Commerce Secretary Philip M. Klutznick said yesterday he is seriously considering locating new department office space in the Ft. Lincoln New Town, a move that could be vital to survival of the new town concept.
Ft. Lincoln developers said yesterday, after meeting with Klutznick at the Northeast Washington location, that they are counting of Commerce to locate any new operations at the project. The town's office develop-site has remained barren since the project was started nearly 13 years ago.
Housing sales in the project started only four years ago and have dropped off since November because of high interest rates, according to new town executive vice president H. Ralph Taylor. A $7 million elementary school, which was vacant for five years, just recently opened.
Klutznick, a Chicago developer before he joined the president's cabinet late last year, said yesterday he was pleased with the new town, but he could make no promises of relocating there.
But he said he would soon talk with officials at the General Services Administration about expanding his department and the possibility of locating at Ft. Lincoln. GSA has authority over federal office space.
"I have a particular interest in new towns," said Klutznick, who developed a pioneering model suburb outside Chicago called Park Forest. "Ft. Lincoln has been under construction for a long time. Since this is a new town development in town and it has appeal to a lot of people, I thought I'd drive out here."
Once appealing factor is the development's proximity to downtown and public transportation, Klutznick said.
Klutznick wouldn't say when any decision would be made and how many employes need to be relocated.
Ft. Lincoln is one of many sites being considered, Klutznick said, but he wouldn't say what the other locations were.
Ft. Lincoln was planned in 1967 as a symbol of the Great Society's commitment to racially and economically integrated housing in an in-town setting. It was intended to include not only medium-priced housing but also a shopping mall, hotel and office complex overlooking a lake.
Since then, developers have been unable to persuade any government offices or private firms to locate in the 1.7 million square feet of office space in six office buildings in the town.
But the project has been plagued by planning difficulties, shifting priorities and economic uncertainties. Just five years ago the project was given up for dead by many federal as well as community officials.
At that time a Department of Housing and Urban Development-commissioned study said that the planning concept of new towns had suffered a heavy psychological blow from the "debacle" at Ft. Lincoln.
Until interest rates began rising, however, Taylor said that as many as 200 housing units were being sold a year. What developers are counting on to help the project is the completion of the 350-room hotel, the 240,000-square-foot shopping mall and the office complex.
"Investment in that office center would get that whole town center going," Taylor said. "If the GSA says okay, the whole thing will take off."
The office center could be ready for occupancy in two to three years, Taylor said, if the government of any other group agrees to build there or locate there.
Taylor wouldn't say what firms had been contacted or had showed any interest.
At one time the GSA promised federal office buildings there are an employment base.
"I think considering the handicaps," such as high interest rates, "they've done remarkably well," Klutznick said of the developers. "They have all my moral encouragement, but I don't yet have any official encouragement."