Walter Reed's Closure May Be A Boon To D.C. Washington is poised to take over a large chunk of valuable land after the Walter Reed Army Medical Center closes. There are many proposals for how to use it — from dog parks to retail space. But none of the ideas is likely to happen anytime soon.
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Walter Reed Center's Closure May Be A Boon To D.C.

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Walter Reed Center's Closure May Be A Boon To D.C.

Walter Reed Center's Closure May Be A Boon To D.C.

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Sabri Ben-Achour of member station WAMU reports on the possibilities.

SABRI BEN: It's just after the midday rush at Ledo's Pizza on Georgia Avenue in Northwest D.C. Tim and Kelly Shuy sit down at a table.

KELLY SHUY: We get a lot of military families, people who are visiting, folks who are in the hospital.

BEN: Many in the neighborhood call the medical center a fortress. But for the Shuys, it was a mainstay. Doctors and patients alike have supported their business for years.

SHUY: Some of them come in uniforms. We have patients who come in who haven't been out of Walter Reed. I've had dozens of people tell me this is their first meal out of the hospital.

BEN: Those days, though, are just about over. Walter Reed is closing, all 113 acres of it.

SHUY: We've been saying goodbye to people for a long time. We say goodbye to people every day. But it's horrible. I mean, we've had tears over saying goodbye to people who are regulars.

BEN: Of course, the Shuys are losing more than just familiar faces.

SHUY: As far as the business goes, obviously it's a huge hit for us.

BEN: As Walter Reed leaves, it leaves behind questions: What is going to take its place? There is no shortage of opinion.

CHRISTINE ENCINAS: We are looking for quality space for our students.

TROY SWANDA: We'd like to use part of the campus to develop affordable family housing.

ELLEN MCBARNETT: And that's just the beginning. The State Department will take a chunk of the land, possibly for embassies, but that leaves almost 70 acres for D.C. In a city where a quarter of the land is owned by the federal government, demand for land is high.

VICTOR HOSKINS: This is a uniquely vocal community, let me just put it that way.

BEN: Victor Hoskins is deputy mayor of Planning and Economic Development and co-chairs the committee that's going to figure out just what the District of Columbia is going to do with all this land.

HOSKINS: Actually, the interest we've gotten from a number of retailers already has been, really, quite astounding. And there's a chance now to revive a main street, which is Georgia Avenue, which has for years been suffering from, you know, decay.

BEN: Faith Wheeler is a neighborhood representative who lives near Walter Reed. She's standing about a mile away from the hospital on a block where new development didn't work out so well.

FAITH WHEELER: Well, I don't want to see all those for-lease signs. Look at that. If that happened on Georgia Avenue, Walter Reed's campus, it would be awful, horrible. According to textbook ideas, this is the place where retail ought to be booming. It's not.

BEN: This is what Wheeler does not want to see: the street as a commuter corridor, lined by sterile and vacant office buildings. One thing she does want is some sort of tribute to the place's history, and that is likely. Many of the historic building facades will be kept. But Wheeler's voice is one of many.

LISA BENTON: It's kind of the new realities of urban planning in the 21st century.

BEN: Lisa Benton-Short is a professor of geography at George Washington University. She's written about previous base closings. She says this will take a while to sort out.

BENTON: I mean, I think for much of the 20th century, planners were quite top-down in their planning. They told us what we needed in our spaces. Sometimes they were right, and sometimes they weren't. In the last 25 years or so, the planning profession has really changed. And one of the most important ways it's changed is to bring in public participation and planning.

BEN: The military has its rules, too. There will have to be services for the homeless. There will have to be organizations that serve the community, such as schools. And there's an entire bureaucratic process that'll probably take two years before a deal is finalized, let alone anything gets built. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will have to approve it. There will have to be an environmental impact assessment.

BENTON: We're talking 10 years, 15 years before these visions are actually transformed into reality.

BEN: But when all is said and done, one thing that everyone agrees on is the potential this site holds.

ETHELBERT DAWSON: This is something that I hope will be a positive.

BEN: Seventy-seven-year-old Ethelbert Dawson came to Walter Reed's official closing ceremony last month. He lives around the corner, and worked at Walter Reed for 25 years as a research chemist.

DAWSON: When I was here, I never thought that this day would ever come. We used to call it Walter Wonderful, because that's what it was.

BEN: He says he can't really predict what this new space will mean for Washington, D.C.

DAWSON: But for Walter Reed and all of the positiveness that that hospital has given this community, I don't know if they can ever reduplicate that.

BEN: For NPR News, I'm Sabri Ben-Achour in Washington.

GREENE: Walter Reed itself was scarred by some scandals over the years, and we'll hear tomorrow how they changed the way the Army treats its wounded.

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