Alexandria city officials would like to share in the use of a choice, $10 million piece of Old Town waterfront real estate that currently is being used as a federal warehouse.
The property, in the shadow of the Wilson Bridge is at Union and Franklin streets. In its heyday, 55 years ago, the Ford Motor Co. manufactured automobiles there.
Now, Alexandria City Manager Doug Harmon said, "If nothing else, we would like to enter into a cooperative agreement" on use of the space, including subletting some of it to retail establishments.
"This is a totally inappropriate use for a waterfront [property] of a city that is being revitalized," added George S. Colyer, Alexandria's chief of comprehensive planning. He said a joint venture with the federal government is "logical" because it would show the federal commitment to revitalizing the city's waterfront.
The General Services Administration response has been pessimistic, but three top agency officials, including GSA Administrator Gerald P. Carmen, now say the matter is being reviewed.
Carroll Jones, GSA's Federal Property Resources Service commissioner, said he ordered at Carmen's request a study to determine whether city control or use of the property would be in the best interest of the federal government.
GSA Public Building Service Commissioner Richard O. Haase added: "The federal agencies will stay unless there's a better deal for the federal government, but what they should do is write us and talk to us. We'll listen."
Harmon says he's already done that several times. He renewed his interest in the parcel when Carmen visited Old Town recently to turn over to the city the 1.5-acre King's Warehouse tract near Lee Street. (The city and the federal government are still embroiled in a legal joust over the price of the tract -- $1.5 million -- because the contract allows the city to sue to recover part of its payment because of the dispute over the land's value.) Carmen quipped at the time: "Wait until their check clears, then talk to them."
Then, behind the scenes, Carmen set in motion an inquiry to determine just whose interest would be served by keeping, selling or sharing the waterfront property.
"It's a very poor utilization of a strategically placed piece of property," Harmon said, "and I think they GSA knows that." Rhetorically, he asks: "Can there be a legitimate reason for maintaining a warehouse on a growing, bustling waterfront?"
"We would like to see water-dependent uses, such as constructing sail boats, the sale of marine insurance and small retail shops," Colyer said. "That would go hand-in-glove with existing uses -- such as a dock for visiting vessels."
Ford built and opened the plant on the 10-acre site in 1923, later expanding it to include a two-story regional corporate headquarters. After production there ceased, Ford sold the facility in 1942 to the U.S. Navy for use as a torpedo assembly plant. In 1960, the Navy declared the plant excess and turned it over to the GSA for disposal. But rather than sell the plant, GSA decided to use it as a warehouse for federal agencies.
Currently, nine agencies, employing 87 people, share space there. Most of it -- 64,740 square feet -- is GSA warehouse space. The Internal Revenue Service uses 28,315 square feet as storage space for evidence; 14,940 square feet of warehouse space, and 5,455 square feet as office space for warehouse supervisory personnel.
Other federal agencies in the building include the Justice Department's U.S. Marshals Service (2,070 square feet), an experimental Department of Energy recycling plant (4,895 square feet) , and smaller contingents from the Agriculture, Defense, Interior and Transportation departments and the Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations.
The waterfront property is also used as a commercial docking facility for large ships visiting Washington. The dock is at the northernmost point in the river's channel at which deep-draft ships can operate. Permanently housed at the waterfront are a group of U.S. Navy landing craft.
Alexandria officials first asked GSA about the property last December and suggested an easement be awarded to allow the city to run a bicycle path through the edge of the property. The bike path was dedicated two weeks ago.
But negotiatons on other uses of the property are stalemated. Jack Finberg, GSA's regional director of planning, said, "We need replacement space for the federal facilities that are in the building -- and we just don't have it anywhere in the Washington area."
"Right now," Finberg said, "there's just no way [GSA should negotiate]. The administration is committed to getting federal workers out of federally leased space and into federally owned space, so why should we give up this particular property for a leased warehouse?"
GSA officials haven't officially appraised the property, but one source said it may be worth 10 times the $1.5 million the city paid for the King's Warehouse tract.