Greater Greater Washington

To lure the FBI, Prince George's must be more nimble

Prince George's officials are eager to attract the FBI headquarters to a Metro site in the county, and it's the right place for the FBI. But if they're going to win out over a competing proposal by Fairfax County, officials need to move quickly and lobby for a single, appropriate site.


Photo by Aude on Wikipedia.

On February 9, County Executive Rushern Baker signed a County Council resolution urging the gov­ern­ment to build the new FBI headquarters in the county.

But they're a bit late to the party. A month earlier, on January 10, Fairfax supervisors unanimously passed a resolution pushing for the FBI to locate on federal land near the Franconia-Springfield Metro station.

The Prince George's resolution also calls for a task force to study potential sites. That will introduce even more delay at a time when Fairfax is already lobbying for a specific site.

Talk of relocating the FBI has been brewing since at least 2010, when Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) obtained funding for a study on that question. The Government Accountability Office issued a report to Congress on November 8, 2011, stating that relocating the FBI headquarters from the J. Edgar Hoover Building in DC to another transit-accessible location in the region was both the cheapest and quickest option to allow the FBI to consolidate its workforce and maintain operational security.

One month later, on December 8, 2011, the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee authorized the General Services Administration to move forward with finding a site for a new FBI headquarters. The committee required that the new headquarters occupy federally-owned land within 2 miles of a Metro station and within 2½ miles of the Capital Beltway, among other requirements.

Within a month, Fairfax made a specific pitch for a specific and highly competitive location that meets the requirements in the Senate EPW Committee's resolution.

By comparison, Prince George's resolution is rather amorphous. It provides that the county government has "strong support for relocating the FBI and other Federal agencies and acquiring other Federal leased space in Prince George's County" and "is prepared to be a partner with the GSA and the private sector in utilizing appropriate economic incentives, to facilitate the location or relocation of Federal agencies to Prince George's County, Maryland."

Okay, great. What county government wouldn't want a huge federal agency, with all its employees, coming to town?

The resolution also highlights that Prince George's has historically gotten the short end of the stick when it comes to federal employment sites. Though more than 25% of the federal employees in the National Capital region reside in Prince George's, the county has only 5% of the region's federal office space. Certainly true enough and worth pointing out.

But exactly where does the county want the facility to go? How would the GSA and the federal government benefit from locating the FBI headquarters in Prince George's rather than Fairfax or any other neighboring jurisdiction? The county's apparent answer thus far: we don't know yet.

The county's unfocused approach doesn't prioritize Metro station development

The County Executive's press release announced the formation of "an inter-agency task force that will regularly meet and analyze possible sites in the County that are in accordance to" the GSA and Senate EPW Committee specifications. That sounds like an excruciatingly long, bureaucratic nightmare of a process, especially given that Fairfax County is already bringing specific proposals to the table.

Time and time again, the ubiquitous "task force" is where many worthy proposals are sent to die a slow and painful death.

Prince George's formation of such a task force at this late date raises a more significant and troubling question: Why hasn't the county already done that basic site analysis groundwork if the idea of relocating the FBI's headquarters has been floating around since 2010?

The answer is simple, and probably best explains why the county doesn't already have more of its fair share of large employers (federal or otherwise), quality retail destinations, and attractive housing choices around its Metro stations. Despite all of its lofty pronouncements over several administrations, the county simply hasn't taken enough tangible action to prioritize Metro station development and revitalization of its existing, transit-rich urban core inside the Beltway.

Moreover, as I wrote recently, the county unfortunately often actively undermines its own stated transit-oriented development goals by advancing massive mixed-use projects that are too far away from existing Metro stations, thereby reducing the market for similar development at the Metro stations.

That's why in 2007, for example, we saw an elaborate master plan being developed for Westphalia, a sprawling greenfield development on rural farmland located outside of the Beltway and far from a Metro station.

Westphalia was the brainchild of former county executives Jack Johnson and Jim Estepp; former District 6 county councilman Samuel Dean; and two corrupt crony developers, Patrick Ricker and Daniel Colton. Johnson, Ricker, and Colton have all now pled guilty to federal corruption and bribery changes and are heading to prison.

Despite the ignominious legacy of corruption and misguided policy that underlies Westphalia, the Baker administration apparently remains committed to bringing the suburban sprawl project to fruition, even while claiming that "one of [its] top priorities will be maximizing the potential at our Metro stations." Baker's spokesperson, Scott Peterson, said in June 2011, "[T]he [Westphalia] development is important to the residents of the community and the county, and we'll be working hard to keep the project on line."

At the same time it develops and actively pursues detailed proposals for suburban sprawl developments like Westphalia and Woodmore Towne Center, the county lacks a coherent strategy for developing the four largely vacant Metro stations along its Blue Line corridor (Capitol Heights, Addison Road, Morgan Boulevard, and Largo Town Center), or the three stations along its Orange Line corridor (Cheverly, Landover, and New Carrollton).

Only recently has the county begun to turn its attention to those station areas, with such efforts as the Blue Line Corridor TOD Strategy Implementation Project and the New Carrollton Transit District Development Plan.

