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Several hundred developers, local government officials, and interested folks waited in line for over half an hour outside the General Services Administration headquarters this afternoon for a chance to get more information about the federal government’s plan to swap its FBI building for a new consolidated site in the capital region. Many of them probably left disappointed.

The presentation included a rundown of GSA’s recent request for information on the proposed swap, for which responses are due by March 4. But officials emphasized that this was simply an open-ended request for information, not a solicitation of proposals, and deflected all questions about what GSA was looking for with some variant of “Hey, we’ll take anything; we don’t want to limit ourselves.”

Still, the meeting included some good background on the obsolete J. Edgar Hoover Building at 935 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, which the FBI is looking to vacate.

“The building as designed and built was nothing like what an intelligence agency would need today,” said FBI Assistant Director Pat Findlay of the 1974 structure.

“It was great at its time,” said Dorothy Robyn, commissioner of GSA Public Buildings Service. “I’m told the Beach Boys performed in the courtyard in the ’70s.”

But in the ’70s, there were no computers and far less personnel, and the building was full of FBI files and labs. As late as 2001, there was some vacancy in the building. But following 9/11, FBI’s total personnel has increased by 25 percent, including a 100 percent increase at headquarters in the capital region. The Hoover Building now houses just 52 percent of the headquarters staff, leaving the agency fragmented and creating major inefficiencies. Findlay estimates that the consolidation will save the FBI at least $44 million to $54 million annually. (By contrast, simply renovating the existing building would cost $850 million, and it would still house only half the headquarters staff.)

But the Hoover Building does have one thing going for it: its location. While it may not be valuable to the FBI anymore, it’s hugely valuable as a trading chip for a new space.

“Its time has come,” said GSA Acting Administrator Dan Tangherlini, “and it represents a huge opportunity to leverage that facility to get the kind of facility the FBI needs.”

It also gives the city a chance to integrate the space into what’s become a more dynamic stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue.

“I’ve heard it described as the last undeveloped space on Pennsylvania Avenue,” joked Bill Dowd, GSA acting regional commissioner of the Public Buildings Service for the capital region. “The value of this development site is what we’re bringing to the table.”

What developers should bring to the table is less clear. Dowd said he hoped the RFI would allow GSA to learn the value of the Hoover Building and site. GSA’s project manager for the FBI consolidation, Mack Gaither, added that developers in their RFI responses should explain how to handle any disparity in value between the Hoover Building and the new FBI site, which would be larger (up to 2.1 million square feet, on a 40- to 55-acre site) but on less valuable real estate (though still within two miles of the Metro and 2.5 miles of the Beltway).

“We want ideas, information, solutions on how to make an exchange work,” Gaither said.

For developers looking for an inside track on the RFP, likely to be issued in late summer, the RFI could represent an opportunity to get the ear of GSA leaders. But they probably didn’t learn much they didn’t already know from today’s meeting.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons