The D.C. Council has called on a man experienced at dealing with turf wars abroad to help settle a dispute over the John A. Wilson Building: President Clinton.
In a letter signed by all 13 members, the council cites the city's financial recovery and asks Clinton to halt a plan by the General Services Administration to move federal offices into the 91-year-old Beaux Arts building. Instead, the council wants to occupy the entire building and is even willing to lease it back from the federal government.
"Mr. President, we view this as a home rule issue of the utmost importance," reads the letter, dated Sept. 21. "Returning to the entire Wilson Building, our historic home, would be the final achievement in our financial recovery."
Near-insolvency prompted the District to lease a portion of the building to the federal government for 20 years. The arrangement, proposed by developer T. Conrad Monts, would generate $52 million to pay for restoration of the marble-and-granite structure at 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue.
At the time, the building was crumbling. Plaster fell from its high ceilings, parts of the marble staircase were loose, and chunks of granite threatened to crash to the sidewalks below. The extensive renovation is almost complete.
But since 1996, when the lease was signed, things have changed. The city has regained its financial footing and the council has fallen out with Monts. The council has accused Monts of giving more space than originally negotiated to the GSA, which plans to move some functions of the Environmental Protection Agency into the building.
After losing a court battle to have Monts removed from the project and failing to talk the GSA into voluntarily breaking its lease, the council has now turned to the president.
"The council of the District of Columbia . . . would like to buy out the existing GSA lease and occupy the entire building. To do this, we need your help," the council states in the letter. No price tag is included, but under the current deal the GSA was to pay $6.4 million a year for 165,000 square feet.
Mayor Anthony A. Williams said in a statement yesterday that he agrees with the council's appeal to the president. "I commend the members of the Council," Williams said. "The John A. Wilson Building is our city hall, our home and an important symbol of self-government to every citizen of the District of Columbia."
It is not known whether the letter has landed on the president's desk yet. A spokeswoman for the Office of Management and Budget said late yesterday that the White House had no comment.
The council, which now works out of One Judiciary Square, ends its letter with an invitation to Clinton to "join us at a ribbon-cutting as we return to our historic city hall early next year!"