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BLANK CHECK

Council considers buying $1.67 million federally owned mansion to house mayor

(Published April 10, 2000)

By OSCAR ABEYTA

Staff Writer

D.C. City Council is considering proposed legislation that essentially would give city officials a blank check to spend whatever it costs to buy the deteriorating former Navy Hospital on Capitol Hill and renovate it into a residential mansion for the cityís mayor.

The legislation, proposed by Council Chairman Linda Cropp and Ward 6 Councilwoman Sharon Ambrose, calls for "such funds as may be necessary to be expended for the acquisition, renovation, furnishings, maintenance, security, and incidental expenses incurred in acquiring and maintaining an official residence" for the mayor.

While previous public discussions of creating a mayoral mansion ó similar to New Yorkís Gracie Mansion ó have emphasized the use of private donations toward a mayoral estate, the bill under consideration only authorizes a special account to accept such donations.

The legislation does not place a cap on the expenditure of public funds. It also does not specify what percentage of the total cost would have to come from private funds.

The city council is scheduled to hold a public hearing April 11 to discuss the proposal. An economic impact statement on the proposal was still being prepared by the Office of the Chief Financial Officer at press time.

The bill authorizes the D.C. Office of Property Management to "investigate possible sites for an official residence" for the mayor, but it lists only one specific property under consideration ó the Old Navy Hospital at 921 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, which the D.C. government doesnít own. The bill directs the office to investigate that site before considering others.

Cropp spokesman Mark Johnson said the 22,000-square-foot mansion is the preferred site and that no list of alternate properties has been drawn up.

"Itís centrally located, itís a historical building and it makes sense that it would be the mayoral residence," he said.

Ambrose, in whose ward the old Navy medical facility is located, has been advocating the site for a mayoral mansion, saying the dilapidated structure should be restored to its original condition.

According to city tax records, the Old Navy Hospital has an assessed value of $1,673,500 and is owned by the federal government. The D.C. government has had control of the building since 1963, but the title still belongs to the U.S. government.

The building is currently leased to a nonprofit organization until 2002. Friendship House Association Inc. signed a three-year lease on the property last July to operate social services programs out of the building. According to the lease, the group is supposed to pay $13,880 a month for use of the property.

Meanwhile, a group of Navy veterans is organizing to try to acquire the former hospital to establish a national Navy medical museum. Because the building was the first naval hospital in the District, commissioned in 1866, the group wants the building for its historical nature.

"Itís sacred and hallowed ground to us," group organizer Daniel S. Donohue said. "Navy men and women have died in that hospital and we would like to honor naval medicine there."

Donohue noted that the District owns at least three other mansions that it could consider for a mayoral residence ó Brooks Mansion at the Brookland Metro station in Northeast Washington, the Danzansky Funeral Home at 2091 14th St. NW and the Old Embassy Building No. 10 at 3149 16th St. NW, which is the current headquarters of the Department of Parks and Recreation.

If the Old Navy Hospital site canít be acquired, the proposed legislation directs the Office of Property Management to search for other District-owned or privately owned property to turn into a mayoral mansion.

Copyright 2000, The Common Denominator