And yet, the real estate where the complex sits, on nearly two city blocks in the heart of downtown, could not be more valuable in these days of federal budget turmoil.
So with pressure building to find savings in the federal real estate portfolio, the General Services Administration on Monday proposed handing the Hoover building to private developers in exchange for building the FBI a new headquarters campus elsewhere in the region.
“Our thought is we can trade the current facility and its location for something new and more efficient that fits the current requirements of the FBI,” GSA Acting Administrator Dan Tangherlini said.
President Obama has directed the GSA to sell or use properties that are vacant or under-utilized, opening up the possibility that big chunks of block-like federal real estate could be transformed into new offices and city neighborhoods lining Pennsylvania Avenue and the Mall.
Nearly a year ago the GSA chose Donald and Ivanka Trump’s development company to turn the Old Post Office Pavilion into a luxury hotel. The agency is also seeking private-sector ideas for a 22-acre area consisting of five office buildings near the Mall in Southwest Washington.
Called Federal Triangle South, the dull collection of properties could be redeveloped into a neighborhood of new housing, hotels, offices and shops connecting to a Southwest Waterfront pegged for redevelopment beginning next year.
A similar neighborhood could replace the FBI site downtown, on a magnitude eclipsing the $950 million CityCenter project under construction a few blocks north.
“What we want to do is ask the marketplace: What do you think?” Tangherlini said.
The GSA’s search immediately kick-started a competition among local jurisdictions to win a federal campus that would bring as many as 11,000 FBI headquarters jobs. Local members of Congress sounded like real estate brokers as they pitched sites and talked up their jurisdictions.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said the FBI needs to stay in Washington to remain in close contact with policymakers; she said there are at least five suitable sites in the city.
“The FBI is the last agency that would want to be out of the District of Columbia,” she said. “It needs proximity to Capitol Hill and the White House on a daily basis. And when I say proximity, I mean rapid proximity.”
But officials in Fairfax and Loudoun counties have also pitched potential sites ever since a Government Accountability Office report last year said relocation would be cheaper than making renovations that could require $1.7 billion over 14 years. Exxon-Mobil’s decision to vacate a campus in Merrifield opens up a possible landing spot.