But this time was different. This time it hurt. And maybe that says more about the prospects for transit-oriented development in the county than the loss of the HHS lease.
County leaders have long complained about the lack of federal jobs located in their communities, an argument documented by a 1999 report from the Brookings Institution called “A Region Divided: The State of Growth in Greater Washington, D.C.,” that showed exactly how different things were when one traveled from Fairfax County to Prince George’s County.
But in making the pitch to land HHS, Prince George’s seemed to have finally checked all the boxes the GSA looks at when it considers relocating thousands of its employees. Three Prince George’s County developers had purchased sites practically on top of Metro stations, county officials had lined up in support of their plans and members of Congress had secured relevant committee assignments and let GSA officials know in no uncertain terms — as D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), now in her 11th term, has long done on behalf of the District — that they wanted the federal government to play an economic development role in their communities.
“There’s no way I can sit by and see the next GSA site not come to Prince George’s County,” says Rushern Baker, the newly elected Prince George’s County executive.
Baker will tell anyone who will listen that he wants to help the developers who have begun investing in land around the county’s 15 Metro stations turn those areas into the type of transit-oriented, walkable communities that all the region’s other jurisdictions have built in recent years. He has proposed a $50 million economic development fund that he says, if approved, will give him greater leeway to sweeten a deal for a GSA tenant that can anchor new development.
Which made losing all the more difficult. Three development teams, including two from Prince George’s, filed protests with the Government Accountability Office, alleging defects in the procurement process. Rep. Donna F. Edwards (D-Md.) said, “It seemed like there was some monkeying going on with the process.”
Baker said he thought Prince George’s made a strong case in pursuing the agency.
“We had three incredible sites,” he said. “The teams that presented for all three sites did a great job. And I think now we should be first in line to get leased space.”
Missing the Metro station employers
With a few exceptions, Prince George’s County does not have major employment centers atop its Metro stations the way much of the rest of the region does.
Every workday morning, dozens of Metrorail trains depart downtown Washington and pull into the county’s stations where — compared with morning rush trains headed elsewhere—very few people disembark.