Richard Layman aptly captured Prince George's Metro station TOD dilemma in a comment to a previous post: "[M]ostly, developers won't be choosing to do speculative development in most of [Prince George's County], including at Metro stations[,] without superlative station plans and great incentive packages anytime soon." Richard's comment rings true both for private developers and for public ones, like the GSA.

County should make detailed proposals for specific Metro sites, and soon

Fortunately for Prince George's, its past history of poor focus on Metro station TOD does not have to constrain its future course. The Baker administration and the current County Council are much better equipped and, by and large, more willing to embrace and pursue true TOD than Jack Johnson & Crew. But if they're going to do so, they need to adjust their thinking and sharpen their focus, so that the county's actions match its policy goals.

The task of identifying suitable space for the FBI headquarters building does not have to be made that difficult and should not entail endless deliberation by an ad hoc task force. The county already has a stated policy that assigns "top priority" to transit-oriented development around Metro stations.

This county policy priority also comports with the GSA requirement for the new FBI headquarters site to be located within 2 miles of a Metro station. So the first decision point in the selection process should be clear: locate and recommend an available site near a Metro station if at all possible.

By my count, there are only 5 Metro stations in Prince George's County that are within 2½ miles of the Beltway: Branch Avenue, Largo Town Center, Morgan Boulevard, New Carrollton, and Greenbelt. The goal should be to find a suitable site around one of those 5 stations. Within a span of a few hours, anyone working with the county's GIS mapping system and Google Earth should be able to identify which of those 5 locations has the 55 acres of developable or re-developable land the FBI needs.

Matt Johnson argued several weeks ago that putting a high-security fortress like the FBI headquarters directly on top of a Metro station site was not ideal, because such a complex would not be conducive to creating the type of walkable, open, and public environment that should define TOD at a Metro station.

He suggested a couple of alternate greenfield sites near the federal courthouse in Greenbelt, which is about a mile away from the Greenbelt Metro station. However, it appears that one of those sites is not large enough to meet the GSA requirements, and the other site is already committed for another use.

Ideally, the best location for the new FBI building would be in the "secondary area" of a Metro station. In his book The Next American Metropolis, famed architect and urban planner Peter Calthorpe explains that the secondary area of a transit station area is located within a mile of the station, often across a major arterial street.

The secondary area is an appropriate location for uses that should ordinarily not be located in the principal commercial core of a transit area, like lower-density single-family homes, automobile-oriented uses like gas stations and repair shops, and large employment-generating uses that may not fit within the compact, walkable block structure that is essential for proper pedestrian circulation in a TODsuch as a 55-acre FBI headquarters campus that requires a massive security moat around it.

Tomorrow, I'll suggest the ideal site in Prince George's County for the FBI headquarters, one that's large enough, meets the Senate committee's requirements, and lies within the secondary area of a Metro station.

Bradley Heard is an attorney and citizen activist who resides in the Capitol Heights area of Prince George's County. A native of Virginia Beach, Virginia, Brad spent most of his adult life in Atlanta, Georgia before moving to Prince George's County in 2007. Brad hopes to encourage high-quality, walkable and bikeable development in the inner Beltway region of Prince George's County. 

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Considering this is Greater Greater Washington, why is PG the "right place" over Springfield (other than not meeting federal criteria since it was basically written for PG)?

by selxic on Feb 13, 2012 2:02 pm • linkreport

@selxic

I never got the tone that PG was the "right" place over Springfield. In fact I got the tone that PG in general needs to better focus on transit related development

by Matt R on Feb 13, 2012 2:06 pm • linkreport

@selxic: That was my question, too.

@Matt R: First sentence: Prince George's officials are eager to attract the FBI headquarters to a Metro site in the county, and it's the right place for the FBI. I don't see the especial advantages of the one over the other, honestly. And I think Springfield could USE a boost - that area needs some taking in hand to become better.

by Ser Amantio di Nicolao on Feb 13, 2012 2:09 pm • linkreport

@selxic, @Ser Amantio di Nicolao:
For one, the jobs-housing imbalance in the region is not good for the region as a whole.

Prince George's has fewer jobs that other jurisdictions and a correspondingly lower tax-base. Why shouldn't we try and give people living in Prince George's the option to work near their homes? Why shouldn't we jump at the opportunity to create 11,000 good jobs in the county that has the fewest of those types of jobs?

Part of building a better region means increasing equity.

by Matt Johnson on Feb 13, 2012 2:17 pm • linkreport

I'd be interested in knowing where the majority of FBI workers commute from already. I'm sure that factors into their decision making. However, I agree with Matt R that the overall takeaway of the article had more to do with PG unpreparedness.

by spookiness on Feb 13, 2012 2:18 pm • linkreport

PG's ineptitude at development and boosterism aside, a new FBI complex is not necessarily going to be a great asset. It will be heavily secured and will be dead weight in terms of transit oriented development. It won't help the dying Springfield Mall and probably belongs at a stop with low potential to attract anything more vibrant.

by Rich on Feb 13, 2012 2:20 pm • linkreport

It's basically an editorial. The OP is a PG County resident and understandably wants his area to get this development. I don't think this blog endorses one viewpoint on one issue, and to the contrary, it has posted multiple viewpoints on certain issues. This post just illustrates what PG County has done wrong with regards to luring the FBI, and tomorrow, Heard will give his opinion of where the right place to locate them would be.

