Barry Farms as a potential DC location for the FBI
-- GSA Request for Information Solicitation with regard to the relocation of the FBI headquarters
Many places in the DC metropolitan area would like to recruit the FBI to their locale.
-- Greenbelt ("Metro proposes land deal to move FBI to Prince George's County
" from the Washington Post)
-- Suitland ("Put the FBI in Suitland, not Greenbelt (and not Poplar Point)" from Greater Greater Washington)
-- Fairfax ("Fairfax official says Metro is playing favorites in fight for FBI headquarters" from the Post)
-- and the stupid "let's trade the Washington Redskins football team with Prince George's County for the FBI ("Evans wants to swap the FBI for the Redskins" from the Post).
I myself am on record saying let the agency go to the suburbs since they want such a large parcel (the original article on the real estate tender suggests that they want a site greater than 50 acres, which is very large). See "Hyperbole on the redevelopment of the FBI building site on Pennsylvania Avenue NW."
But I guess I am being forced to reconsider this rather doctrinaire position because of the clear benefits from agglomeration economies by the agency remaining in DC.
The urbanization economies of the existing investment in transit infrastructure in Downtown DC
First, letting federal agencies move out of the core of the city reduces the effectiveness and utility of the subway system, not to mention the utility and primacy of DC.
As frequent commenter Charlie points out, the reason that the WMATA subway system has such good numbers for weekday use is because of the federal agency workers (plus they get transit benefits).
Second, even if agencies move out from the core to another subway station accessible place, the core of the city is still a better location for agencies mostly, because all five lines serve the core, while outlying stations tend to be less well connected.
The more agencies are dispersed, combined with the addition of Silver Line service to Fairfax and Loudoun Counties, will deconcentrate the utility of the transit system and create even more competition with DC for commercial leasing, including federal agencies.
Industrial and localization economies present among federal agencies and installations located in the core of DC
And as others either on that thread or elsewhere have pointed out, there are benefits to the FBI to being located close to the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security, courts, and other organizations with which it frequently interacts. (Being close to similar organizations is a feature of localization economies and the impacts from clustering are called industrial economies.)
The farther the agency is located outside the core, the greater the reduction in benefits the agency receives from proximity and clustering.
Barry Farms in Southeast DC would be a great option for DC to offer to the FBI
I have been part of a e-discussion where someone who must remain nameless suggests that rather than rebuild the Barry Farms housing project as a housing project (this is subject of a current RFP, also see the article from the Washington Business Journal, "D.C. seeks development team for $400M Barry Farm overhaul "), why not rebuild the area over for the FBI?
The map above, with the "A" pushpin marker shows Barry Farms, which is located just south of the Anacostia Metro Station. It is located just north of the St. Elizabeths West Campus, which has been chosen to be the long term headquarters for the Department of Homeland Security, and is northwest of the St. Elizabeths East Campus, which DC government still controls, and is looking to redevelop.
This has some advantages and preserves most of the urbanization, localization, and industrialization economies of a DC-based location.
1. It's still in DC and pretty close to downtown by the Green Line Metro. It's a nine minute subway ride from Galley Place to Anacostia.
2. It would be immediately next to the proposed Department of Homeland Security campus on the west campus of the St. Elizabeths complex.
3. Because Congress has delayed funding the development of the DHS campus, locating the FBI next door could move that overall project along, by providing more reasons for Congress to move the project forward. See "DHS holds fast to St. Elizabeths HQ plan" from Federal News Radio.
4. It would help promote "economic development" objectives that already exist for this part of DC (which has other military facilities and the Naval Research Lab)
5. Which are mostly focused on the St. Elizabeths East Campus, which the DC Government is actively working to redevelop.
6. And it will leverage other investments in transportation infrastructure, including a coming streetcar line.
Perhaps one or two infill subway stations should be added to accommodate these developments
However, I would suggest, although it would be wildly expensive, of building at least one infill subway station on the Green Line, between the Anacostia Station and the Congress Heights Station, to better serve these campuses, because the Anacostia Station is significantly downhill from the St. E West Campus, and the Congress Heights Station is at the extreme east of the East Campus.
Maybe even two stations. One could be built at the south end of Barry Farms on the north edge of the St. E West Campus, and another could be on the west side of the St. E East Campus.
Affordable housing losses and gains
1. The current plan is to rebuild about 1800 housing units at Barry Farm. To instead build an office complex for a federal agency comes at some cost to the number of housing units in the city. The city would have to commit to building the equivalent amount of housing elsewhere in the city.
2. Although it could be funded in part by receiving and capitalizing the redevelopment opportunity from the Pennsylvania Avenue fronting land of the current FBI headquarters.
3. The city could use the land to fund the rebuild at Barry Farms and to create a permanent "endowment" for the provision and support of affordable housing in the city.
4. Including funding focused housing improvement programs in Wards 7 and 8, along the lines of what I suggested in "Deeper thinking/programming on weak residential housing markets is required: DC example, Anacostia," which would have many advantages.
5. It could also focus attention on expanding more quickly the WC Smith Company's Sheridan Station development near the Anacostia Station. This would be a definite benefit.
1. Since the 1950s, the development of large suburban office campuses has been a leading real estate development trend.
It's still big, such as in Silicon Valley (e.g., the proposals for new headquarters for Apple and Nvidia, "Nvidia's new headquarters to rival Apple's spaceship campus" from TechSpot).
Louise Mozingo's Pastoral Capitalism: A History of Suburban Corporate Landscapes is the definitive discussion of this phenomenon. Article.
2. However, Arlington's "capture" of the National Science Foundation to Wilson Boulevard, seeding a kind of urban-connected research park, as opposed to a suburban, unconnected, campus started a trend where science and engineering and technology firms see the advantages to being located in urban locations, in part as a way to attract and retain young highly educated and skilled workers.
I wrote about this counter-trend here, "The state of Arlington County Virginia's commercial real estate market: 2012 and the future."
You see it in other places, such as San Francisco, where the city-based "Silicon Valley" continues to expand (but not fast enough, I'll write about that later maybe), with the relocation of some suburban based office complexes to Chicago ("In search for talent, companies relocating to downtown Chicago: Though suburbs might provide cheaper bases of operations, moves tied to recruitment of employees who want to live, work in the city" from the Chicago Tribune), and even in Detroit, where Compuware and other corporations have moved to the city from the suburbs--it really says something when the otherwise declining Detroit can out-recruit suburbs in terms of being a superior business location, because of greater urban vitality.
3. This could go either way however, because law enforcement and intelligence agencies prefer seclusion for security reasons more than they prefer connectedness.
DC needs to develop a team and formalize and produce a response to the GSA RFI if it wants to remain in the game
One of the problems with the current RFPs for St. E's East Campus is that they expect great ideas to fall out of the sky. Instead, the city needs to be more purposeful. Working to achieve multiple goals and objectives by better coordinating and leveraging the opportunities present in this area by adding the FBI to the mix would significantly accelerate the other projects, and maintain the importance of DC as a location for federal agencies, and the primacy of the core of the subway system.