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Posts about FBI Building


If the FBI moves to Greenbelt, here's what it will look like

The FBI is considering moving its headquarters from downtown Washington to either Greenbelt, Landover, or Springfield. If it goes to Greenbelt, here's what the development will look like:

Greenbelt development rendering. Image from Renard Development/Gensler.

Under this plan, a new mixed-use transit-oriented development would replace the parking lot at the Greenbelt Metro station. The FBI would occupy the five buildings on the bottom of the rendering, with other offices, apartments, retail, and a hotel taking up the rest.

Greenbelt Metro station is located in the upper left side the rendering, immediately behind the building that looks like a "6" digit tipped on its side. To the right of that building, a central plaza would be the area's main public space, and one of Prince George's most urban spots.

Proposed view from the Greenbelt Metro station. Image from Renard Development/Gensler.

The Metro's existing entrance is immediately behind the "6" building. It would be nice if a new Metro entrance would line up directly with the plaza, though it looks more like a short walkway behind the building will connect the station to the plaza.

Since Greenbelt is an end-of-line station, the development replaces all the Metro commuter parking. But instead of surface parking lots, it would go in a new parking garage shown on the far left of the overview rendering, connected to the station with a wide, suburban-style street.

Clustering mixed-use development next to the Metro station and putting the FBI buildings and park-and-rides across the street makes a lot of sense. That layout provides a parking lot for commuters and gives the FBI the space it wants for a buffer without sacrificing the walkability of the entire neighborhood.

Meanwhile, FBI workers who don't commute via Metro would use the parking garage on the far right, next to the Beltway.

Overall, this looks like a decent plan. There are a lot of less than ideal trade-offs, but given the demands of an end-line station and the FBI, it's not terrible.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.


Westphalia owners lobbying hard for FBI

Prince George's County and Maryland have decided to throw their weight behind putting the FBI at the Greenbelt Metro station, but developer Walton North America hasn't given up lobbying for it to go at the 479-acre, non-transit-oriented Westphalia development out past Joint Base Andrews.

Image from the "Welcome Home FBI" website.

We received an email from the PR firm Edelman about a new website they are launching on behalf of Walton. The site, called "A Welcome Home for the FBI," argues that "Westphalia Town Center would provide a secure, state-of-the-art campus for the FBI within a vibrant community where FBI employees and their families can live, work and play," and that "Westphalia Town Center would be a win-win-win for FBI employees and their families, as well as Prince George's County residents and businesses."

There's even a map, captioned, "Westphalia Town Center provides many convenient transportation options." Does it, now?

Image from the "Welcome Home FBI" website, modified by the author.

While Westphalia is located next to the Capital Beltway and Pennsylvania Avenue and adjacent to Joint Base Andrews, it's not on or near a Metro line, MARC train, or the planned Purple Line. I've placed a star around potential spots for the FBI that are on Metro: Greenbelt, Franconia-Springfield (Fairfax's proposal), and two suggestions from Greater Greater Washington contributors, Morgan Boulevard and Suitland.

(This map actually shows Metro in entirely the wrong place. Notice how the Orange and Blue Lines appear under the Potomac around where Smithsonian station would be. The Red Line crosses into Maryland east of DC's the northern point, not west. This map doesn't show the Blue Line out to the Beltway at all, and the southern Green Line actually runs along Suitland Parkway.

It clearly looks as though this map originally had no Metro at all, and the designers hastily slapped the Metro lines on without sizing and positioning them right. Perhaps this illustrates how much Westphalia really thinks about transit.)

Walton is so eager for the FBI that they recently offered to fund a bus line to Branch Avenue Metro. Unfortunately, a bus is unlikely to draw nearly the percentage of FBI workers that a Metro site would. The county has explored ways to extend the Green Line to Westphalia, but no serious planning has been done for it and nobody, including Walton, has any idea of how to pay for it.

