SIX YEARS AGO, the D.C. Council called for the development of a public facilities plan for the housing of the District government. Unfortunately, city officials never developed one. That's a crucial failure, given the fact that the current headquarters of the D.C. government will undergo renovations within the next year, and several major, expensive and drastically different plans for temporary and permanent government offices have already progressed.
The host of costly alternatives under consideration demonstrates the need for a real plan of action. The administration of Mayor Marion Barry, for example, has agreed to a 20-year lease, at a cost of $216 million -- for a building that does not exist -- as the main temporary headquarters for the D.C. government. That was chosen even though the city faces severe financial constraints and isn't expected to need such a building for more than four years. A clause in the lease does state that it is void if the D.C. Council fails to appropriate funding. The Barry administration has also proposed to lease the site of the city's Department of Employment Services, at 500 C St. in Northwest, to a developer. In exchange, the developer would build a new structure for that department.
Two D.C. Council members, John Wilson and John Ray, have other ideas, arguing that C Street ought to be the site of a new and permanent District Building. We're not finished yet. Yet another possibility involves the Barry administration and developer Jeffrey Cohen, a friend and adviser to the mayor. Mr. Cohen says the plan would involve a new structure in the depressed Shaw area of Northwest that the D.C. government would lease as office space for 20 years at a cost of $150 million. At the end of the lease, Mr. Cohen says, the city could buy the building for $1. Council member Betty Ann Kane has suggested the use of a closed school building, with an auditorium and parking, as the temporary office for the D.C. Council.
But where is the comprehensive plan that would help the city decide which option would be most cost effective? The D.C. government's Administrative Services Department now says the plan will be ready by Sept. 1. A serious plan could determine how much space is needed, whether leasing or new construction is preferred and where the various arms of the D.C. government should be located. That seems to be a far more reasonable way to proceed.