by Vik on Feb 13, 2012 2:24 pm • linkreport

@Rich

I don't think Fairfax County is trying to help Springfield Mall in attempting to lure the FBI. There are already development plans for Springfield Mall, and a lot of development potential there. On the other hand, that GSA warehouse area of Springfield could use some help and if the feds already own the land, than I think luring the FBI is worth the effort.

by Vik on Feb 13, 2012 2:28 pm • linkreport

@Matt Johnson: Don't get me wrong - if PG County gets the new FBI headquarters, I'm not going to cry in my beer over it. Much as I enjoy living in Fairfax County, Lord knows I've had my differences with the way things are being run there for as long as I've been aware. There are a LOT of things that could be better handled. That being said, if Fairfax County can get the FBI, more power to 'em.

@Rich: In and of itself, I don't think it would spur a lot of business for Springfield Mall and surrounding areas. But I'm sure it would be some asset...if nothing else it might spur greater interest in better development of the surrounding area. Besides, the NGIS headquarters aren't that far away - between the two of them they might finally spur the County into considering some of the surrounding development.

by Ser Amantio di Nicolao on Feb 13, 2012 2:29 pm • linkreport

The Springfield/Franconia area is seeing a major boom in new offices thanks to BRAC. The FBI move would ignite the afterburners, but the momentum has sung in that area favor once BRAC was initiated. Not sure what is taking the Springfield Mall so long to get the redevelopment started (post the loan default and re-issuance), but I think that fuse is just about to be lit.

by RJ on Feb 13, 2012 2:42 pm • linkreport

@Matt

Prince George's has fewer jobs that other jurisdictions and a correspondingly lower tax-base. Why shouldn't we try and give people living in Prince George's the option to work near their homes? Why shouldn't we jump at the opportunity to create 11,000 good jobs in the county that has the fewest of those types of jobs?

Part of building a better region means increasing equity.

This is true to an extent, but the further sub-urbanization of jobs also means a decentralization of jobs as well. And more decentralization has some large, negative consequences.

No, the jobs/housing imbalance is not "good," per se - but I think that has more to do with rampant sprawl to the West than it does with getting more jobs in PG.

From strictly a jobs perspective, it would be nice for the FBI to remain where they are - but that would require them to a) cave on their security requirements, and b) find a solution towards making their current facilities work.

Point being, I don't think people are magically going to live closer to their work if more jobs move to PG. In fact, I think that decentralization makes it a lot harder to solve some of the transit problems of the region.

Sprawl aside, at least places like Tysons are developing a critical mass where they have enough of a center of gravity to demand some more transit service.

by Alex B. on Feb 13, 2012 2:53 pm • linkreport

@RJ: Oh, I hope so. The last time I was at Springfield Mall (about four weeks ago) was a sad, sad day. Something needs to be done about it soon.

by Ser Amantio di Nicolao on Feb 13, 2012 2:57 pm • linkreport

"Part of building a better region means increasing equity."

That makes sense and is all good and well in theory, but it isn't just county versus county or state versus state. Springfield needs to compete against Reston and Fairfax and other locations within the county.

Fairfax has wanted something done with the GSA warehouses for years much like they wanted something for the EPG site for years.... GSA and CIA know how to drag their feet though.

@RJ: Likewise, Vornado is dragging their feet. I have no idea why. Unfortunately, there is nothing the county can do about it. If Vornado had been moving forward with significant development, they may have had a chance at NGA-related office space that is going to nearby offices and new office parks.

Originally the mall was buying out leases and letting others expire. People thought that meant development was going to be soon. Instead, it means the mall has been nearly empty for quite a few years.

by selxic on Feb 13, 2012 3:08 pm • linkreport

I do not understand why the District is not trying harder to keep the FBI in the city. This agency is a major employer with at least 2,000 high-paying jobs. How can the District let that slip away? They should be fighting tooth and nail to keep the FBI whether it's sited on Pennsylvania Avenue or not.

by Sage on Feb 13, 2012 3:16 pm • linkreport

@most everyone, but esp alex

I think most of us are taking it as given that the new site will not be in the district, and will not be in any value site close to metro station within the beltway (or to Tysons, or to Rockville Pike). (though the suggestion for the putting them at the Pentagon reservation was intriguing to say the least, but I dont think DoD would go along).

The viable sites seem to be A. somewhere in PG, near on the metro stops outside the beltway B. The GSA site near the springfield metro C. someplace in the secondary zone around one of the Loudoun metro stops on the silver line.

I think among those choices - all are about equivalent in terms of proximity to transit, and (depending on the specific PG site) likelihood to help support critical mass for TOD. A PG site would have the added bonus of helping with the east-west imbalance, that adds total VMT, and that adds to congestion on the beltway. And by adding employment in one of the financially weakest (if not the weakest) suburban county, could add to equity generally.

Even if not many FBI employees are from PG now, more would be likely to locate there over time, given lower housing costs there (and the shorter commute). And even if the commute, it will be a reverse commute for most (which benefits them, plus its less of a congestion impact).

Of course if PGs proposed site is less attractive in other ways than Springfield, thats another matter.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 13, 2012 3:35 pm • linkreport

@Sage,
Because the FBI wants to be in a bunker-like fortress, with large setbacks, no ground-floor retail, very few entrances and no windows at street level, surrounded by car-bomb defenses such as planters and bollards. these attributes are all antithetical to good urbanism, and as a result, we DC residents are looking forward to their departure. I mean, it would be nice if the FBI could be persuaded to remain in DC, in regular office space just like a large law firm, with ground floor retail, etc, but that isn't going to happen.

by MrTinDC on Feb 13, 2012 3:36 pm • linkreport

@Sage,

Perhaps, but only a fraction of those high paying jobs live in the District. They don't pay any taxes here, and those few that live in DC are probably not going to move if the headquarters moves to Springfield or PG County.

Conversely, that site could be developed into a ten to twelve story office building, which would employ just as many people. Probably more would live in DC, but even if they don't, at least the building would be put back on the property tax rolls.

To say nothing of the real potential for street level retail and restaurants to liven up "America's Main Street". Which I would say is the real win for both DC and the Nation's Capital.

by Tim Krepp on Feb 13, 2012 3:42 pm • linkreport

@AWalker

Point taken.

On the equity issue, I'm playing somewhat of a Devil's Advocate here. But I think the larger issue still stands. The article cites PG's portion of federal workers and their much lower portion of federal jobs, implying that there should be more equality there.

I don't think that should be true. PG is by nature a suburb. And that doesn't have to be a bad thing, but it is what it is. Job centers ought to be central, to some degree.

Decentralization is inefficient. Over time, it will cause more problems than it solves. To the extent that PG growth causes more decentralization, that's not really a solution to the region's long term problems.

More broadly, the problem with living near your work in the suburban context is that the raw distance and the decentralization makes such proximity impossible. If it's a family and you have two working parents, one who works in Suitland and one in Tysons, then we haven't solved anything.

I guess the broader way to put it would be that polycentricity is the core issue that causes these problems of imbalance. Simply trying to re-balance that polycentricity in terms of equity doesn't address the core issue.

by Alex B. on Feb 13, 2012 4:38 pm • linkreport

@Tim Krepp,

Well said, the FBI site downtown has too much development opportunity for DC to keep it the FBI there (especially with the brutal architecture of that colossus); Metro Center, Gallery Pl, and Archives within walking distance; frequent bus service on Pennsylvania, E, 7th, 9th, etc.; adding that site to the city property tax roll; and integrating Pennsylvania into the rest of downtown. One thing to watch for will be the conversion of the Old Post Office to a hotel. Even though off topic, that redevelopment could augment the removal of the FBI and bolster the east Pennsylvania Av. corridor.

On the other hand, Springfield has a better advantage over PG in the sense that Franconia-Springfield after the "Rush Plus" implementation will have better subway service than the Branch Av. segment, which is probably where PG is looking to place the FBI. Also with the HOT Lanes project at the halfway point, Springfield can handle the influx of traffic much better than PG can given the location of the GSA land. Advantage = DC and Springfield

by John Teneyck on Feb 13, 2012 4:51 pm • linkreport

@John Teneyck Quite so. Don't well, or even not badly, the redevelopment of OPO and replacing the FBI building could really change the character of a very sterile chunk of the city.

by Tim Krepp on Feb 13, 2012 4:59 pm • linkreport

I agree that PG needs to up its game in attracting federal jobs but I see this particular opportunity landing in Fairfax. A lot of this has to do with the hussle and experience of local officials who know how to get through the byzantine process of landing a major federal employer. Similar to federal procurements, it's often more about knowing how the points are allocated and getting the right boxes checked than necessarily making the most logical case why you're the best. On this count, Fairfax just knows what it's doing.

That said, PG should certainly use this as a learning opportunity to refine their process of wooing federal employers.

As for the region as a whole, I don't really see it mattering whether the Springfield or potential PG site is chosen. The main consideration I see is that the region will benefit if security/homeland security jobs are clustered and that argues for the FBI to be somewhere in southern half of the area, among Ft. Belvoir, Mark Center, St. Elizabeth's.

by Falls Church on Feb 13, 2012 5:09 pm • linkreport

@alex - I am not sure its realistic to expect all nonlocally oriented employment (retail and the like) to locate at the region's core. Firm locational preferences are too diverse, as are the housing preferences (which impact labor markets) (and the extent to which thats a driver will be impacted by skill level and level of specialization). I dont know that it wise to exert energy on a vision of no jobs in the periphery, and its certainly not going to widen support for urbanism - that kind of talk elicits a very visceral, very negative, reaction in places like Loudoun County for one.

IF PG were calling for more jobs, by calling for movement of federal jobs out from the center, well I could see your objection. This really is a suburb-suburb job competion. And while there are complicating factors, like 2 income households where both have specialized jobs, or even 1 income households with other dominating locational factors, I think shortening intra suburb commutes has to be one tool in our tool box.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 13, 2012 5:17 pm • linkreport

@John Tenyck

the HOT lanes only helps Springfield FBI to the extent that they have folks commuting from Tysons and areas along the beltway from annandale north. Folks from west of the FFX county parkway can avoid the beltway entirely anyway, folks coming up from the south will not be helped till the I95 hot lanes are done, and the maryland folks will add to congestion on the Wilson bridge.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 13, 2012 5:21 pm • linkreport

@AWalker

Of course locating all employment in the core is unrealistic - I wasn't specifically advocating for that. But I just want to point out that Prince George's location is now and will be a suburban one.

I think shortening intra suburb commutes has to be one tool in our tool box.

Sure, but my point is that moving the FBI (or any other large concentration of employment) to the 'burbs doesn't necessarily accomplish this. In fact, it might make it worse.

Again, I bring this up mostly as a Devil's Advocate. The problem is one of suburban geometry. Also, this problem doesn't mean that PG can't be transit-oriented (far from it!), but merely that the orientation of areas that aren't jobs centers has to be different than those that are.

by Alex B. on Feb 13, 2012 5:32 pm • linkreport

I'm salivating over that space that the FBI would vacate. When do we start a separate comment thread on the re-use of that site?

by Ward 1 Guy on Feb 13, 2012 5:43 pm • linkreport

@MrTinDC
@Tim Krepp

Yes, I'm well aware of the points you both bring up. With the current bunker mentality in DC and elsewhere, a fortress-like structure for the FBI is a given. Yet isn't that what they already have on Pennsylvania Avenue? Moreover, do not most, if not all, federal departments and agencies hew to a similar ethos? Bollards and planters are everywhere. Sadly, it's part of the urban fabric today for cities playing host to federal facilities.

If neo-urbanists choose to let enough bollard-protected federal bureaus and agencies abandon downtown DC for safer, setback suburban locales, substantial job and tax revenue losses are more than likely for the city, as the businesses and jobs that support these agencies will eventually leave too. Even though DC is prospering, it's a damning mistake to simply allow a large employer like the FBI to migrate elsewhere without a fight.

Of course the massive brutalist building on Pennsylvania Avenue is the antithesis of good urban planning. Getting it torn down so the site can be redeveloped, however, isn't going to be easy. Recall the preservation and landmarking efforts of the church at 16th and I Streets, a structure that even the owner—the church itself—wanted for years to reduce to rubble.

Arlington worked hard to keep DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) and its high-paying jobs in the county. They stayed and now are ensconced in a setback building that while, perhaps, not entirely amenable to smart urban planning, is good enough. DC should be doing the same with the FBI.

by Sage on Feb 13, 2012 6:42 pm • linkreport

I think there was an article in the Washington Business Journal not long ago that explained what would be Fairfax's problem in luring the FBI to the GSA site, and it's probably the same reason the Army opted for Mark Center instead when they expanded Ft. Belvoir. Much as a debacle as that was/is, the warehouse not only houses old furniture in dilapidated buildings, but also has some CIA training center. While I doubt the FBI couldn't squeeze into the monstrous site and still leave room for the CIA to do what they need, they would have to do a lot of site prep work not just in demolishing the existing structures, but also moving what is in them, which can't be cheap. I guess now would be as good a time as any though to clean house.

The Springfield site has plenty of things going for it. It would have walking distance to the Franconia/Springfield Metro, is half way between DC and their Quantico operations...so would they rather be closer to the CIA and Pentagon or NSA...or somewhere else (I'm no expert). I'm sure they will have some study of where their employees live, which was done along with Mark Center, where most employees headed to from Crystal City. I have no clue where most FBI employees live, but they just built a huge Northern Virginia District office in Manassas.

Either way, PG or Fairfax (or Loudoun apparently), this area has a terrible reputation of people not working close to their jobs.

by xtr657 on Feb 13, 2012 6:44 pm • linkreport

@Sage

What tax revenue? A handful of income taxes? ANY commercial use would raise more, just by putting the space back on the property tax roles.

And what business in downtown DC support the FBI? Local restaurants perhaps, but they would happily take the money of other office goers.

The FBI jobs would be replaced by an equivalent number of other high-paying white collar jobs. This is some of the highest rent office area in the country.

by Tim Krepp on Feb 13, 2012 7:35 pm • linkreport

"Why shouldn't we jump at the opportunity to create 11,000 good jobs in the county that has the fewest of those types of jobs?"

There's on the order of 7-8 thousand of those types of jobs at the Suitland Federal Center*, yet Suitland/Silver Hill still is what it is.

*which would actually be a perfect place for the FBI HQ, there's plenty of open space on the campus, one abandoned building and several half full parking lots. It's already restricted access and right next to a Metro station.

by Kolohe on Feb 13, 2012 9:53 pm • linkreport

"Sure, but my point is that moving the FBI (or any other large concentration of employment) to the 'burbs doesn't necessarily accomplish this. In fact, it might make it worse."

The status quo isn't the baseline. As much as people here may want to discuss their dislike for the current FBI HQ, its not relevant cause the FBI apparently has no intention of staying there(and finances shouldn't be a problem, given the value of the site). So whatever benefits there are to the region of the FBI staying downtown (given they can't build what they have decided they need) there isn't relevant either. Unless someone can come up with a close in option that works.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 13, 2012 10:48 pm • linkreport

@Tim Krepp

Every federal agency has a supporting group of businesses that facilitate its operations. For example, when NAVSEA moved from Crystal City to the Naval Yard, many of the companies associated with the agency picked up stakes as well and are now filling office space in the Capitol Riverfront area.

