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Gray makes pitch for $486 million hospital and retail plan for east side of D.C.

Posted on Thursday, May 25, 2017
D.C. Councilman Vincent Gray, D-Ward 7, says his proposal to build a new hospital and attract grocery and other retailers to the east side of the city would cost $486 million.

Gray revealed the figure as he led a public hearing on Friday, saying council's health committee has allocated $136 million toward the project. The Committee on Transportation and the Environment, which is chaired by Councilwoman Mary Cheh, D-Ward 3, has also allocated an additional $100 million.

webmayorgray 1114201214D.C. Councilman Vincent Gray held a public hearing for legislation that would support the creation of a new hospital, urgent care center and retail opportunities in the city's east end.
He only needs about $100 million more for the hospital and about $150 million more for the retail piece of the project, he said.

"Think about it: For $486 million, less than the cost of the Nationals' baseball stadium, we will quite literally change the lives of the residents who live on the east end of the city," Gray said. "A true health care system will grow, jobs will be created and residents will be able to buy affordably priced healthy foods and household products and clothing right in their own neighborhoods."

Under Gray's proposed legislation, the city would be required to build a new medical center on the St. Elizabeths East campus to replace United Medical Center, as well as develop additional health services like urgent care centers.

It would also set up the current UMC campus on Southern Avenue for redevelopment of mixed-income housing and retail. The legislation calls for creating a program to lure anchor retailers offering affordably priced groceries and retail goods on five sites — the UMC campus, Skyland Town Center, Capitol Gateway, Easter River Park and St. E's — by paying construction costs and waiving taxes. Gray's legislation proposes paying for the hospital and anchor retailer by requiring the District to set aside half of its surplus funds for the hospital after the city reaches 60 days of cash on hand.

Gray's proposal set the stage for a political showdown with Mayor Muriel Bowser, who is pursuing her own plan for a new hospital on the east side of the city. On Monday, her administration announced it hired Huron Consulting Group, which previously served as UMC's turnaround partner, to conduct a study about considerations for the city as it pursues a future hospital.

Bowser's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday but her spokesman has said Gray's effort was "well-intended," but would short circuit and undermine progress toward a new hospital.

Gray pointed out on Friday the support he's won on the D.C. Council so far, including members Trayon White, D-Ward 8; Anita Bonds, D-At large; Brandon Todd, D-Ward 4; Jack Evans, D-Ward 2, and Cheh, who all co-sponsored the hospital creation bill.

D.C. Hospital Association President Jacqueline Bowens, as well as Howard University President Wayne Frederick and officials from George Washington University and University of the District of Columbia also testified in support of Gray's plan. Dozens of other members of the public testified in support of the measure.

The introduction of the legislation earlier this year confirmed long-held speculation that much of the political tug-of-war over a new UMC hospital extends beyond health care concerns to development aspirations. The property sits on a large Metro-accessible plot with views of the D.C. skyline from upper floors, all of which make the location more attractive, officials have told me.

Some changes have been made to the legislation since Gray introduced it earlier this year. For example, large anchor retailers would only need to commit to a 15-year lease, rather than a 30-year lease, in order to take advantage of incentives. Several community members called for further changes to the bill to allow smaller retailers to qualify for the incentives.