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Correction to This Article
This article about the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center incorrectly said in its headlines and lead paragraph that no events were scheduled in the building to mark the 100th anniversary of Reagan's birth, which fell on Feb. 6, until May. On Feb. 3, the Reagan Alumni Association hosted a reception there. On Feb. 9, General Electric and the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation held a panel discussion there with reporters and former White House press secretaries.

Reagan Building hums along with little mention of president's 100th birthday

The government's second-largest structure after the Pentagon, the Reagan Building carries on with little mention of the centennial birthday of its budget-slashing namesake.

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 4, 2011; 10:19 PM

In the downtown Washington federal building bearing Ronald Reagan's name, no events are planned until May to mark his 100th birthday, so there will be no parties for him this week in the ballrooms, no new exhibits in the hallways and no commemorative lectures in the auditoriums.

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And good luck finding any sign of him in the building's three gift shops.

Nonetheless, the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center lives on as a paradoxical monument to a president, born Feb. 6, 1911, who called government "the problem," slashed the budgets of agencies within it and abhorred the kind of overdue, overbudgeted construction project it became.

In a city full of tributes to presidents, Reagan's is like no other. Formally dedicated in 1998, the building houses 7,000 federal employees working for the Commerce Department, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Agency for International Development - odd, perhaps, considering Reagan's decision to freeze federal pay and slash budgets at Commerce and the EPA.

But it also houses private-sector tenants and an international trade center, which Nancy Reagan once praised as a fitting tribute to her husband's support for open markets and free trade.

The building, built on the site of Washington's Civil War-era red light district, was the final piece of the Federal Triangle downtown redevelopment project that began in the 1930s. It is one of dozens of public works projects that carry the late president's name, including Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, a bridge in his home town of Dixon, Ill., a highway in the Cincinnati area and a school in Yuma, Ariz.

In size and scope, none compares with the Reagan Building, which encompasses seven acres and measures about 3.9 million square feet, making it the government's second-largest structure, after the Pentagon. (By comparison, New York's Empire State Building totals 2.1 million square feet.)

There are 21,000 light fixtures, 13,000 doors, 1,900 underground parking spaces, 904 windows, 94 stairways, 85 elevators, 26 underground loading docks and eight escalators, according to its owner, the General Services Administration. The building's 250,000 cubic yards of concrete could pave 106 miles of two-lane highway. As a skyscraper, it would stand 155 stories high. There's an acre's worth of glass in the skylight.

"It is beautifully constructed," said Jo-Ann Neuhaus, executive director of the Penn Quarter Neighborhood Association, who pushed for years for the building's construction. "It's certainly more open than most federal buildings."

After years of disagreements over its size and scope, "we did end up with a building that does have a really good food court and a wonderful exhibition center and some private office space," said Robert Peck, GSA's commissioner of public buildings.

Tenants have reported few problems through the years, GSA said, though bedbugs recently infiltrated USAID's offices .

In the building's main atrium, a bronze bas-relief of Reagan's profile hangs near a plaque that quotes from his second inaugural address: "There are no limits to growth and human progress when men and women are free to follow their dreams."


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