As a greenfield, largely undeveloped site, Westphalia will require lots of new, expensive infrastructure whose long-term costs will get pushed onto the public. That spending will ultimately weaken pressure to build in existing communities where there's already underused transportation infrastructure, at the Metro stations. Those communities, however, don't have PR firms to push the government to put jobs there.

Putting the FBI in Prince George's County is the right move. The east side of the region has not gotten its share of federal or private jobs, forcing people to travel long distances from east to west. The FBI wants a large security fortress, which is incompatible with potential locations in central DC.

An site that is short walk from one of Prince George's 15 Metro stations, however, could house a large high-security complex and also catalyze walkable transit-oriented development closer to the station. This would maximize the value we get from our existing regional transportation network. With so many available Metro-accessible sites in Prince George's, Westphalia is not a good spot for the FBI.


FBI headquarters could stay downtown, but at a cost

As the FBI searches for a new headquarters location, most of the options have focused on the suburbs or Poplar Point, but Washingtonian reports on another proposal: Keep it downtown, at H Street and North Capitol Street, NW. But that location has serious downsides.

Rendering of potential H Street FBI. Image from Arthur Cotton Moore via Washingtonian.

The proposal would repurpose the existing Government Printing Office buildings on North Capitol Street and add a new extension to the west. The new building would be over 2 million square feet, and would cover multiple blocks from New Jersey Avenue to North Capitol.

Ideally an employer as large as the FBI should have its offices downtown, but the FBI isn't just any employer. Its building is likely to be a security fortress, which means it won't be very good for pedestrians, or have ground floor retail. H Street is an important pedestrian and retail spine. Giving up a long stretch of it to the FBI would be just as bad there as it is on E Street, where the FBI is a sidewalk dead zone.

Actually, a dead zone on H Street might be even worse. Walmart is building an urban format store directly across the street from this site. And love Walmart or hate it, it's going to be one of downtown's biggest retail draws. That means this exact block of H Street is about to become one of the busiest retail main streets in the city. It should have retail on both sides.

One advantage of this FBI proposal is that the federal government already owns the land. That does mean it's already less likely to get retail on it, but putting the FBI building on it would cement that, literally.

There are other questions. DDOT's proposed crosstown streetcar would run along H Street. The FBI has never weighed in on streetcars, but would they throw up security-related roadblocks? It's unknown.

According to Washingtonian, the FBI would close G Street entirely to traffic, as well as obliterating a block of 1st Street. That further cripples the L'Enfant grid at a time when other projects are trying to restore the grid nearby. And would the FBI forbid pedestrians and cyclists on G Street as well as motor vehicles?

Finally, the existing GPO buildings are among Washington's most prominent historic red brick buildings, and were designed by a prominent architect at the time. The FBI concept renderings show a courtyard in the middle of the GPO building, but aerials show no such courtyard currently exists. That suggests the buildings will have to be completely gutted to fit the FBI. Is that a worthy tradeoff?

Any proposal that keeps the FBI downtown merits serious consideration, but given the FBI's security requirements, and given the potential for this location to be redeveloped with something even better, it may be preferable to let the FBI go. Putting the FBI on this block might be better than having it remain a parking lot, but almost any other building would be more ideal.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.


Put the FBI in Suitland, not Greenbelt (and not Poplar Point)

Talk of the FBI leaving its Pennsylvania Avenue heaquarters reached a fever pitch in the last week, with WMATA taking steps to enable its development partner at the Greenbelt Metro station to bid on the FBI. But a different site might be more fiscally prudent and better contribute to transit-oriented development: the Suitland Federal Center.

Suitland Federal Center. Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

I have only seen Suitland, in southern Prince George's County, mentioned once in the press covering this story (December 18, 2011, in the Baltimore Sun), but I believe it's the best choice in Prince George's and the region.

The Suitland Federal Center is a 226-acre site housing the offices of the US Census Bureau, the National Archives' Washington Records Center, the NOAA Satellite Operations Facility, the National Maritime Intelligence-Integration Office, and a few other small buildings. There is a contiguous area of just under 55 acres that includes a couple vacant buildings, open land, and underutilized parking lots.