There are dozens of businesses supporting certain operational aspects of the FBI. We don't know about them—at least I don't—as it's kept under wraps, but they're out there, most likely located in offices in and around the East End. The outsourcing of contractual work by federal agencies expanded dramatically during the last 20 years and shows little sign of letting up; the FBI is no exception.

Why it is that Fairfax so eagerly wants to lure the FBI to the county? Not only is it the HQ jobs, but all the ancillary employment. And it's this ancillary employment, the highly paid workers who will occupy privately owned office space and who may choose to reside and pay taxes in the county that Fairfax is after.

Would I like to see the FBI move off Pennsylvania Avenue and have that outdated hulking piece of concrete crushed to rubble. Heck yes. But I'd also prefer the FBI to remain in the District. Maybe a location could be found in NoMa or Southwest. Hell, if need be, I'd put 'em in the Ronald Reagan building and shift the EPA elsewhere. We're talking about thousands of jobs here. A good percentage of the folks who work at the FBI also live and pay taxes in the city. If the Bureau leaves, they'll be likely to as well.

As I said previously, and say again now, it is a damning mistake if the District allows the FBI to slip away to the suburbs without a serious hard fight.

by Sage on Feb 13, 2012 10:55 pm • linkreport

Ahh, the jobs are secret! Of course!

I know a little about the government contracting world as it relates to the intel community from a past life and I doubt too much of it's in the East End (?), or anywhere in the greater downtown area. Few commercial landlords want the expense of creating a SCIF (Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility), especially since they're not hard up for tenants for Class A office space. Not to mention the security requirements (not just physical but electronic) are through the roof in an urban area. Most of that type of business needs space around it.

Maybe we should zone it outside the city walls, like tanneries of yore!

We're going in circles here, but if the FBI left (and it's when, not if), they would be replaced with office workers who would most likely be paid more (lawyers make more than special agents) and probably more likely live in the District.

Also, finding high paying jobs, especially government ones, is not DC's problem. Training our workforce to compete for them is. Expanding our non-governmental property tax base is. Diversifying our economy so all of our eggs aren't in the Federal basket is. But finding employment for post-college graduates who want an exciting career in law enforcement and/or intelligence work is, fortunately enough, not one of our biggest challenges.

by Tim Krepp on Feb 13, 2012 11:09 pm • linkreport

@ Alex and others: While Prince George's may be a "suburb," in the sense that it is not "in" the District, its inner-Beltway core has all of the urban infrastructure to make it a viable place to locate Federal work sites. It is directly adjacent to the District and has more Metro stations than any juridiction other than DC itself. Moreover, the county's population is greater than DC. So this is no far-flung outpost.

What the county doesn't have enough of is quality jobs and TOD. That's what makes it seem like more of a suburb than it actually is (at least the inside the Beltway). And that's one reason, among many, to bring the FBI here to Prince George's.

Not every federal job can be in DC, and it would be irresponsible for the federal government to put them all there -- especailly when a full quarter of the region's federal workforce lives in Prince George's. Providing regional balance in the distribution of jobs is crucial on a variety of levels.

@ Kolohe: I think Suitland Metro Station is just a tad too far away from the Beltway (slightly > 2.5 mi) to meet the GSA conditions. But the larger problem is, I don't think there's 55 contiguous acres available for redevelopment in the secondary area of the Suitland Metro station. The area between Suitland Pkwy and Suitland Rd (next to the Census Bureau) is all within the station's primary TOD zone and should be redeveloped with more urban, walkable form buildings.

by Bradley Heard on Feb 13, 2012 11:38 pm • linkreport

@Bradley

I'm not saying PG is far flung, merely that PG is not central.

by Alex B. on Feb 13, 2012 11:55 pm • linkreport

@Sage

The recent push for secure facilities is, unfortunately, completely incompatible with urbanism as we know it. The DARPA building in Ballston isn't good, nor is the ATF HQ in NoMA, but what the FBI is hinting at is completely different. They essentially want (and think their security concerns justify) a Langley-like campus.

I'd prefer that the FBI remain in the District as well - if their security concerns were reasonable. Alas, they are not.

by Alex B. on Feb 14, 2012 12:06 am • linkreport

It is too bad the West Hyattsville location does not fit the parameters of being within a couple miles of the beltway. Sitting right next to it is a long abandoned warehouse with parking that could easily be completely torn down and a multi-story complex built in its place.

For the address on Penn Ave, I would love to see the Hoover building torn down and Archives III be built on the location. For those who remember, the site of the Navy Memorial was to be the site of Archives II, instead members of the Maryland congressional delegation got it built in College Park. NARA has been in need of an additional facility for some time now and what a more perfect place than across from its original home than in another part of the country. Wishful thinking I know.

by Ray on Feb 14, 2012 12:25 am • linkreport

[Deleted for violating the comment policy.] Virtually every state in the union would piss itself with joy if the FBI decided to set up shop within its borders. Why not the District? We're talking several thousand jobs.

