The Department of Transportation is ready to get moving at high speed on a search for a headquarters after being stalled for several years.

DOT and the General Services Administration have released a tentative schedule for finding 1.35 million square feet of space in the the District. For a government real estate procurement, the schedule is tight.

By the end of the month, the agencies plan to release a "solicitation for offers," or SFO, which includes a detailed description of building specifications. The winner would be selected by year-end and a lease signed in March 2000.

"Obviously, this is a large acquisition," said Tony Costa, assistant regional administrator at GSA.

"Our history in handling this large an acquisition is it takes a long time. . . . We decided when we started this that we would try a new way."

The current schedule, he admitted, "is very aggressive, but we think we can do it."

GSA has hired a private real estate adviser, Julien J. Studley Inc., to assist with the procurement. Studley and the government are working closely to put together the SFO, Costa said, and hope to produce one that gives the DOT a variety of choices.

The department is currently housed in the rented Nassif Building at 400 Seventh St. SW, and it also has operations scattered elsewhere in the city. The agency moved into the building in 1970 with a 20-year lease and renewed it for an additional 10 years. The lease expires in March 2000.

The owners of that building want to keep DOT as a tenant, and have proposed a $120 million renovation. The landlords believe their offer would save the government money.

DOT and GSA have been exploring options since 1996. The deal has occasionally gotten tangled in the federal budget process -- for instance, whether the headquarters would be rented or government-owned has swung back and forth.

The space search as it is set up now will accept bids not only from developers who want to build the headquarters on their own sites, but also for construction on government-owned sites.

Which government sites will be offered is unclear. "We're working on that right now," Costa said.

One possibility that arises for a building this big is the Southeast Federal Center, a large tract of federal ground on the Anacostia waterfront next to the Washington Navy Yard. Although the government has talked for years about an ambitious redevelopment of that land, nothing has happened except some environmental cleanup. Every time GSA has nudged an agency toward the tract, the agency has resisted.

Mason Hirst Sells Tract

Mason Hirst, a local development firm, recently leased one office building and sold land for another in its Lake Fairfax Business Center in Reston.

AboveNet Communications Inc., a California-based Internet company, has leased a 30,000-square-foot building at 1807 Michael Faraday Court. It plans to turn the building into what it calls a "global Internet service exchange."

Mason Hirst also sold a five-acre site in the office park for a new 40,000-square-foot building for the Chubb Institute. The institute provides computer training classes.

Earlier this spring, Mason Hirst sold another seven-acre site in the same office park to the National Wildlife Federation, which plans to build a 100,000-square-foot national headquarters.

Transwestern, Highland Merge

Transwestern Carey Winston, the big local brokerage firm, last week announced a merger with Highland Co., a small Reston development management and real estate consulting firm.

Highland was founded in 1994 by Tom Regan, a former executive director of the defunct Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corp.

"This merger will add fee development, build-to-suit and principal development capabilities to the services we provide our clients," Tom L. Nordlinger, president of Transwestern Carey Winston, said in a statement.

Although the firms called the deal a merger, they're very different in size -- Transwestern has 1,200 employees nationally, and Highland has five.

Eyesores Get New Look

Most of the time, people consider vacant storefronts and unused buildings as blight. But in downtown Washington, eyesores have been turned into art.

SiteProjectsDC, a public art exhibit, opened last week in a variety of underused buildings around downtown. The nine public artworks were all created around the theme of "presence" to reflect the history, location and architecture of the sites.

For instance, there's a model city installed in the window at 1004 F St. NW that viewers will be able to manipulate via a crane. Artist Stephen Barnes wants people to create their own dream city.

And artist Janis Goodman has used the windows of the Martin Luther King public library to display a series of drawings on translucent vinyl that will combine visually with activity both inside and outside the building.

The artworks are on display through Sept. 25 throughout F and G streets between 10th and 14th streets NW.

Sponsors are the Washington Project for the Arts/Corcoran, the Downtown D.C. Business Improvement District, Museums Washington Magazine and the Downtown Arts Committee. For information, log on to www.siteprojectsdc.org or call 202-639-1828.