DDOT posted this map of DC published in 1975 to celebrate the bicentennial. The map includes a section on LeDroit Park. Notice the groovy font, the “new” Howard University Hospital, the “nice old houses”, the long-gone bakery, and the “newly reopened Howard Theatre.” The Howard Theatre had briefly reopened from 1975 to 1980.
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|
|Washington Hospital Center||4||2|
|George Washington University||2||3|
|Georgetown University Hospital||9||6|
|Booz Allen Hamilton Inc.||113||9|
|Allied Barton Security Services LLC||–||10|
|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.
A few brief neighborhood updates:
Parking passes extended to the end of the year
The District has extended the expiration date of our visitor parking passes from September 30 to December 31.
Two groups downgrade Howard University
Moody’s, the bond-rating agency, has downgraded Howard University debt from A3 to Baa1, one notch above junk status. The agency cites worries over the financially foundering hospital, which ran up a $21-million loss last year. Other university departments, however, posted a combined $33-million surplus after the university’s aggressive cost-cutting measures last year.
U.S. News and World Report downgraded Howard University’s ranking by 22 slots to 142nd place. The magazine publishes its annual opinion of the “best colleges” in the nation, though there is plenty of criticism of the magazine’s methodology.
OP and DDOT to unveil the Mid City East draft plan Thursday
The Office of Planning and DDOT are holding an open house tomorrow to unveil their Mid City East small area plan proposal. The agencies launched the Mid City East Initiative last year “to holistically plan for transportation, commercial revitalization, redevelopment, historic resources, sustainability and parks and open space.”
The open house is tomorrow, Thursday, September 26 from 6:30‐8:30 pm at the McKinley Tech Auditorium (151 T Street NE) in Eckington.
LeDroit Park Civic Association will elect new officers next month
The association will elect new officers at its October meeting. The positions up for election are president, vice president, treasurer, and secretary. Any paid member may run and vote. Not a member? Join today!
The October monthly meeting is on Tuesday, October 22 at 7 pm in the basement of the Florida Avenue Baptist Church (enter on U Street).
There’s some big news over on Florida Avenue by the 9:30 Club. The District has chosen the MRP-Ellis Development team to develop 1.45 acres of city-owned land at 965 Florida Avenue. The site sits on the east side of Florida Avenue at the intersection with Sherman Avenue. The MRP-Ellis proposal, dubbed The Griffith*, is a 370,000-square-foot building with 35,000 square feet of retail topped with several floors of residential.
I haven’t found the apartment unit count, but the retail component is envisioned as a market somewhat like Union Market and Eastern Market. Furthermore, The Griffith proposal extends Bryant Street from 8th Street to the intersection of Florida and Sherman Avenues. East-west connectivity is a goal of the DUKE Small Area Plan and something that the city has been seeking as that area is redeveloped.
Part of the story for this award is who didn’t win. Both MRP-Ellis and JBG competed for the site. Many people following the competition thought JBG had the upper hand, since it controlled an adjacent site on Florida Avenue (see the big blank area above). JBG’s plan involved connecting W Street instead of Bryant Street. The JBG plan also included a Harris Teeter, 125 hotel rooms, 30,000 square feet of office space, 20,000 square feet of retail, 150 condos, 250 apartments, and 200 micro-apartments.
According to the Washington Business Journal, the District preferred The Griffith’s program for several reasons:
What put MRP over the top, according to [the District], was an offer to build more affordable housing, an agreement to submit to the District’s planned-unit development process (ensuring community coordination) and its willingness to pay more for the land.
Don’t expect shovels in the ground just yet. The details of the deal will have to be finalized and then approved by the Council. Then the project will go through a Planned Unit Development (PUD) process that involves a few months of community input and zoning hearings during which the developer will likely negotiate a community benefits agreement. After that’s finished, the permits will need to be approved and construction can finally begin. It may be four or five years until we see a ribbon-cutting.
In the meantime, JBG may build a smaller project on the land it owns immediately to the south of the awarded site. No plans have been released, but whatever it is, says JBG, it won’t include a Harris Teeter or a W Street connection.
View the proposals:
* “The Griffith” is an homage to Griffith Stadium, which once stood where Howard University Hospital now stands.
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.
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.
Though the university’s fiscal woes make headlines, several important capital improvements are well underway.
On April 17, 1953, Mickey Mantle hit one of the longest home runs in baseball history at Griffith Stadium, which stood where Howard University Hospital stands today. The ball landed in LeDroit Park and was alleged to have traveled the remarkable distance of 565 feet.
Sports historian Jane Leavey investigated the so-called “tape measure home run” in her 2010 book The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Childhood. She appeared on NPR’s Talk of the Nation yesterday to discuss that record-setting home run that landed in LeDroit Park and she described her efforts to verify distance claim.
In reviewing Howard University’s proposed campus plan, we started to take account of all of the property in DC that the university owns. Up until 10 years ago, Howard University was accused of being LeDroit Park’s biggest slumlord, owning numerous properties in the neighborhood and letting them lie vacant, blighted, and decaying.