As for the ancillary jobs and the Bureau, think logistics and communications, to name a couple. Again, ask yourself why Fairfax and Prince Georges are so eager to have the FBI plunk its HQ down in their respective counties. The additional hotel room bookings alone would probably add up to several million dollars a year.

Just because the FBI is an investigative and intelligence-gathering body is no reason to discount it as a powerhouse employer. Would you be saying the same thing if the SEC or the FTC decided to decamp to elsewhere? If either of those agencies left, a whole lot of lawyers would pack up offices, too.

Many years ago I happened upon a consulting report that encouraged legal firms to leave DC. Fortunately that never happened to any extent. The argument was cost and a better working environment. Why stay in DC, the pitch went, when the same operation can be had just a few miles away, but at cheaper cost? It was convincing. The District was lucky it began turning the corner when it did, otherwise things downtown would be a whole lot different than they are now.

Right now the District is doing very well economically. It's a happening city, and thousands of new people who possess important skills are choosing to call it home. But this can change and what looks great today may begin to wane in 10 or 15 years. Clearly the city needs to diversify its employment base. That can be done, however, without letting major governmental employers like the FBI slip out the door.

People go to where the jobs are. Retail (hotels, restaurants, stores) then follows the people. At this moment, DC is experiencing a retailing renaissance. CityCenter is under construction, as is the City Market development in Shaw. And how many Walmarts are planned? Six? Yet all this revitalizing energy may fade if the employment numbers in the city take a nosedive. I don't see this occurring, but it's best to be watchful. That the FBI might leave is a warning shot.

Every job, whether high paying or not, brings in a certain amount revenue to the city. It is only prudent to retain as many as possible, all the more so with an exceedingly important employer like the FBI, with thousands of jobs at stake.

by Sage on Feb 14, 2012 1:01 am • linkreport

Mr. Heard, the problem the area between Suitland Parkway and Suitland Road, (that is, the area between those two boundaries, with Silver Hill Road and the cemeteries making the third and fourth boundary) is a secure limited access facility (except for the Metro station itself). It's only going to get developed by a large federal agency tenant. And there's likely still to be as little interaction between the workers on the campus and the businesses along the other side of Suitland and/or Silver Hill roads. (more than a few of which are already abandoned)

I didn't catch the part that it was also necessary to be near the beltway (which seems like a weird requirement), thanks for the correction.

by Kolohe on Feb 14, 2012 6:32 am • linkreport

@xtr657: GSA not wanting to move things has always been the public response, but as you said and I alluded to, the CIA training facility is likely the real hold up for the GSA site being returned to the county or redeveloped. Personally, I'd like to see something happen at the GSA site, but the terms are basically written for PG to get the new HQ.

by selxic on Feb 14, 2012 7:32 am • linkreport

I live next to Greenbelt and a federal bunker is the antithesis of what our community wants. We have a vision in place for development around Greenbelt Metro that supports a community people could walk, play and work in. Our roads couldn't handle the traffic and our community is desperately in need of transit-oriented development.

To all those who think this would make your community in PG vital--go walk the street adjacent to the current FBI building in DC and show me how vital that looks on a weekend.

If Greenbelt abandons its vision for cash on the barrel head that will be a sad day indeed...

by Melissa on Feb 14, 2012 8:35 am • linkreport

@Melissa - I think most of us agree, that the best spots in PG would not be in the primary zone near a metro (within 1/4 mile?) and not near the stations that are best positioned for TOD. Which Greenbelt may well be.

But my impression is that PG has several metro stations that are not well located for TOD. Near one of those, especially more than 1/4 mile, would probably be the best PG locations. Along the blue line or southern end of the Green line would probably be better than the northern end of the green line - places less likely to achieve TOD anyway, and closer to Virginia (where I imagine many current FBI employees live).

Any sites spring to mind?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 14, 2012 9:26 am • linkreport

Of all the sites in PG county, I would say that Greenbelt would be the top choice for a number of factors:

1. There has already been studies and plans for a major TOD at the station. All that exists is a sprawling commuter lot that can easily be converted into parking garages.

2. The Greenbelt metro is already home to a federal court house and an office park across Cherry Hill.

3. The 495/95 exits are less than a mile away. There are actually exits from 495 that spill right into the Greenbelt Metro parking lot.

4. Proximity to the growing NSA and UMD.

5. It would spur the redevelopment of Beltway Plaza and sections of Rt. 1.

I'm sure that Greenbelt won't be B. Heard's suggestion. But I thought it was the most readily available site. Besides, there was talk of the FBI moving to Greenbelt a few years ago until the project got bogged down in lawsuits.

by adelphi_sky on Feb 14, 2012 10:39 am • linkreport

@ adelphi_sky: Unless you're going to put the FBI complex on top of the Greenbelt Metro Station and forgo other TOD opportunities there by creating a Suitland-like space, I don't think there's 55 acres of developable space in the secondary area for that station. Remember, the locations near the federal courthouse that Matt suggested in his earlier post aren't really available/viable.

by Bradley Heard on Feb 14, 2012 11:21 am • linkreport

^^^
My apologies to anyone who may have been put off by my initial words in my post above. I wasn't aware that an appeal to common sense directed toward another crossed into naughtiness. Nevertheless, it should have been worded differently. Again, apologies all around.

by Sage on Feb 14, 2012 11:36 am • linkreport

Bradley, thank you - you're spot on that the inner Beltway Prince George's County areas near Metro stations are a smart location for this, from a regional pov.

