Georgetown site among federal properties to be sold

A federal-government-owned landmark with a choice Georgetown address is poised to be put up for sale in the next year as part of the Obama administration’s plan to sell excess federal property across the country.

The facility, a largely abandoned art-deco-style heating plant owned by the General Services Administration, is on a two-acre site amid townhouses and the Four Seasons Hotel at the corner of 29th and K streets NW. On Thursday, it will be added to a list of 12,000 properties the government says it no longer needs as part of a review ordered by President Obama to save at least $3 billion in building costs.

Jeffrey D. Zients, deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, said the administration will save more than $3.5 billion in building costs by the end of fiscal 2012. The federal government owns 1.2 million properties, costing taxpayers more than $20 billion to operate and maintain, Zients said. In addition to the 12,000 excess properties, he said another 50,000 are considered underused.

But the Government Accountability Office and private-sector analysts have raised doubts about whether the government can dispose of properties in time to meet Obama’s goal, noting that a lengthy review process and potentially costly and long-term environmental cleanup projects could complicate the process.

Built in the 1940s, the GSA plant once burned coal and natural gas but has sat dormant and racked up $3.5 million in maintenance costs in the past decade, Zients said.

Washington-area real estate developers said Wednesday that the plant, near Georgetown’s M Street commercial corridor and beside the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park, is an ideal purchase. Joseph Sternlieb, a developer with Georgetown-based EastBanc, said the site’s historic nature would require a creative redevelopment plan. “But I think that’s going to be the case with a lot of federal properties,” Sternlieb added.

Another developer, Marc Dubick, is building townhouses nearby and said the plant would lend itself well to ongoing residential development.

“What’s shown to work best in Georgetown is residential with some retail component, and obviously, historic issues are going to be paramount,” Dubick said.

The GSA is also considering bids it has received from the private sector for the Old Post Office Pavilion on Pennsylvania Avenue, after putting it up for private development in March. The agency has declined to release information about the submissions, but among the contenders is Donald Trump’s Trump Hotel Collection, which proposed transforming the historic building into a nearly 300-room luxury hotel. Another proposal would bring the National Museum of the Jewish People to the site.

Although the White House is set to meet its goal, officials are pushing Congress to pass a bill that would establish a civilian buildings commission to review other sites for closure or consolidation. If the legislation passes, the panel would issue recommendations to Congress for an up or down vote and generate at least $15 billion in savings over three years, Zients said.

A House committee passed a bill last week that would do some of what the White House has proposed.

O’Connell is a staff writer with Capital Business.

Ed O’Keefe is a congressional reporter with The Washington Post and covered the 2008 and 2012 presidential and congressional elections.
Jonathan O'Connell has covered land use and development in the Washington area for more than five years.
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