I agree with The Post that the federal government should cease its efforts to occupy most of the newly renovated John A. Wilson Building [editorial, Sept. 9], and I propose a solution that could satisfy all parties involved. This solution would preserve the Wilson building for District use, provide financial compensation to the federal government for its loss of office space in the building and avoid the creation of a serious economic problem in Southwest.
The federal government's plan is to move Environmental Protection Agency offices now located at the Waterside Mall in Southwest to the Wilson Building. But if 5,000 EPA employees vacate a million square feet of office space in the Waterside Mall, Southwest Washington will experience the economic equivalent of a base closing.
There is a better way: Let EPA relinquish its space in the Wilson Building and instead renew its lease at the Waterside Mall. To compensate the federal government and the private developer for their costs related to the Wilson Building, the District could relinquish its one-third share of Square 491 at Sixth Street NW and Pennsylvania Avenue to the federal government, which already owns the other two-thirds of the property. The District's equity is worth at least $20 million and would represent fair compensation.
The EPA then could continue its long-term presence in the West Tower of the Waterside Mall while moving some employees to the Reagan Building, Rios Building and other buildings in the Federal Triangle as planned. EPA's former quarters in the mall's East Tower could be converted into a residential facility for senior citizens, while the mall's central portion could be made into a shopping center that caters to the neighborhood, Metro users and waterfront visitors.
During the 1970s the federal government took over Southwest's commercial center and turned it into the headquarters for its new agency, the EPA. The city altered its plans for the Waterside Mall to accommodate the federal presence: High-rise apartment buildings became office towers, multistory retail facilities became conference rooms, even the Metro station was reconfigured. Except for Safeway, other stores and services came into existence primarily to cater to the EPA. With the EPA's departure, these businesses could face bankruptcy or forced relocation, the Metro station would lose ridership, and the mall would be in danger of becoming isolated and deteriorated.
Two years ago, when I was president of the Southwest Neighborhood Assembly, our community mobilized to confront this challenge. Thirty organizations raised $175,000 to finance a study team, and more than 500 residents and merchants participated in task forces and other activities. One positive step to come out of all this activity was the recruitment of educational and job training programs -- including DC Link and Learn, United Planning Organization, Southeastern University and several public charter high schools -- as tenants of the Waterside Mall. Like the Arena Stage or the Maine Avenue fish market, the mall has become a flagship for the Southwest community.
If the EPA were a military base, the federal government would provide financial aid and redevelopment assistance to compensate for the harmful effects of its relocation. But the more sensible alternative -- the alternative that is essential to home rule and to the economic vitality of Southwest -- would be for the EPA to give up its plans to occupy the Wilson Building and instead renew its lease on the West Tower of the Waterside Mall.
-- Marc A. Weiss