Alex B, "central" is a relative term - the inner Beltway parts of PG County are pretty central, from a regional perspective. it's not ideal in terms of traffic - nor possible with a population as large as DC's - to have all employment in the central core of DC. close areas that have transit access are great employment locations.

traffic (improving the jobs/housing balance) and equity are both important reasons that PG County is a better choice for this.

by Arnold on Feb 14, 2012 11:38 am • linkreport

Agree with selxic that it is a foregone conclusion that Maryland will "win" this round in terms of luring the FBI to PG. I think the Maryland congressional delegation has much more seniority than Virginia's does right now. Springfield would still seem to be a better place to me, with its location closer to Quantico (not sure how much really goes on there) and its proximity to the airports. They are both about equidistant from downtown. Not sure what Greenbelt brings to the table other than it's close to Fort Meade, but I'm a Northern VA native so I'm terribly biased.

by xtr657 on Feb 14, 2012 12:36 pm • linkreport

I would really question how a high security facility will help develop the Rte 1/Beltway Plaza area. I would love to see how similar developments have helped to drive that.

The proposal as I understand it, is to suck up 55 acres of 70 acre area smack next to the Greenbelt Metro and put the FBI campus there.

It could be that situating the FBI campus will create massive headaches on the Beltway for people transiting to these jobs. So I suppose it would be great location for people to drive to, but that's not really my understanding of how good TOD should work. Maybe I am missing something...

I'm not sure I'd buy the story that this campus will be a job generator for our city (or our County) or inspire anyone to live here. Seems to me there is probably a pretty high bar to gain entrance to a level 5 security clearance employer.

by Melissa on Feb 14, 2012 1:05 pm • linkreport

This will be colossally stupid if they put it in PG. Very few people in NoVA will want to work in PG, or most places in MD. (How many people in NoVA work at Ft. Meade or Bolling? Probably a few, but they were probably just BRAC'd there and I would bet many are applying for fed jobs closer to home.)

So they can kiss all those potential applicants and probably a number of current employees goodbye.

At least the current HQ allows fairly easy commuting for MD and VA people, and of course DC residents.

Why don't they just open a huge field office in Manasses and maybe another one in Upper Marlboro or whatnot? Leaving HQ near Congress and WH makes sense.

by Feddy Kilowatt on Feb 14, 2012 5:27 pm • linkreport

I still feel Poplar Point is the best location. Not only does it keep the FBI in the District where it belongs, but all other attempts to bring proper development there have failed. The move of the FBI there will provide the catalyst. It meets all the criterion, for transportation, land ownership and security. 295 would truly be the national security cooridor.

by Sivad on Feb 15, 2012 9:00 pm • linkreport

One issue that is not looked at here is a security risk of the area it is around.

Look back at 9/11 and how it effected people that live, work (not for government) or travel (public transit) around that area. It created problems for them whether closed streets, check points or just wasted time.

Any building housing a high level government agency should be placed somewhere that is easy to get to but also not a risk to those around it. The best place from FBI, CIA, Homeland Security, Congressional Offices or Military Bases is somewhere that you have a reason to go there and nothing else such as an island or some area connected to transit/highways but not close enough to affect the travels of others.

by kk on Feb 15, 2012 9:56 pm • linkreport

@ kk: As DC area residents, it's counterproductive for us to get overly worried about security threats. Honestly, virtually everything in DC is a security target. Let's remember, the 9/11 hijackers were not headed for the J. Edgar Hoover building. They were headed toward the Capitol and the Pentagon, and possibly the White House. Wherever the FBI building is constructed, it will be a Level V security building. That's why it shouldn't be on top of a Metro station. However, it can still be near a Metro station.

by Bradley Heard on Feb 15, 2012 10:23 pm • linkreport

There's both pluses and minuses to putting FeeBee HQ in PG. On the downside, chances are the Bureau would have to pay off lots of folks, as everyone before them in PG has. They may be adverse to that; their budget is not that large & oh the paperwork.

But the upside is they *then* would not have to drive as far as they do now, when they want to bust everyone involved.

It would be nice to dream that, if there, they could also keep a closer eye on PGPD than they have lately. [It's been a while since Stephanie Mohr went up the river. Keith Washington & others were tried & convicted on state charges.] But I'd say that's iffy.

Overall, the likelihood of PG getting the Bureau is slim to none, and that is totally aside from the issue of available appropriate space.

by George B on Feb 17, 2012 6:14 pm • linkreport

Interesting to watch how the arguments form. I'm almost able to 'reverse engineer' the arguments to see where people live / work.

That was just a slight musing, though. I personally don't see the need for the FBI being so monstrous, perosnally. I've always thought that the most prominent and / or stand-outish type buildings are the first that anyone with ill will or motives would identify with.

Isn't there some sort of CPTED lesson to learn from this impending structural failure?

by C. R. on Feb 19, 2012 9:44 pm • linkreport

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