Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

New Year's Post #3: an illustration of the decline of the federal role in DC's real estate market (at least right now)

There is a great op-ed, "Listening to the Founding Fathers" by conservative Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson discussing the dominance of conservative discourse by "no government" (my term) positions, that there is no appropriate role for federal government in society.

It's reasonable to have different opinions and attitudes about the role and especially the size of government in our society.  But true conservatives ("liberals" in the old terminology) weren't against government and saw a role for the provision of public goods in the context of a market economy. 

As I have mentioned a bunch of times over the past year, the dominance of the US House of Representatives by the Republicans and especially by Tea Party types has brought much of local federal government-related real estate development to a standstill, outside of deals that fit within the standard pricing parameter that don't require extra-normal review or participation by Congress.

It means that the National Science Foundation wasn't in a position to get approval to pay higher lease rates to stay in Arlington--so they are moving to Alexandria. 

It means that the original plan to create a Homeland Security campus at the west campus of the St. Elizabeth's complex in Southeast DC continues to stumble along, as approval of agency projects other than the original project to put the Coast Guard headquarters there don't seem to move forward ("GSA priming pump for round two at St. Elizabeths," Washington Business Journal).

I missed this piece, "Consumer bureau headquarters renovation plan gets GOP flak," which ran in the Los Angeles Times, about how the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a financial regulatory agency, can't get the appropriations it needs to renovate its aging facilities because Congresspeople against regulation of the financial industry see this as a way to hamper the agency's activities.  From the article:
The 35-year-old building would be renovated to include a state-of-the-art public lobby with "interactive kiosks and 21st century learning centers," Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), then a White House aide who headed the consumer bureau's organizing, said at the time.

But nearly three years later, the bureau's seven-story home remains just another drab concrete-and-glass Washington office building — stuck in the mid-20th century.  ...  The $95-million cost of the renovation has become the latest rallying cry for Republicans still trying to restrict the bureau's power and alter its structure under the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law that created it.

"This is simply an egregious example of waste and Washington  bureaucrats living a life much different than an average American," Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) said of the renovation costs. "It shows a complete disregard for the taxpayer."
The reality is that it's just a construction project, and probably not all that outlandish.

The FBI, because its need is apparent and great, is able to move forward with a new building program.  But I wonder how much of this is because the stated requirements for the move eliminate DC from contention, meaning that Virginia or Maryland will benefit from the move, and this is seen as an acceptable benefit, allowing the project to move forward.

Although the FBI leaving the city, at least downtown, will be a financial gain ("If FBI moves, D.C. would net millions," Washington Business Journal).  Locating it elsewhere in the city (e.g., the past blog entry "More on Barry Farm (vs. Poplar Point) as a new location for the FBI") might have been a different story.

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At 3:19 PM, Anonymous Alex B. said...

The FBI situation is a completely different story.

They're not looking for an apporpriation to build a big new HQ, they're looking to fund that new HQ with a land swap. The feds give up the Pennsylvania Ave site to a developer, and in exchange, that developer builds the FBI a new HQ elsewhere.

At 6:07 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

I just don't see how that will happen--the cost of building new space is still very high, and with the height limit there is a very clear ceiling on the maximum developable footprint on this property, even if it is, as you have pointed before, comparatively large for DC. And if you recall, later Dan Tangherlini modified this wrt "consideration", that they would pay less, by trading land.

I bet there is a prospectus out there for this...


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