Contrary to Jean Schumann's claim ["Stuck at the Waterside Mall," Close to Home, Oct. 24], the D.C. Council is not asking federal taxpayers to foot a $75 million buyback of city hall "just so that the D.C. government can enjoy its symbol of self-government." Nor does the council seek to leave workers at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) "stuck" in an area riddled with crime.
In 1995 the District was in a financial crisis and could not afford to repair its dilapidated city hall. In addition to having unclean drinking water, cockroaches, leaky roofs and barely functioning restrooms, the Wilson Building was a certified fire hazard. It had to be vacated. The District then entered into a public-private arrangement to pay for renovations.
Under the agreement, the council leased city hall to a limited partnership. In turn, this partnership leased two-thirds of the Wilson Building to the General Services Administration (GSA) for 20 years at an annual rate of $6.5 million. The GSA chose the Environmental Protection Agency to occupy its leased space, with the rent going to pay the $58 million loan needed by the limited partnership to renovate the building. The remaining third of the Wilson Building was to be occupied by the council, at no cost, for 20 years. After eight years, the council would have the option of buying out the GSA lease.
That was in 1995. Now, with the District's financial turnaround, the council is exploring how to reoccupy the entire Wilson Building immediately. It has explored the possibility of the District -- using its own tax dollars -- buying out the GSA lease, but the $80 million price tag was too high.
Instead the District now seeks to become the GSA's tenant in place of the EPA. All 13 members of the D.C. Council have asked President Clinton to direct the GSA to lease its two-thirds of the Wilson Building to the District. The council would pay the GSA $5 million for the costs it incurred concerning EPA's move to the Wilson Building.
The District is now in a position to afford an annual rent payment of $6.5 million, which will be used to pay back the renovation loan. This amount actually may be less because it will save several million dollars by moving out of private office space it now is renting and into the Wilson Building.
Yes, this means that the EPA will have to find alternative office space. But plenty is available in downtown Washington, or the EPA offices could remain where they are.
Schumann calls the EPA's mall offices "dirty, rundown, cockroach-infested and ventilation-disabled." But the offices at the mall while not state-of-the-art are functional and on par with many government offices. Schumann's insinuation that Southwest is a high-crime area is simply false. And it also is false for her to assert that any renegotiation involving the Wilson Building will involve funds diverted from schools, infrastructure or the police.
With present resources, the council seeks to restructure the 1995 agreement that allowed for an emergency multimillion-dollar preservation of our most historic local landmark. In turn, D.C. residents will receive a city hall no longer in danger of being condemned and that is 100 percent occupied by its own officials.
-- Jack Evans
represents Ward 2 on the D.C. Council.