1310 Southern Avenue, SE • Washington DC 20032 • (202) 574-6000 

Vincent Gray introduces bill to require new hospital on the St. Elizabeths East campus

Posted on Tuesday, March 21, 2017
D.C. Councilman Vincent Gray introduced legislation Tuesday requiring the city to build a new hospital on the St. Elizabeths East campus, setting up the future redevelopment of the United Medical Center campus and a potential showdown with Mayor Muriel Bowser.
D.C. Councilman Vincent Gray introduced legislation Tuesday requiring the city to build a new hospital on the St. Elizabeths East campus, setting up the future redevelopment of the United Medical Center campus and a potential showdown with Mayor Muriel Bowser.

Offered as part of a package of three bills, the former mayor's measure calls for the creation of a new East End Medical Center at St. E's East, a 183-acre campus fronting Martin Luther King Jr. and Alabama avenues SE in Ward 8. If approved, it would lead to closure of the embattled United Medical Center, the city-owned hospital.

webmayorgray 1114201214D.C. Councilman and former mayor Vincent Gray proposed a bill Tuesday to require a new hospital and urgent care center on the St. Elizabeths campus in Southeast D.C."Moving UMC from that site opens the entire parcel up for redevelopment of mixed-income housing and retail that is located right on the Maryland border," according to a description of the legislation. Gray's legislation proposes to pay for the hospital by requiring the District to set aside half of its surplus funds for the hospital after it reaches 60 days of cash on hand. It does not say how much the hospital would cost, but the tab would easily be several hundred million dollars.

At the same time, Gray proposes creating a program that would lure anchor retailers — including paying construction costs and waiving taxes — to the east end of the city.

Gray's proposal should ring familiar. In March 2014, Gray, then serving as mayor, proposed spending $300 million to build a new hospital on the St. E's East campus. A week later, he lost the mayoral primary to then-Ward 4 D.C. Councilwoman Muriel Bowser, now mayor, after prosecutors suggested he knew about a shadow campaign to fund his 2010 mayoral run (they never charged him). His plan fizzled after he failed to secure funding in the budget.

Since taking a council seat again and being named chairman of the health committee earlier this year, Gray, D-Ward 7, has named as his top priorities health care and economic development east of the river. In a recent oversight committee hearing, he clearly positioned himself for a fight with Bowser over a replacement for the aging United Medical Center, saying the process to create a new facility was moving too slowly.

Gray has not ruled out a possible mayoral campaign rematch against Bowser in 2018. If anything, his recent legislative maneuvers suggest he's setting up for one.

Last June, Bowser called for a feasibility study to consider potential sites for a UMC replacement. Consultant Healthcare Building Solutions compared six city sites, including St. E's, and recommended that a new hospital should be locatedeither exactly where UMC is now or on the former Fletcher Johnson School site on Benning Road NE.

St. E's ranked third and was described as "extremely favorable in logistical and operational categories." But it lost points for its proposed density and proximity to the Department of Homeland Security, among other impediments. DHS, which is scheduled to finish construction of its consolidated headquarters on the St. Elizabeths West campus in 2021, has discouraged hospital use there due to security and operational concerns, the consultant said.

The Bowser administration said it planned to conduct a more detailed assessment based on the consultant's findings.

This confirms 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.

Gray proposed establishing the program to bring large anchor stores to Wards 7 and 8 by doing everything possible — including exempting businesses from real property taxes, personal property taxes, deed recordation and transfer taxes, corporate franchise taxes and sales tax and paying construction costs — to make the east end of the city financially attractive for large businesses. In particular, the legislation targets the Skyland Town Center, Capital Gateway, East River Park, St. E's campus and the UMC campus.

Chairman Phil Mendelson forwarded that bill to the council's finance and revenue committee. Council members Trayon White, D-Ward 8; Anita Bonds, D-At large; Brandon Todd, D-Ward 4; Mary Cheh, D-Ward 3; and Jack Evans, D-Ward 2 co-sponsored the hospital creation bill.

Gray said the bills would address health care, retail and healthy grocery "deserts" on the east end of the city. "The District of Columbia is trying to get out of the business of running a hospital," Gray said. "A new community hospital will attract a world-class private operator."