The General Services Administration has ordered special research teams to study three local federal facilities to determine whether they should be sold to state or local governments or auctioned off to the highest bidder.
The properties are the old Ford Motor Co. warehouse and office on the Alexandria waterfront near the Wilson Bridge; the 4,500-acre Beltsville Agricultural Research Center in Maryland, and the GSA supply warehouse in Franconia.
Michael O'Hara, GSA's director of real property technical services, said that a year-old presidential order requires GSA to look over properties to ensure they are being used in the best interest of the federal government "and we've targeted these three local properties to be studied between now and May."
When the month-long studies are completed, O'Hara will determine if the holding agency should be asked to dispose of the property.
Both the old Ford facility--sometimes called the Franklin Street federal annex--and the warehouse in Franconia are actually operated by another part of GSA--the Public Buildings Service. The Ford plant is occupied by several other federal agencies, including the Internal Revenue Service, the Army and the Customs Service, and is primarily used for warehouse space. The Beltsville facility is operated by the Agriculture Department.
Right now, most of the attention is on the Alexandria parcel. City officials and Rep. Stanford E. Parris (R-Va.) have been pressing GSA to end the federal government's presence on the developing waterfront. They would like the parcel developed with uses compatible to the emerging waterfront, including small retail shops, restaurants and open space. Currently, security fences bar access to the property.
"There is a question in everyone's mind right now about whether a piece of property of this size and located on the waterfront should be used to store government records," said Richard T. Nelson, GSA's acting director of congressional relations. But Nelson, who has been discussing the property with Parris, cautioned that "just because we're studying the facility doesn't mean it will be sold to the city, or to anyone. That process could take months, even years."
Meanwhile, Philip Schram Brown, a commercial real estate broker, has been pressing Alexandria city manager Douglas Harman and Parris to consider trading the parcel for privately owned space in the District.
"This should be an option that is ready if GSA officials balk at giving the city the property," said Brown, who heads Philip Schram Brown Co., Inc.
Brown said he is aware that GSA officials claim no additional warehouse space is now available in the region. As a result, he is trying to negotiate on behalf of the owners of a seven-acre tract of land near the Capitol on New Jersey Avenue SE, which has been privately appraised to be worth $14.25 million. Leggitt said the parcel has been sought by the Architect of the Capitol.
"Every one of these agencies has other storage space that they could use," said Parris, who scoffed at GSA's comments in December that there was no other warehouse space available in the national capital region. "I'm not sure I believe that."
"They can't find vacant warehouse space until they're pressed with a deadline," Parris said.
Although Leggitt advanced the trade as an "option" that could be considered, Parris distanced himself from the idea.
"I'm not in the business of determining what ought to be done on the waterfront," Parris said. "I'm not pushing the trade. But we've been pushing GSA on this. This piece is critical to the proper coordination of the waterfront."
Alexandria's chief of comprehensive planning George S. Colyer said, "GSA is finally ready to talk turkey. We think we're getting closer to a decision." Colyer said GSA officials told him, however, that talk about a trade was "absurd." O'Hara said he was unaware of the other parcel and could not comment about a possible trade.
"It would be unusual," he said.