GSA relinquishes claim to Walter Reed property

By Jonathan O'Connell
Monday, December 13, 2010; 4

The General Services Administration reversed course recently and decided against acquiring more than 30 acres of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, giving the District a chance to possibly obtain more property along Georgia Avenue NW, one of the city's top priorities for economic development.

The city is already positioned to receive 62 acres on the southern end of Walter Reed after hospital operations move to Bethesda and Fort Belvoir in September as part of the Defense Department's Base Realignment and Closure process. City officials have been working on a plan for the property that proposes reuse of many of the historic buildings and about 2.2 million square feet of new homes, shopping, green space, facilities for the homeless and schools.

The GSA had claimed nearly 34 acres on the northern end of the site, facing Alaska Avenue to the west, Fern Street to the north and Georgia Avenue to the east. But on Oct. 13, GSA chief Martha N. Johnson wrote Joseph F. Calcara, deputy assistant secretary of the Army, to say the GSA "rescinds its request for transfer" of the property, according to GSA spokesman Michael McGill.

Johnson cited increasing budget constraints and the need to reduce the federal real estate portfolio, after a memo signed by President Obama in June ordering that federal agencies cut $8 billion worth of building costs by the end of the 2012 fiscal year.

Johnson also said there was little interest in the property among federal agencies, which "has resulted in there being no potential GSA tenant for the site in the foreseeable future," she wrote the Army, according to McGill.

D.C. officials are negotiating to acquire more property along Georgia Avenue, where it could add to the 900,000 square feet of housing and 200,000 square feet of shops and restaurants they already plan.

"We're working on what could be a revision of the boundaries," said Jose Sousa, spokesman for the deputy mayor for planning and economic development. "The District obviously has continued interest in maximizing the retail opportunities on Georgia and is engaging its federal partners as to how to make that happen."

The State Department, which is already in line to receive about 18 acres on the western end of the property, has expressed interest in the northern portion as well.

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