By John Fritze, The Baltimore Sun
8:45 PM EDT, July 29, 2014
— Maryland lawmakers have been jockeying for years to lure the new headquarters for the Federal Bureau of Investigation — and its 11,000 jobs — to Prince George's County.
On Tuesday they officially found out who the competition is.
The General Services Administration released its long-anticipated list of sites it says could accommodate the federal law enforcement agency. Two of the three properties are in Maryland — one in Greenbelt, the other in Landover. The third potential site is in Springfield, Va.
Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, dean of the state's congressional delegation and chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, played up the significance of Maryland having two sites under consideration.
"This is like winning the primary," said a beaming Mikulski. "Now we're suiting up to go on to win the general."
Lawmakers from Maryland and Virginia have cast their respective states as the obvious choice for a headquarters to replace the 39-year-old J. Edgar Hoover Building in downtown Washington. Mikulski has touted the Greenbelt site's proximity to the National Security Agency at Fort Meade and to Joint Base Andrews. Virginians have noted their state is home to the Central Intelligence Agency in Langley and the FBI training facility at Quantico.
"I'm quite confident that the Springfield site will stand up to either one of these [Maryland] sites," said Rep. Gerry Connolly, a Democrat who represents Northern Virginia. "We're happy to have the Maryland sites compete with each other."
The FBI headquarters would rival the size of the largest federal agencies based in Maryland, including the Social Security Administration in Woodlawn and the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda. Independent economists have said the development, wherever it lands, will have a significant economic impact on nearby neighborhoods.
FBI leaders have wrestled with the concrete giant on Pennsylvania Avenue that has served as the agency's headquarters since 1975. The brutalist building isn't big enough to house all of its employees, forcing many to work in annex buildings scattered around the Washington region. And a 2009 study found it needed $80.5 million in repairs and upgrades.
The GSA announced in November that it was seeking a property that can accommodate 2.1 million square feet of office space and is located within two miles of a Metro station.
The inclusion of Greenbelt on the "short list" of properties was widely expected. The site — a massive parking lot adjacent to the Greenbelt Metro Station — has been pushed by state and local officials. Prince George's leaders offered millions of dollars in subsidies to Renard Development, the company leading the effort.
Garth Beall, manager of Renard, described the site as meeting "all of the government's needs, without compromise."
Most also anticipated the Springfield site, which has broad support from Virginia officials, including Gov. Terry McAuliffe.
But the Landover property, a former shopping mall, had received far less attention. Alan H. Gottlieb, chief operating officer of site owner Lerner Enterprises, released a one-sentence statement noting he was pleased the property made the cut.
It's not clear whether the county will offer an incentive package for Landover. Prince George's County Executive Rushern L. Baker, III, said local officials are negotiating with the developer.
"We're going to do everything at the county and the state level … to make these sites as competitive as possible," Baker said.
The GSA included no sites in Washington, despite a push from District of Columbia leaders. The District is still likely to benefit from the redevelopment of the Hoover building.
Maryland, with its proximity to Washington and its large contingent of federal workers and contractors, weathered the recession better than many other states. The state is home to more than 300,000 federal employees, and the government spent about $30 billion with its contractors in 2011, the fourth-largest share in the nation.
But as Montgomery County and Virginia secured new federal offices, Prince George's missed out on much of the growth. That's part of the reason Gov. Martin O'Malley and other leaders quickly coalesced around Prince George's County for the FBI.
"Just take a look at the percentage of federal space in the counties that surround the District and you'll find that Prince George's County has not been treated fairly in the past," said Sen. Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat.
In part because of that, he added, the county "will have the best value for the taxpayers of this country."
Rep. Steny Hoyer, the Southern Maryland lawmaker who represents a portion of Prince George's County, said the county had been "ignored" and "overlooked."
"That should not happen," said Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat in the House. He called the county "one of the most dynamic jurisdictions in America."
Prince George's County officials have estimated the project would pump $180 million in annual tax revenue into the state. Economists have said moving the headquarters a few miles from its current location would cause few current employees to relocate, but over time, new hires would likely settle in the region.
The GSA will spend the next year to 14 months conducting environmental assessments and vetting developers interested in building the project, Mikulski said. Earlier this year, the agency anticipated awarding a contract to build the headquarters in the summer of 2015.
Some have questioned whether spending for the project is likely to be approved in a Congress that remains focused on trimming budgets. Mikulski said the GSA has indicated it could structure the deal so that some portion of the cost is offset by the redevelopment of the FBI's current headquarters.
"Because of the Hoover site, the FBI effort comes with a dowry," Mikulski quipped. "That goes a long way in meeting the concerns of the budget hawks."
Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun