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A senior city official has admitted what we already know: D.C. has basically no chance of preventing the Federal Bureau of Investigation from leaving town.
Of course, it’s an open question whether D.C. officials really want to retain the FBI, or whether they should. The agency is looking to leave its outdated headquarters, the J. Edgar Hoover Building on Pennsylvania Avenue NW, giving the city an opportunity to turn the hulking brutalist building into a pedestrian-friendly, amenity-rich, property tax-paying private development. If the feds built a new FBI headquarters elsewhere in D.C., it’d face the same problem as at the Hoover Building: security regulations that require deep setbacks and limit retail options, and the opportunity cost of not being able to use the land for civic purposes.
Nonetheless, Mayor Vince Gray pitched Poplar Point, on the banks of the Anacostia River, as D.C.’s most suitable site for a new FBI building in March. But now, Gray’s top deputy for development is conceding that it’s a lost cause.
Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development Victor Hoskins wrote a letter last week to the head of the General Services Administration, which serves as the federal government’s landlord, complaining that the GSA’s criteria for an FBI site “render District sites effectively ineligible for consideration.”
In the letter to GSA Administrator Dan Tangherlini (himself a former D.C. government official), first reported by the Washington Post, Hoskins notes that the GSA solicitation for FBI sites released last month sought about 50 acres of land. Poplar Point, currently owned by the federal government, is about 110 acres, but a federal law stipulates that 70 of those acres remain open space. Of the remaining 40 acres, D.C. proposed building an FBI headquarters on 10 acres, with the additional space being used for neighborhood development. The D.C. proposal envisioned a high-density FBI site that would still contain the required square footage.
Additionally, Hoskins wrote, the GSA solicitation “expresses a disfavor for sites that … might ‘impact’ certain natural resources such as wetlands and/or floodplains [which] appears to necessarily place an urban, riverfront site such as Poplar Point at a significant competitive disadvantage.”
Hoskins concluded his letter, “While the noted criteria do not explicitly prevent a submission, the District would have appreciated competing in a process that didn’t have the appearance of eliminating Poplar Point as a possible relocation site from the start.”
According to the Post, the city still plans to resubmit its Poplar Point proposal to the GSA, “effectively ineligible” though it may be.
Update 5:25 p.m.: GSA spokesman Dan Cruz emails the following statement clarifying that the District is by no means disqualified from the competition for the FBI headquarters:
The District is encouraged to submit their site and our process is designed to advance all acceptable sites into a competitive procurement process that will allow us to select the site and development proposal that provides the best overall value to the taxpayers. The ad states that GSA anticipates approximately 50 acres would be needed to satisfy this project based on assumptions regarding building height, density, and security requirements.However, the language regarding the acreage is not a minimum nor a maximum requirement; it is a general ballpark figure. Smaller sites that satisfy all minimum requirements of square footage, security, access to public transit, and access to the Capital Beltway will be considered. Again, the District is encouraged to submit their site.
Map from the D.C. submission to the GSA