D.C. officials have increasingly opted to decentralize the location of government agencies, forcing residents to schlep from quadrant to quadrant for services. That problem could be exacerbated by Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) and City Administrator Allen Lew’s proposal to relocate more than a dozen agencies from the Frank D. Reeves Municipal Center in Ward 1 to Ward 8 and other yet identified sections of the city.
The move is being triggered by an agreement to trade cheap land at Buzzard Point owned by Akridge development company for the Reeves Center. In 2011, the building, at 14th and U streets NW, was valued at $186 million. The centerpiece of the deal — a proposed soccer stadium for D.C. United — has gotten plenty of headlines, but there has been little discussion about the equity of the proposed trade and almost no mention of the hardship the relocation might cause D.C. residents.
Now, someone living in upper Northwest can spend 40 minutes getting to the centrally located Reeves Center by bus. Traveling to Ward 8 probably would require far more time, laying waste to that whole livable, walkable thing.
“There is value to citizens having government offices that are readily accessible; the Reeves Center meets that,” D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) told me, adding that he is “uneasy” about swapping the center, which has “historical meaning.”
“The move would definitely hurt people who come to the Office of the Tenant Advocate,” said one employee, knowledgable about the volume of citizen traffic at the Reeves Center, when I visited the building this week.
The D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services is at the Reeves Center, as are the departments of public works and transportation. The Alcohol Beverage Regulation Administration, a division of the Department of Employment Services, the Office of Campaign Finance, the Commission on African Affairs, the lottery claim center, the advisory neighborhood commission and the Department of General Services (including its $86,000 gym) also are housed in the building.
Private business located at the center, such as the Industrial Bank, could be affected. Further, the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community had planned to move there in September; last January the group signed a 15-year lease with the city to make the Reeves building its home.
And a postal station opened at the site last year, after developers declined to extend the lease for its former office at 14th and T streets. Ward 1 council member Jim Graham (D) and D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), responding to residents’ pleas, negotiated the move with the D.C. postmaster.
“We’re looking at where agencies should be for optimal space,” said Brian Hanlon, director of the Department of General Services (DGS), which is expected to manage the move and construction of the new Ward 8 municipal center. He said an agency like the Office of Latino Affairs could remain in Ward 1. “That’s where most of the people it serves are.”
But Hanlon offered no alternatives for other agencies. Further, he couldn’t provide dates for the move or how much it might cost — although the mayor has already declared that it would spur economic development and improve conditions for workers.
The absence of specifics isn’t surprising. DGS isn’t the best-run agency. When Gray created it in 2011, giving it responsibility for the city’s real estate holdings, construction and facilities maintenance, he promised huge savings. Instead, each year its operating budget has increased. During the first six months of 2013, it submitted more than a dozen contracts to the council for emergency retroactive approvals. All exceeded their original budgets.
Gray and Lew have asserted the city’s tab for the stadium would be only $150 million. But the Reeves center relocation, involving 1,200 workers, and the Ward 8 construction seem to be hidden costs. Further, responsibilities the District has assumed — land acquisition, remediation of contaminated property and infrastructure development — are not insignificant. This week, there was talk about using eminent domain, if necessary, to acquire a piece of property needed for the project; that process is not cheap.
More specifics and greater transparency certainly are warranted. DGS officials told me this week that the “disposition of Reeves Center will include a leaseback provision.”
It’s not enough that, according to DGS, the Gray administration has valued the center at $128.5 million — $57.5 million less than the 2011 valuation — now it appears that Akridge would be guaranteed a paid tenant for who knows how long. It’s also not clear if during the period when the building is still occupied by the government, Akridge would be required to pay property taxes. Either way, my friends, the company has arrived in speculator heaven.
“There is nothing historical or architecturally significant about the Reeves Center,” Lew told me, suggesting that even the reduced value may be too high. “Once tenants move, the value is less.”
That makes no sense. Did Lew sell bridges before joining the District government?