An 0.84-acre tract at First and E streets NW, across the street from the back entrance to the Hyatt Regency Hotel on Capitol Hill, is the parcel of land District officials want as a site for a 250-bed minimum-security prison, city and federal officials confirmed yesterday.
The L-shaped tract, which has a market value of "several million dollars," is part of the former Federal City College complex and is adjacent to the homeless shelter now undergoing a $15 million renovation, at Second and E streets NW.
Tracey Busell, a Hyatt spokeswoman, expressed surprise yesterday when told the tract across the street from the hotel is the tract the city has requested from the federal government. She said the hotel was not notified about the request, but added that most of the hotel's guests are from out of town and would probably never know there was a prison next door.
Mayor Marion Barry asked Attorney General Edwin Meese III last week to assist the city in acquiring the land under a special program that makes surplus federal land available to local governments for correctional facilities.
A General Services Administration official said yesterday that the tract does not qualify for the surplus land program, but John C. White, the mayor's spokesman, said the Justice Department notified the city on Aug. 7 that the tract was available to the city for prison construction.
John D. Bates, head of the civil division in the U.S. attorney's office here, and Meese's designated representative on the city's prison problems, said last night that the GSA and the Justice Department are still looking into the matter.
D.C. Corrections Director Hallem C. Williams Jr. made the surprise disclosure about a possible downtown prison last week during a hearing about the city's continued violation of court-ordered inmate population capacities at Lorton Reformatory, the city's main prison in southern Fairfax County.
Williams said the proposed facility would serve as a prerelease center for inmates being transferred from Lorton to residential halfway houses. The center would be in addition to a 500-bed prison and treatment center that is to be built adjacent to the D.C. Jail. Construction was halted in September after nearby residents complained that artifacts from the Civil War were being destroyed.
The General Accounting Office is to report on possible alternative sites on Feb. 1.
Williams said the program at the prerelease center would provide a strictly "structured environment" for the inmates housed there. He would not estimate how much such a prison might cost or how long it might take to build.
Edward D. Sargent, a spokesman for the Corrections Department, said last night that Williams would provide no additional information about the land request.
"It is our policy not to make public the negotiations," Sargent said, "until something is actually settled upon" because it "gets the community up in arms unnecessarily."
Patricia Bailey, head of the GSA's real estate sales division in Atlanta, said yesterday that the First and E parcel was to have been auctioned Dec. 10, but that it was taken off the block two months before the planned sale because GSA decided it would be a prime site for a future federal official building.
Before the tract was scheduled for auction, Bailey said, the GSA offered the land to federal agencies, but none requested it. Next, she said, the land was offered for sale to the District government, which expressed no interest.
She said the decision to withdraw the land from the auction block took place several months before the city asked for the land.
White said that the city was notified July 7 that the land was for sale, but no city agency could afford the multimillion-dollar asking price. He said the Justice Department notified the city Aug. 7 that the land was available under the surplus land program and set a 20-day limit for the city to respond.
Barry's letter requesting the land was sent Dec. 15. White said he did not know the cause of the delay.