Suitland already has much of what the FBI needs

This space could easily become the new location for the FBI. The entire area is already access controlled via gates and a fenced perimeter. There is room for the standoff distance that the GSA requires for Level 5 facilities (those that are considered critical to national security). The building would need to be long, narrow, and tall in order to fit all the office space necessary to house upwards of 10,000 employees, but luckily, there is already precedent for such a building in Suitlandthe Census Bureau's building.

The 55-acre area that could house the FBI.

Most importantly, the federal government already owns the land. Unlike at Greenbelt, a headquarters building in Suitland will not preclude any more land from future taxable uses. The latest proposals for the Greenbelt property would have GSA pay taxes to Prince George's County and Greenbelt for the next 20 years, but the land would come off the tax rolls permanently after that point.

Both locations have regional transportation benefits

The city of Greenbelt and Prince George's County have good reasons to want the FBI at the Greenbelt station. More jobs at this location would mean economic development opportunities for Greenbelt and other nearby cities in northern Prince George's County, and the oft-cited "reverse-commuting" effect from employees living to the west may help slightly balance traffic on the Capital Beltway, which is heaviest out of Prince George's County during the morning rush and heaviest into the county during evening rush hour.

The commuting situation would be similar at the Suitland location. The years-long Wilson Bridge project added driving capacity along the southern part of the Beltway, and can arguably handle commuter traffic more efficiently than the northern part of the beltway through Montgomery County and over the American Legion Bridge.

Many FBI workers already drive to and from Virginia. The Bureau has a major facility including its training academy at Quantico. Suitland would offer a shorter trip for people traveling between the two, via the Wilson Bridge by car or bus, or possibly a future rail transit connection.

News reports have also cited a need for a location within 2½ miles of the Beltway. Greenbelt is clearly superior in proximity, as it is directly adjacent to the beltway, but Suitland falls within 2½ miles of the highway. At either location, a new exit for traffic would need to be built. The exit for the Greenbelt station only serves traffic coming from or going to the west, and an exit on the beltway for the Suitland Parkway would probably be necessary to handle higher traffic coming to and from the Suitland Federal Center.

Both locations could take advantage of a Green Line station adjacent to the site, and both are at or near the end of the line, encouraging reverse commuting for those using the transit system from DC and the core of the metro area.

Greenbelt could be so much more, while Suitland never can

The placement of the Suitland metro station, unfortunately, precludes the opportunity for strong transit-oriented development at this location. The station is hemmed in by a freeway to the west and the fenced-off-and-not-open-to-the-public Federal Center to the north and east. The "downtown" crossroads of Suitland (Suitland and Silver Hill Roads) would have been a better location to encourage TOD, but moving the station is extremely unlikely.

Greenbelt, on the other hand, has the opportunity for mixed-use at its station. The area to the south of the station had a development plan that derailed when the real-estate market crashed in the last decade. Eventually, demand for housing, shopping, and jobs at locations inside the beltway will only make Greenbelt an even more attractive place to invest in growth.

I realize that it's difficult to ask a city to wait, when they can benefit from development today. In the long run, though, the city of Greenbelt has the opportunity to create a plan that will bring jobs, residents, retail, and a tax base to this site. That seems like too good of an opportunity to throw away for the short-term promise of 20 years worth of property taxes from the federal government.

Not Poplar Point, either

Update: Just before this post went live, Jonathan O'Connell of the Washington Post reported that Mayor Gray will propose keeping the FBI's headquarters in DC by moving it to Poplar Point in Ward 8.

While that site would have some transportation advantages similar to Greenbelt or Suitland, ultimately, it would be a bad choice for the city. It would preclude the possibility of developing that land in a form that could produce property taxes for DC, and it would cause an even larger stretch of our very limited waterfront property to be forever off-limits to the residents of the city.

It's an interesting proposal, but ultimately its shortcomings should lead to the idea being scuttled quickly.

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