable.

Furthermore, the recession, which hit black Americans especially hard, is often cited as a major factor contributing to last year’s 5% enrollment decline, further depriving the university of tuition revenue.  Tuition for the 2013-14 academic year is set for $22,783, excluding housing, a difficult stretch for most families.

In June the university announced it would layoff 75 employees and earlier this month, the hospital announced it will furlough 1,700 staff for eight days.  The hospital has suffered a sharp decline in patients and revenue.

Money problems are nothing new at Howard. In fact, tight university finances are a theme that appears in The Black Apollo of Science, the biography of Ernest Everett Just, a 1920s and ’30s Howard biology professor and LeDroit Park resident.  The university has survived tough times before and it is rare for large universities in the U.S. to shut down.

Some of the bad news is more than just financial.  Late last month, news leaked that the university and its development partner had parted ways on the Howard Town Center project, further delaying the mixed-use development project the university has been planning for years.

Lift every crane and build

But there’s good news, too!  Visit LeDroit Park’s newest Capital Bikeshare station and you’ll spot the cranes that tower over the Howard campus.  In fact, the university is currently constructing three new buildings: two new dorms on 4th Street and an interdisciplinary STEM research building at Georgia Avenue and W Street.

The two dorms at 4th and College Streets NW and 4th and W Streets NW are part of the university’s plan to improve and increase on-campus housing.  By making 4th Street NW a residential spine, the university hopes to keep its students in newer buildings physically close to academic buildings.  The proximity is expected to boost academic performance and the newness of the housing is expected to attract top-performing students.

Here is a photo of the new dorm now under construction at 4th and College Streets NW:
New Dorm

When finished:

Design of the new Howard University dorm at 4th and College Streets NW

Design of the new Howard University dorm at 4th and College Streets NW.

Here is a photo of the new dorm now under construction at 4th and W Streets NW:
Another New Dorm

When finished:

Design for the new Howard dorm at 4th and W Streets NW

Design for the new Howard dorm at 4th and W Streets NW

At Georgia Avenue and W Street, Howard is constructing a new building for STEM research.  The new high-tech facility is expected to boost the university’s research profile and its ability to win research grants that require advanced research facilities. The LeDroit Park Civic Association supported the zoning relief necessary to build this building.

STEM at Howard University

When finished:

Design of Howard University's Interdisciplinary Research Building

Design of Howard University’s Interdisciplinary Research Building

Though the university’s fiscal woes make headlines, several important capital improvements are well underway.

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September 13, 2012 - 9:28 am

We may be in store for another grocery store

If local developer JBG has its way, a Harris Teeter may be coming to a parking lot near the 9:30 Club.  The proposal is only in the preliminary stages and requires the District to sell an unused parking lot to the company.

JBG owns the lot immediately to the south of the District property and would like to combine them into a single project. The two adjacent properties are labeled “DC Gov” and “JBG” on the middle-left portion of the map below. While JBG does not yet control the District-owned site, the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development will offer the site, along with several others, for sale this fall. For all we know, the District could select another developer.

As you may recall, Chevy Chase-based JBG is one of the biggest developers on 14th Street and U Street. They’re current constructing or entitling (seeking permits, zoning relief, etc.) several nearby projects.  At the southwest corner of 14th and U, the company is currently building a multifamily project that will include a Trader Joe’s. On the 700 and 800 blocks of Florida Avenue, the company is preparing to build two modernist multifamily buildings.  On the northwest and southwest corners of 8th and V Streets, the company recently revealed its drawings for a condo building and an apartment building.

Besides JBG, many new developers are including grocery stores in areas that have long suffered a lack of good grocery options. The forthcoming Giant at 7th & P Streets will become our closest supermarket when it reopens next year. If the proposed Harris Teeter ever gets built, it will be the second closest supermarket to LeDroit Park:

Store Location Distance (mi)
Giant (opening 2013) 7th & P Streets NW 0.6
Harris Teeter (proposed) Florida & Sherman Avenues NW 0.7
Trader Joe’s (opening 2014) 14th & U Streets NW 0.9
Safeway 5th & L Streets NW 0.9
Harris Teeter 1st & M Streets NE 1.0
Whole Foods 1400 blk. P Street NW 1.1

But wasn’t Howard Town Center, about a block away, supposed to include a grocery store? The proximity of a Harris Teeter might scare off a competitor from signing on with the still-unbuilt Howard Town Center. This could further delay the long-stalled project.

