After many meetings and lengthy debate, the Old Naval Hospital Foundation has been awarded the rights to develop the dilapidated hospital on Capitol Hill into a community center that will feature a cafe and conference center, though it has not yet been determined what will happen to the drug rehabilitation center currently leasing office space on the property.
The Community Action Group, a drug rehabilitation facility with several sites throughout the District, has been utilizing the carriage house on the hospital grounds as office space for the past 17 years. The initial Hill Center plan proposed that a cafe operate out of the first floor of the building.
“They made their announcement that the award would be going to the Hill Center and there was no mention of CAG and our position at the carriage house,” CAG President Hal Gordon said. “What does this mean for CAG? Are we facing eviction? If so, when?” [IMGCAP(1)]
According to Charles Allen, Ward 6 Councilman Tommy Wells’ (D) chief of staff, the Hill Center reworked the plan to allow CAG to continue using an office on the first floor of the carriage house and the entire second floor while also giving the organization access to the new conference center and other amenities. CAG rejected this deal.
“Our offer is on the table,” said Betty Ann Kane, a board member with the Old Naval Hospital Foundation. “We bent over backwards in redoing some of our plans.” Ultimately the offer cost the foundation some $400,000 in changes to the original Hill Center plan.
Ideally, Gordon says he would like to see the Hill Center utilize the hospital while allowing CAG to stay in the carriage house. “The issue is why should we surrender this space so they can do a cafe?” Gordon said.
Negotiations are still going on, and a final decision on the fate of the carriage house has not yet been made, according to Wells’ office. Gordon says he hasn’t received word on CAG’s fate from the D.C. Office of Property Management despite attempts to contact Director Lars Etzkorn. “There’s no communication between the two of us,” Gordon said.
CAG held a march and rally on Sunday in protest of the center’s cafe. According to Gordon, approximately 250 people, many of them graduates of the rehab program, marched through Capitol Hill to the carriage house.
“We’re just waiting to see if the Hill Center, their leaders, are ready to come back to the table and re-engage in discussions that don’t start with CAG leaving the carriage house,” Gordon said.
The Hill Center plan, favored by the Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6B and OPM, will house a variety of classes in the 141-year-old structure at little to no cost through a combination of funding from the city, an endowment grant from Congressional appropriations and membership fees.
“This handsome building has languished too long in decay,” Wells said in a release. “The Hill Center vision will create a new ‘town center’ for everyone to enjoy.”
The Hill Center plans to break ground on the project as soon as the city approves several building permits. In the meantime, the city has begun working on the exterior of the structure. If all goes as planned, construction should take approximately 18 months.