GSA plans online auction of Georgetown landmark

In a continued push to reduce federal real estate costs, the General Services Administration plans to auction off online the West Heating Plant in November.

The six-story facility on two acres at 1051 29th St. NW offers clear views of the Potomac River from its top floor and is considered one of the most valuable undeveloped sites in Georgetown. It has been almost completely vacant since 2000.

The GSA has created a listing for the property at www.realestatesales.gov and plans to begin an eBay-style online auction once it acquires final regulatory approvals. The agency has been under pressure from congressional Republicans to dispose of vacant or underutilized properties more quickly, and a House subcommittee held a hearing at the plant in June to drive the point home.

An exact date for the auction has not been set. Two years ago, the GSA used an online auction to sell a vacant office building in Bethesda, but it received bids for much less than officials had hoped. This time, the agency has hired advisers from the services firm Jones Lang LaSalle.

Real estate developers have long considered how best to use the plant should it become available, and companies including EastBanc and MRP Realty, both based in the District, have already expressed interest. Georgetown real estate investor Richard H. Levy and Four Seasons Hotels are part of a team that would turn the building into 80 condominiums.

Despite its location, however, the property offers a litany of challenges to being developed. Its exterior art deco design has historical significance, limiting changes that a new owner could make. And the interior is a maze of metal pipes reaching to the ceiling.

Ryan K. Wade, a principal of MRP Realty, said converting the property to another use would require tearing all the old pipes apart and hauling them out.

“You basically have to undo the erector set inside the building,” he said.

Neighbors who live near the property are also beginning to raise their voices about what they would like to see on the site, namely a park. Friends of the Georgetown Waterfront have been lobbying the GSA, now headed by former D.C. city administrator Daniel M. Tangherlini, to set aside a portion of the property as public park space. D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) wrote Tangherlini in July to support the parks request, calling the site “a very sensitive location adjoining two national parks.”

Evans has not received a response to the letter, his staff said, but neighbors and D.C. officials are slated to meet Thursday to discuss the plant’s future.

Jonathan O'Connell has covered land use and development in the Washington area for more than five years.

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