Developers like to have leases signed before construction since the leases show investors and lenders that the project will produce an income to repay the loans. For some development proposals, the lack of a lease can scuttle the project entirely.

JBG’s announcement of its agreement with Harris Teeter is somewhat unusual. National grocery chains typically keep their prospective sites secret. That JBG announced the agreement without even controlling the land is unusual.

Another interesting twist to the case is that the District used to own the Howard Town Center site and Howard used to own the parking lot JBG wants to buy. The District and the university swapped the properties many years ago out of convenience to each other. How ironic it would be if the government-owned site is the site that gets redeveloped faster.

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March 22, 2011 - 8:39 am

Dorms, a park, a restaurant, and public safety

Relax

Howard University wants to add 1,300 beds on 4th Street, a new restaurant is coming to 6th St and Florida Avenue, the neighborhood watch seeks your input, and the conclusion of park construction are all agenda items at tonight’s Civic Association meeting.

The meeting is open to the public and all neighbors are encouraged to attend.

Tuesday, March 22 at 7 pm
Basement of the Florida Avenue Baptist Church
(enter on U Street)

The civic association will also take open comments from neighbors who wish bring up anything of neighborhood concern.

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March 19, 2011 - 2:16 pm

Howard wants to increase campus housing 28%

Last month Howard University’s Board of Trustees agreed to proceed the planning process to build 1,300 beds of student housing in two new dorms on campus. This marks a 28% increase from the current 4,609 beds the university controls.  This is smart move that will aid academic success and reduce commuting pressure through the surrounding neighborhoods.


View Howard University’s future development in a larger map

The university’s goal is to create a “Freshmen Village” on 4th Street just north of LeDroit Park.  Ms. Maybelle Bennett, Howard’s community outreach director, said that enhancing academic performance and graduation rates is the university’s motivation for concentrating housing and services for new students in Freshmen Village.  Since a student’s first year is critical to a student’s success during an undergraduate career, the university wants, as Ms. Bennett adoringly put it, “to bring our babies home.”

The university will add these two new buildings to their forthcoming campus plan proposal that they will submit to the Zoning Commission in the coming months.  Each university in the District is required to submit a campus plan for the commission’s approval every ten years.

We think this is a smart move on the university’s part and will benefit everyone.

National social benefits

Universities serve a unique social mission: they exist to educate America’s youth.  As such, we must remember that a university’s success is in the national social interest.  The university’s goal of improving academic performance is laudable and its reasonable measures should be supported on social grounds.

Traffic and environmental benefits

Furthermore, by bringing more students onto campus, the university reduces the commuting pressure currently placed on students and the surrounding neighborhoods. More students walking from bed to class means fewer students driving from home to campus.

As it stands today, hundreds of students commute from housing in Prince George’s Plaza alone.  Though most of them probably take the Metro, many will undoubtedly drive on occasion, thus adding traffic and pollution to surrounding neighborhoods.  Carpooling in a Prius still has a greater environmental impact than walking, which is mankind’s oldest, cheapest, cleanest, quietest, and most universal form of transport.

Economic development benefits

With 1,300 more people within a short walk of Florida Avenue, the new dorms will increase the economic viability of the commercial spaces along LeDroit Park’s southern edge.  All of the properties along Florida Avenue are zoned for both residential and commercial use, even though most are solely residences at the moment.  In fact a century ago the 400 block of Florida Avenue (across the street from the Post Office) hosted numerous prominent black-owned businesses and doctors’ offices.

What do you think? Are you supportive of the university’s desire to add more housing on campus?

Ms. Bennett will present the plan for Freshmen Village to the LeDroit Park Civic Association. The meeting is open to the public and residents are encouraged to attend. The meeting will be at 7 pm on Tuesday, March 22 in the basement of the Florida Avenue Baptist Church (enter through the back at U and Bohrer Streets).

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