Under the reign of university president H. Patrick Swygert, Howard made a significant and commendable effort to rehab and sell many of its vacant properties in the neighborhood.
For instance, the university owned all but one house on 400 block of Oakdale Place. It let these houses lie vacant, blighted, and boarded up. Under Pres. Swygert, the university renovated the houses and sold them to employees. Today the 400 block of Oakdale Place is fully occupied and a new condo building is nearing completion on the western end.
In other cases, the university renovated properties but has retained ownership. 531 U Street NW looked terrible in 2004 (right), but now looks very nice. We can’t quite tell if the house is occupied, but it consistently appears to be in good condition.
Elsewhere on the 500 and 600 blocks of U Street, Howard built historic infill houses (below) on vacant lots it owned on the north side of the street. The result is a block with with a continuous wall of housing on the street’s northern face. The houses’ façades are of high quality, with detailed brick work, ornate porches, and a variety of detailing.
The job is not entirely done, however, and Howard University retains ownership of a few properties that raise eyebrows. Let’s look at these three:
649 Florida Avenue (left) sits as a vacant lot, frequently collecting trash and debris. A university official told us that long ago Howard had considered using the lot to create a delightful pedestrian path to the university from the Shaw Metro. That never happened and now the lot sits vacant.
408-410 T Street (center) was the home of Walter Washington, DC’s first elected mayor. The university owns the property, and though it’s not blighted, it may be vacant. With some renovation work, this would make an excellent rental home for a Howard professor or anyone else for that matter.
326 T Street (right) is the Mary Church Terrell House, future home of the Robert and Mary Church Terrell House & LeDroit Park Museum and Cultural Center. Though it’s vacant and undoubtedly meets the District’s definition of blight, we are willing to cut the university more slack in this case since the eventual outcome will be a wonderful addition to the neighborhood. Unfortunately, the campus plan does not specify any additional Howard funding to restore the site.
In addition to the properties above, Howard owns a few more properties in LeDroit Park:
- Gravel parking lot at the SE corner of 5th and W Streets. (Square 3072, Lot 818). Campus plan does not mention any change to this lot.
- Carver Hall, 211 Elm St NW (Square 3084, Lot 830). Campus plan mentions the dorm’s decommission, but no reuse plans.
- Slowe Hall, 1919 3rd St NW (Square 3088, Lot 835). Campus plan mentions the dorm’s decommission, but no reuse plans.
- Howard University Hospital daycare, 1907-11 5th St NW (Square 3090, Lot 41)
- 420 T St NW – a house that appears to be occupied (Square 3094, Lot 800)
- Howard University Hospital (Square 3075, Lot 807)
- Parking garage bounded by 4th St, Oakdale Pl, 5th St, and V St. (Square 3080, Lot 73)
- Parking garage bounded by 4th St, V St, 5th St, and an alley. (Square 3072, Lot 52)
Though Howard retains a few problematic properties, it’s important to note the great strides the university has made in taking responsibility for its property portfolio in the neighborhood. A plan for these few remaining properties, even one in which the university retains ownership but leases, would put residents at greater ease.
At Thursday’s ANC1B meeting, Chip Ellis, head of the Howard Theatre’s restoration, announced that the much-delayed renovations will start in the last week of August. The theater, when it opens, will host R&B acts, jazz, and Sunday gospel brunches in a venue that Ellis describes as “cabaret style”.
Careful observers of the restoration sketch (above) will notice the statue at the top of the façade. Originally the theater featured a statue of Apollo playing the lyre; the new statue, fabricated in metal and lit with LEDs will be themed “the Jazz Man”. Mr. Ellis will return in a few months with design drawings.
When asked about parking, Mr. Ellis stated that the restoration project plans to partner with Howard University to offer parking in one of its lots a few blocks away on Georgia Avenue. He also proposed the idea of building a garage on the southern portion of the parking lot of Howard University Hospital.
We appreciate Mr. Ellis’s efforts restoring the Howard Theatre, but we would not welcome a parking garage on Georgia Avenue. A garage would contradict the Office of Planning’s DUKE Plan, which specifically calls for ground-floor retail and offices on that site. A street-fronting garage would deprive Georgia Avenue of the streetlife that retail uses generate.
Furthermore, since parking is a necessary component of driving; providing more parking will induce more driving, something the area suffers from already.
Howard University Hospital is hosting a farmers market twice a week on the plaza at their Georgia Avenue entrance. The market will run Tuesdays from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
We’re excited to have fresh produce for sale so close to home and we hope the prices compare (or beat) Safeway and Giant.
A few months ago we found this old photo at the Washingtoniana Division of the MLK Library. The photo is an aerial view looking westward on the north end of LeDroit Park. Griffith Stadium, now the site of Howard University Hospital, rests in the background; the stadium was demolished in 1965. To its right (north) is the location to which the Freedman’s Hospital moved in 1869. One will also notice that rowhouses stood on what is now the Gage-Eckington site. Looking closely between V and W Streets, one will see that the Kelly Miller public housing apartments appear to be under construction, dating this photo to around 1941.
(If you’d like to zoom on the photo below, download it as a PDF)