USC buys home for a new campus in Washington

The University of Southern California is enlarging its operations in Washington with the acquisition of a 60,000-square-foot building near Dupont Circle that will be home to a new D.C. campus.

The $49.4 million purchase of the property at 1771 N St. NW, announced Wednesday, enables the private university in Los Angeles to establish an eastern hub for teaching, research, lobbying, recruiting, alumni networking and community outreach. The deal underscores that higher education institutions based elsewhere often find it desirable to establish a prominent Washington address.

“So many of our students are deeply interested in the workings of our democracy,” said USC President Carol Folt. “We wanted a vibrant East Coast center. We said this is the place for us to be.”

Many universities have made a similar calculation, planting their flags and logos in the corridors of downtown, near embassies, federal agencies, the White House and Capitol Hill.

New York University and Texas A&M University both operate on L Street in Northwest Washington. Arizona State University runs a center at 18th and I streets, while the University of California’s D.C. outpost is on Rhode Island Avenue near Scott Circle.

Johns Hopkins University is finishing a renovation of a major building, 555 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, that it recently purchased. The building was once home to the Newseum and will soon be the location of the university’s School of Advanced International Studies and other D.C. academic enterprises. The Hopkins building dwarfs many of the others, with about 400,000 square feet in a prime location between the Capitol and the White House. It is expected to open in time for the fall semester.

“Expanding our presence in the nation’s capital doubles down on making our data-driven research capability across all disciplines more readily available to national and global decision-makers, in service of our commitment to democracy and human advancement,” Lainie Rutkow, vice provost for interdisciplinary initiatives at Hopkins, said in a statement.

Washington “is a very hot market for colleges and universities,” said Andrew Flagel, president and chief executive of the Consortium of Universities of the Washington Metropolitan Area. A D.C. address gives schools visibility in an affluent and highly educated region as well as proximity to power. “I’m in front of the people who do earmarks,” Flagel said, referring to special provisions in federal spending bills. “I’m in front of the people who do research grants.”

Several prominent schools call Washington home, including American, Catholic, Gallaudet, Georgetown, George Washington, Howard and Trinity Washington universities, as well as the University of the District of Columbia. In nearby suburbs are, among others, the University of Maryland at College Park and George Mason University in Northern Virginia.

USC, with about 49,000 students, has long had offices in Washington, with hundreds of students, faculty members and others flying back and forth every year from Los Angeles. But the new D.C. campus, Folt said, will take the presence to another level, perhaps tripling or quadrupling the transcontinental traffic for the school’s community, known as the Trojans. “We got a very excellent place that suits our needs for a very reasonable price,” she said.

The seven-story building on N Street, with a curved glass curtain in front, was purchased from Stream Realty Partners of Dallas, according to USC officials. For many years the site was home to the National Association of Broadcasters.

Fred Ryan, publisher and chief executive of The Washington Post, is on the USC Board of Trustees.

Washington, like many cities, has struggled to bring its downtown back to life after the massive office closures that occurred in 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic. D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said in a statement that she hopes the USC campus will help catalyze the northern part of the business district. “We cannot wait to welcome Trojans to the nation’s capital as together we fight on for D.C.’s comeback,” Bowser said.

USC said it plans to start using the building almost immediately. The facility will support research and teaching in cybersecurity, computer science, journalism, public policy, political science, health sciences and other fields. “There will be hundreds of students, staff, faculty and alumni streaming in and out of the Capital Campus year-round in ways that our previous space did not allow,” USC officials said in a statement. “In addition, we hope to establish collaborative programming with other universities in the area.”


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