October 19, 2017 at 10:30 am EST | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Groundbreaking ceremony launches Whitman-Walker development project

D.C. officials on Oct. 18, 2017, broke ground on a project to redevelop Whitman-Walker Health.
(Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

Several D.C. government officials joined leaders of Whitman-Walker Health on Wednesday in a groundbreaking ceremony to launch the construction of a new building on the site of its Elizabeth Taylor Medical Center at 14th and R Streets, N.W.
 
The new six-story mixed use building is part of a joint venture development project that Whitman-Walker entered into with Fivesquares Development, a local real estate development company.  
 
Whitman-Walker, which specializes in healthcare for the LGBT community and people with HIV, will be the majority owner of the joint venture and will occupy parts of the new building’s first and second floors, according to Whitman-Walker Executive Director Don Blanchon.
 
Architectural drawings released last year show that two of the three two-story buildings that make up the current Elizabeth Taylor Medical Center, and which have historic significance, will remain in place as part of the new building.
 
“I’ve been asked periodically about what the heck are you doing in real estate development,” Blanchon told the gathering of about 75 people who attended the groundbreaking ceremony. “It’s a fair question,” he said.
 
“A true measure of success for this project will be Whitman-Walker’s sustainability, not for the next five or 10 years but for the next 50 years or whenever society is truly inclusive and just for all,” Blanchon said.
 
“Until that time this project will help Whitman-Walker continue to care for the community, this neighborhood and our great city,” he said, adding, “It will do so by ensuring that our mission of health is supported by the financial wellness of this project and what it can generate for many years to come.”
 
The city officials who spoke at the event also expressed strong support for the project, saying it would enable Whitman-Walker to continue and expand its healthcare work for underserved segments of the population, including those who otherwise could not afford high quality health care.
 
Among those participating in the groundbreaking were D.C. Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services HyeSook Chung, Department of Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt, City Councilmember Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs Director Sheila Alexander-Reid and D.C. Office of Planning Director Eric Shaw.
 
“For me, this is simply another milestone for Whitman-Walker,” Norton told the gathering. “It’s another occasion to thank Whitman-Walker for giving indispensable leadership for almost 40 years as our city learned about HIV and AIDS and what to do about it.”
 
Andy Altman, managing principal partner with Fivesquares Development, said he and his longtime business partner Ron Kaplan were honored to have been chosen by Whitman-Walker as a partner in the development project.
 
“We feel that this isn’t just bricks and mortar,” Altman said. “Every decision, everything we do is contributing to the vitality and the sustainability of this organization and to the people they serve here and throughout the city and throughout this region, including east of the river.”
 
Altman said the new 155,000 square foot building would be a vocal point for the newly developing 14th Street Corridor. When finished sometime in 2020 the building will include 20,000 square feet of ground floor retail stores and restaurants, underground parking, about 60,000 square feet of office space and 78 residential apartments.
 
Gay rights activist John Fanning, who serves as chair of the Logan Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commission in whose district the Taylor building is located, said Logan Circle area residents strongly support the redevelopment project.
 
Employees of the Elizabeth Taylor building and the programs they operate for Whitman-Walker vacated the building in August and moved into several other buildings Whitman-Walker owns or rents, including its recently opened headquarters and medical services building just two blocks away from the Taylor building at 1525 14th St., N.W.
 
Twelve people who participated in the groundbreaking, including the city officials, were given construction worker style hard hats and shovels that bore the colors of the rainbow flag, drawing applause and cheers from many of those watching the event.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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