Social Security developer picked

A Chevy Chase developer has won a national competition to build a $150 million office complex in Northwest Baltimore to house 1,600 employees of the U.S. Social Security Administration. The new center, expected to open by 2014, will replace the aging Metro West complex on Greene Street in West Baltimore.

The U.S. General Services Administration announced Thursday that it had selected the JBG Companies of Chevy Chase to develop the project, one of the largest and most expensive planned for Baltimore over the next several years.

The development is expected to result in the creation of hundreds of construction jobs. Clark Construction of Bethesda will be the general contractor and AECOM of Arlington, Va., will head the architectural and engineering team.

The GSA awarded a 20-year lease Thursday to JBG that enables the firm to move ahead with the design and construction of a 538,000-square-foot office building with 1,076 parking spaces. The 11.3-acre construction site, a state-owned parcel on Wabash Avenue next to the Reisterstown Plaza Metro stop, will be purchased by the developer.

The Social Security Administration offices represent the first phase of a larger "transit-oriented development" planned near the subway station. The state owns additional land that officials intend to offer for housing, stores, office space and parking now that a team has been chosen to build the Social Security project.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is "very pleased that the GSA has selected a developer for this very important project," said spokesman Ryan O'Doherty. "This is a major investment and great news for Baltimore."

"You can call it three things: Jobs, jobs, jobs," said City Councilwoman Rochelle "Rikki" Spector, whose district includes the Wabash Avenue site. "It's a major economic boost for the area."

JBG was selected over numerous other teams that answered the GSA's request for proposals. Skip Orr of Jones Lang LaSalle headed a team of real estate professionals that worked with the GSA, and Robert Manekin of Manekin LLC handled site selection and government relations over the past four years.

The land and building will be added to the city and state tax rolls. The lease calls for JBG to rent space to the federal government at a rate of $38.83 per square foot over the 20-year term of the lease. The GSA timetable calls for design work to begin this year and for construction to begin in 2011, with completion of the project scheduled for 2014.

Built at a cost of $92 million, Metro West was hailed as a key to the revitalization of Baltimore's west side when it opened in 1980. Federal employees were expected to help revive the area by shopping at Lexington Market and along Howard and Lexington streets.

According to public officials, the 15-story tower and two five-story wings no longer meet the needs of the Social Security Administration.

Once the SSA moves out, the GSA intends to dispose of the Metro West complex. A potential user is the University of Maryland, Baltimore, whose campus is several blocks to the south.

ed.gunts@baltsun.com

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