Get our free newsletter

Today, the office of Mayor Vince Gray will submit its proposal for a new FBI headquarters in the District to the General Services Administration. All indications are that the administration will suggest Poplar Point, the 110-acre site just east of the Anacostia River that’s home to National Park Service facilities, as the FBI’s future home.

But Gray appears to be less than fully committed to retaining the FBI in the District if and when it departs its current outdated headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue NW. Replacing the bunker-like J. Edgar Hoover Building with mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly development will be a boon to downtown, city officials believe. Gray seems to have similar feelings toward a full departure from the city, rather than a move to another area ripe for more community-minded development. Jurisdictions in suburban Maryland and Virginia have expressed interest in nabbing the FBI.

“A lot of us feel the mayor thinks they’ve got to say they’re interested, but it’s not the highest priority they’ve got,” says a source familiar with the situation, who asked not to be named but has worked on GSA projects before.

Gray himself appeared to confirm as much in a conversation on Thursday. When I asked just how committed he was to retaining the FBI, he said, “We’re going to do what we can to keep the FBI in the District of Columbia.” But then he proceded to add caveat after caveat.

“If they do move, it presents tremendous opportunities to the city,” he said. The crux of the matter is the opportunity cost of housing the untaxable FBI at Poplar Point at the expense of other development.

“We don’t get anything on property taxes,” he said. “We don’t get much on income taxes. Sales taxes, I don’t know where these people eat.”

It’s possible that keeping the FBI in D.C. would help prevent workers from moving to the suburbs, but Gray noted, “I don’t know how many of the people live in the District now. Probably not very many.”

I asked Gray how confident he was that development would soon occur at Poplar Point in the absence of the FBI. “I’m confident,” he replied. “The investment will have to be made, but I’m confident.” In fact, he said, he’d had a meeting that very day with a developer who was interested in building at Poplar Point. He declined to name the developer.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery