List narrows for future FBI headquarters: Greenbelt, Landover or Springfield

The headquarters of the FBI would relocate from downtown Washington to a suburban campus in either Greenbelt, Landover or Springfield, under plans announced by the General Services Administration Tuesday.

The FBI, located in the dated and much-maligned J. Edgar Hoover Building on Pennsylvania Avenue since 1975, says it needs a new headquarters to consolidate 11,000 personnel from 20 locations around the region.

The GSA began seeking sites last November, leading to months of high-stakes jockeying from real estate developers, members of Congress and local officials hoping to attract the FBI’s jobs and the chance at building a federal mini-city that would likely include ancillary housing, shopping, offices and hotels.

Dozens of real estate developers expressed interest in the project but only a few have properties capable of accommodating  a 2.1 million-square-foot campus within two-and-a-half  miles of the Capital Beltway and two miles of a Metro station.

Greenbelt’s inclusion on the list was widely expected. The proposed site, an 82-acre parking lot and Kiss and Ride area at the Greenbelt Metro station, is the subject of an agreement between Metro and a private developer who has been trying to develop the site for more than a decade.

The other Maryland property being considered is the now vacant 88-acre former home of the Landover Mall, owned in part by Lerner Enterprises, the real estate firm of Washington Nationals owner Theodore N. Lerner.

Members of the Maryland congressional delegation and Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III have made clear for months they prefer the Greenbelt proposal. The county has offered a subsidy package for Greenbelt worth $112 million.

In Springfield, there is a combination of federally owned land and properties owned or controlled by Boston Properties, one of the biggest real estate developers on the East Coast.

The site is widely backed by elected officials in Virginia but constrained by the fact that a secure CIA facility remains in operation there, with no plan yet announced to relocate it.

Though no D.C. property was included on the list there is a silver lining for the District: the expected redevelopment of the existing site, the Hoover Building, a 6.7-acre property along the city’s most famous street, Pennsylvania Avenue.

Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) said after the decision was announced that it still amounted to a win for the District because it would allow the Hoover site to be redeveloped, removing an inefficient building that is often listed among the ugliest in the city.

Had the FBI decided to stay in its headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue, Gray said, “we would have been happy for them to be here,” but that the federal site did not produce property taxes and most FBI employees were not taxpaying city residents.

“Overall, this is hugely positive,” he said.

D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), who historically has fought to keep major agencies in the nation’s capital, issued a statement saying she took “considerable comfort in knowing that at last the current FBI headquarters site is now ripe to bring new jobs and revenue to the District of Columbia.”

“The District alone, among those competing, could not lose in the FBI headquarters selection process,” she said in a statement.

GSA’s decision once again exposed differences between Maryland and Virginia’s congressional delegations, who have historically worked in concert on issues of federal spending but have not been shy about cheerleading on behalf of their states for the FBI.

Virginia officials pressed the case that FBI would function better at Springfield given proximity to the FBI crime lab in Quantico.

“We’re going to continue to make the case,” said Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.). “On the facts, in terms of where the FBI employees would like to be, access to Metro, access to Quantico, we’re a clear winner.”

Maryland lawmakers sharply disputed suggestions from Warner, Rep. James Moran (D-Va.) and other Virginia officials that Greenbelt and Landover were located too far away from the homes of FBI workers or other key federal installations.

“Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong,” said Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.). “Most of the percentage of the workers of the FBI live in Maryland. Check their facts. Secondly, we’re more convenient to the Metro. Check the facts. Third, we have the campus facility and land that they need and you can get a fully consolidated FBI site. And last – which they forgot to mention, because even they would not challenge this – the cost would be less in Prince George’s County.”

The Maryland sites are closer to the National Security Agency, NASA’s Goddard Space Center, Andrews Air Force Base and several major universities.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), chair of the powerful appropriations committee, used political terms during an afternoon press conference on Capitol Hill to describe the importance of the decision. “This is like winning the primary,” she said. “Now, we’re suiting up to win the general [election].”

She said the decision suggested that the federal government finally realizes that it’s time to take advantage of wide swaths of the county that remain underdeveloped when compared to the District and other counties in Maryland and Northern Virginia.

“For too long, we think Prince George’s County has been red lined, sidelined, overlooked and undervalued,” she said.

Though Baker and other Maryland officials have long offered their support for the Greenbelt site, after the announcement they began to embrace the luxury of having two finalists, dismissing reporters’ suggestions that the Landover property was less prepared for the FBI headquarters because the county and state have already provided incentives to build on the Greenbelt site.

“Aren’t we lucky that we get two bites of the apple?” said Baker, the county executive. He said he had assurances from Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley that the state would do “everything” to ensure that both sites are prepared to house the FBI.

But Sharon Bulova, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, said in an interview that having just one finalist in her state might be an advantage.

“Virginia is united around this site,” she said. “We have one site that we are working real hard toward. Maryland has several sites but Fairfax County and Virginia have this site that we are going to be working very hard to secure the FBI.”

Pulling off both the relocation of the FBI and the redevelopment of the Hoover building will not be easy. The GSA has proposed paying for the FBI’s new digs by offering real estate developers, in a separate competition, the chance to trade for the Hoover building. Developers will be able to compete to acquire the Hoover building regardless of whether they own any of the sites.

Staff reporters Ed O’Keefe and Mary Pat Flaherty contributed to this report.​

Follow Jonathan O’Connell on Twitter: @oconnellpostbiz

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