The World Bank is planning to tear down the Park Central Hotel and the former headquarters of the United States Information Agency to build a new $97 million office building, its third such project in less than three years.
Last week the bank signed a 99-year lease for the site of the 10-story brown-brick building at 1776 Pennsylvania Ave. NW., that formerly housed USIA, now in new offices at 400 C St. SW. Bank officials have also signed a contract of sale for the Park Central Hotel at 705 18th St. NW., which is adjacent to the USIA building. A bank spokesman said the sales price was still under negotiation.
The two buildings occupy all the eastern side of 18th Street between G Street and Pennsylvania Avenue and are directly across 18th Street from the World Bank headquarters at 1818 H St. NW.
The planned new high-rise office building will house approximately 1,400 bank employes who are now scattered in rented space in 14 office buildings located within a few blocks of the proposed complex, according to a bank spokesman.
"It is a very sensible move to acquire property and space compared to what we have to lease further away," said a bank spokesman. "It will accommodate virtually all our staff that is now in rented space."
He said the bank, which has about 5,000 employes, is following the U.S. government's policy of trying to move some of its offices out of leased space into government-owned buildings to save money. But the United States, the bank's largest contributor, abstained from approving the project.
The U.S. representatives took that position, according to informed sources, because of concern that Congress might oppose the bank's spending money to acquire expensive office space for itself instead of using it to help developing countries.
"Politically it was not the best time for this to come up," said one source familiar with the U.S. position.
He added that the administration was concerned that the proposed project could cause "possible adverse congressional reaction" at a time when there has been some congressional opposition to U.S. financial support for international organizations such as the World Bank.
Using the same argument, the U.S., three years ago unsuccessfully opposed plans to build the World Bank's first large office building at 600 19th St. NW. At that time the bank's 21-member governing board of directors were also told the building was needed to consolidate staff, sources said. Earlier this year the bank opened its second large building at 1850 I St. NW.
Staff members of the congressional committees which oversee the U.S. appropriation said they had no comment on the proposed project.
The bank will finance the project through its reserve funds, which are generated in part by contributions from the 130 nations which belong to the 38-year-old organization.
The World Bank will lease the Pennsylvania Avenue site from owner Charles Benenson of New York, who formerly owned the historic Willard Hotel at 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW.
Both the 64-year-old building at 1776 Pennsylvania Ave. and the Park Center Hotel, which is owned by a New York real estate syndicate, will be razed next spring to make way for the construction of the new 400,000 square foot office building, a bank spokesman said.