Mayor Vincent Gray

WASHINGTON, DC-Mayor Vincent Gray didn’t go to SXSW in Austin earlier this month to convince the local market he was serious about building the District into a tech investment destination. He went because he is serious about positioning the District for tech investors—and the best way to do that is by meeting and greeting in person such companies on their own turf. “We are trying to redefine ourselves as something other than a company,” Gray tells in a telephone interview. “We don’t have a robust tech community right now, but we do have the makings for one.”

The idea of turning DC into a tech center was formally introduced in Gray’s five-year Economic Development plan. One of its goals is to make the District the largest technology center on the East Coast. To get to that goal, the mayor is making it his mission to go through the necessary steps – including attending tech conferences such as SXSW, where he was one of a very few number of mayors making the rounds.

For the most part, the commercial real estate community has been watching the initiative unfold with detached interest. Such leases will start out slow and likely be small as start ups typically are. But the mayor has one ace to play that is of great, immediate interest to the CRE community: St Elizabeth’s East Gateway Pavilion. It is well known the city is negotiating with Microsoft to bring its Innovation Center as a possible anchor tenant to the campus. Other contenders include SmartBIM and Citelum.

“We have 180 acres of potential property to be developed and we have made a strong commitment to develop it as a tech community,” Gray says. While nothing is certain, he adds, “we are very encouraged about the prospects for Microsoft.” Another initiative by the DC government is 1776, a 15,000-square foot tech incubator that is scheduled to open at 1133 15th St. NW. It will assist entrepreneurs by connecting them to the political, social business and financial capital in the District.

“We think we are creating an environment where technology is becoming an increasingly important sector,” Gray says, and the commercial real estate industry is starting to take notice. “So far the reaction has been good from that industry.”