R.I.S.E. Demonstration Center Opens

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By C.N. Writer
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Development is happening on the St. Elizabeths East campus. The DC Gateway Pavilion opened last year, but in mid-August another facility on the campus held its grand opening. The RISE Demonstration Center — for “relate, innovate, stimulate and elevate” — opened its doors on August 13th. It is the former chapel on the campus, but has been redeveloped to serve as a tech, demonstration and flexible meeting center. After four months and $8.3 million worth of city investment, the center opened in mid-August.

The event saw many of Mayor Vincent Gray’s governmental staffers, but also on hand for the event was included Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry, Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED) Jeff Miller, Director of the Department of General Services Brian Hanlon, and Executive Director of St. Elizabeths East project Catherine Buell.

One of the Congress Heights Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners, Mary Cuthbert, attended the grand opening said she was “happy new development continues to come into the ward.” Cuthbert was one of many community and government leaders who gave remarks during the ribbon cutting. She lamented how the center, along with the pavilion is not only positive for the
The existing two-story structure was originally constructed in 1955 as a Chapel for the St. Elizabeths Hospital. The adaptive reuse of the building includes the conversion of the main space into two flexible spaces for gatherings, programs, and conferences on the main level. On the lower level, the original classroom area has been converted into a Digital Inclusion Center to serve the community and a new video-conference center, seminar spaces, and an office for use by community leaders.

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During the August 13th ribbon cutting, Mayor Gray said, “I am pleased to cut the ribbon on the R.I.S.E. Demonstration Center, a critical investment in Ward 8 that will serve as a resource for building technical skills and connecting residents to entrepreneurial opportunities.” Immediate plans for the center will be similar to those of the Gateway Pavilion, which is right next to the Chapel on the east campus. The city plans to develop all the land around the center and the chapel.

Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Khadijah Watson said she is even more excited about the facility because it is helping provide full time and part time jobs to Ward 8 residents. Blue Sky Construction has the facilities maintenance contract with R.I.S.E. Center and the Gateway Pavilion and they are employing local residents. In the winter, Blue Sky helped hire Ward 8 residents to run and operate the ice slide that was located behind the Pavilion. Additionally, a ward-8 based firm has the janitorial contract and employs three local Ward 8 residents work at both facilities. Regina Jacobs, one of the janitorial workers, said, “I absolutely love working here. It’s close to home and the various events are great too!”

Partners on the R.I.S.E. Demonstration Center project include the University of the District of Columbia – Community College, the D.C. Office of the Chief Technology Officer, and Microsoft. Although Microsoft held a pop-up shop on Labor Day weekend, the company has no immediate plans to house a permanent pop-up store at the facility. Additionally, they haven’t clarified their commitment, beyond holding free Microsoft Word classes this fall.

The former chapel is the first building in what is planned to be a larger innovation hub with several private tech companies. The aim is to attract more employment activity and entrepreneurship to the area adjacent to the Congress Heights Metro Station, said Gray. The DMPED has also received a handful of bids for retail and restaurant development on the East Campus.

The building’s design keeps the existing wood-framed windows and chapel tower, but is otherwise modernized, with two large demonstration and lecture halls, a “Digital Inclusion Center” with a state-of-the-art computer lab, conference area, and a reflection area. ANC8C Commissioner Cuthbert announced that Ward 8’s ANC offices would be housed on the bottom floor.

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