Prince George’s political leaders have so often invoked plans for a grand new FBI headquarters complex as one of the county’s economic triumphs that it almost felt like a done deal.
County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) even included the project when describing $12 billion in projected investment during his two terms in office — a fitting narrative for his nascent gubernatorial campaign.
Then the federal government pulled the plug.
The Trump administration’s decision this week to halt new headquarters contract caught Baker and other politicians by surprise, and left residents and local business owners wondering what other projects could be lured to the large parcels in Greenbelt and Landover that were finalists in the FBI’s search (the third finalist was in Springfield, Va.).
County officials had hoped a headquarters complex would trigger the kind of transformative growth that the Pentagon did when it was built in Arlington decades ago. Now they are waiting to see whether the General Services Administrative may pursue a smaller FBI relocation that would still work for one of the parcels.
And they say they are prepared to keep pushing forward with their development strategy of attracting big business and government agencies to the county, which sits just east of the nation’s capital.
“This won’t deter us,” said Baker’s top economic development aide, David Iannucci. “The FBI would’ve been a critical, wonderful, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but it’s a lost opportunity, not a negative.”
Each Prince George’s site has specific challenges that could have county officials working from scratch to attract investors there.
The 82-acre Greenbelt property is mostly comprised of Metro parking lots controlled by developer Renard Development through an agreement with the transit agency, which would have been included in an FBI deal. That prospective partnership could dissolve without a large employer interested in the site.
Garth Beall, manager of Renard, said he would be watching closely in the coming weeks to see if the GSA and FBI quickly restart the search in some way that could make Greenbelt viable, but he was not optimistic. “This thing could easily slip years,” he said.
Although Renard and the county have spent more than $1 million on infrastructure improvements and set aside more revenue to make the property “shovel-ready,” environmental concerns and the need for a new highway interchange could push the cost of developing the area above what any business would want to pay.
At the same time, the visibility of the site and its proximity to mass transit would make the property a tempting locale for a global or national corporation, or a cybersecurity firm seeking proximity to the state’s flagship university.
“It really has to be something that is sizable enough to justify those expenditures,” Beall said. “The property is a blank slate.”
Greenbelt Mayor Emmett Jordan said more than 1,000 people have moved into newly-constructed residential properties at the south end of the Metro station’s property. City officials and local business owners had hoped the FBI headquarters would help jump-start commercial redevelopment to serve those new residents.
“I’m not sure people who are living there moved to be next to FBI, but to be near the Metro station,” Jordan said. “We are still open for business.”
Landover is the 88-acre home to a demolished shopping mall owned in part by Lerner Enterprises, the real estate firm of Washington Nationals owner Theodore N. Lerner. The property has sat almost empty for nearly 15 years, a weeded-over parking lot with jersey barriers and chain-link fencing lining the perimeter.
Overgrown shrubbery partially blocks the property’s newest feature, a billboard reading: “Home to Future Development, Prince George’s County Continues to Grow.”
The Lerners years ago pursued a regional hospital complex for the property — a project that is now being built in Largo. They have considered housing as well.
Executives from Lerner Enterprises, which was also a finalist to build the now-canceled project, were not available to comment, a spokeswoman said.
But former state delegate Jolene Ivey, who did community relations work for the Lerners’ bid, said the property remains a great value for any investor seeking a large parcel with access to major roadways and downtown Washington.
“I can’t see why it can’t attract another big project,” she said. “Why wouldn’t the federal government want to put something there that would be a money-saver in the long run?”
Lyric Hawkins scouted out the location for her day care, Rockstar Prep 4 Kids, before she knew the FBI could become a neighbor.
But when she read up on the proposals for a 2.1 million-square-foot campus capable of serving 11,000 employees, Hawkins prepared for a major boost in business at her storefront in the nearly empty Landover Crossing strip mall.
“It was definitely on my radar. I figured that the FBI employs lots of people and at least half of them have to have kids,” said Hawkins, who plans to make the day care a 24-hour operation for parents who work late shifts. “But now I’ve got to scratch that off my list.”
Long Ho’s Lowest Price Auto Service is the only business at the site of the old Landover Mall. He had hoped to be bought out by the federal government if the FBI headquarters was built there.
“I was expecting to get paid,” Ho said laughing. “But no, we are still working like normal, trying to reassure our customers that we are still here. If the FBI’s not coming, we expect something else will happen [on the property] soon.”
Cheryl Cort, policy director for the Coalition for Smarter Growth, said Prince George’s remains well-positioned to receive top consideration from federal agencies seeking space close to Metro stations, especially if the county government focuses on creating the kind of neighborhoods where today’s federal employees want to work and live.
“We should be looking at integrating large employers with a more walkable, mixed-use environment. We can do that at Greenbelt and other Metro stations,” Cort said. “Designing public spaces and streets can create a sense of place that can attract employers, but it’s important the county continues to shape that.”
Terry Clower, director of George Mason University’s Center for Regional Analysis, said the cancellation of the project may mean that developers pause to reassess the risk before jumping into future federal deals.
But by their very nature, he noted, developers are optimists and will do what they can to land their next opportunity.
“Nothing is certain with these projects,” Clower said. “Anyone competing for any major presence in the market or corporate headquarters knows this. Some win, some lose.”
Robert McCartney, Jenna Portnoy and Katherine Shaver contributed to this story.