Very early on into my urban revitalization involvement in DC, I met a guy who lives in Capitol Hill, is a lifelong Washingtonian, his family being multi-generational, who at the time lived in an alley dwelling (one of the reasons I'm interested in alley dwellings and accessory dwelling units).
We even led some alley tours together as part of Cultural Tourism DC events, and have interacted ever since.
He worked at BEP, which he reminded me, is one of the city's top tourist attractions--people go there to see currency being printed ("Bureau of Engraving and Printing: Making our money since 1862," Kidspost, Washington Post).United States one dollar bills get rotated before being cut into individual pieces during production at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Washington November 14, 2014. (Gary Cameron/Reuters)
BEP is unusual in that it is an industrial facility, printing money, and over the years, city locations tend to be seen as not particularly good for industrial functions.
The BEP space is multi-story and firms like to manufacture on one floor, and it's a constrained location, it doesn't have any opportunity to grow out and reconfigure.
My friend says one of the reasons BEP has agitated for a suburban location is most of the people who work there live in the suburbs and drive rather than take transit to work ("New $1.4 billion Washington ‘money factory’ gets green light," Roll Call).
They've finally announced where they plan to relocate, to a site on the Beltsville Agricultural Station campus, which is north of the Greenbelt Metrorail Station ("Soon your money will be made in Maryland — literally
," WTOP radio). From the article:
The bureau is relocating from its historic building overlooking the Tidal Basin on 14th Street Southwest to unused 104-acre site at the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center that sits along Powder Mill Road — about halfway between the Baltimore-Washington Parkway and Maryland Route 201.
“The facility in Washington is more than 100 years old, very inefficient for 21st century manufacturing,” said Len Olijar, the bureau’s director.
A building that was state of the art when it opened in 1914 now “is a very challenging facility for us to produce in,” he said.
“It’s hard to maintain temperature and humidity, and both temperature and humidity affect paper significantly when you’re printing.”
It’s a result of Prince George’s County luring federal buildings and the jobs they bring in.
“It’s an enormously important project for the county,” said David Iannucci, the president and CEO of the Prince George’s County Economic Development Corporation.
“We’ll take great pride in the idea that one of the two places in the United States [where] currency is going to be printed is going to be in Prince George’s County,” said Iannucci.
He noted that it’s located not far from one of the county’s major employment corridors.
“The [nearby U.S.] Route 1 corridor right now around College Park is probably the most dynamic area in Prince George’s County in terms of job growth; the construction of new facilities, both apartments and offices; and building around the strengths of the University of Maryland,” he said.
The location will also appeal to many people who already make the trek to Southwest D.C. every day.
“Many of these employees already live in Prince George’s County,” said Iannucci. “So we’re going to offer many of them a lot simpler commute.”
Some residents aren't happy about this ("The Beltsville Agricultural Research Center is not ripe for development," Washington Post).
It appears that the actual site is about 3.5 miles from the Metrorail station, making it pretty unlikely that people will use transit to get there, even with shuttle bus services. Instead they'll drive.
While the National Capital Planning Commission, the entity responsible for planning the area's federal sites and locations (see the Federal Elements in the DC Comprehensive Land Use Plan), not limited to DC proper, has serious transportation demand management requirements for siting federal facilities, increasingly it appears that they are being ignored, and agencies are moving to sites that are poorly reached by transit.
-- The Federal Employee Transportation Coordinator's Transportation Management Plan Handbook
From the webpage for the NCPC Transportation Element Update:
The Transportation Element provides policy guidance to support a regional multimodal transportation system that promotes responsible land use and development and contributes to a high quality of life for residents, workers, and visitors, while improving regional mobility, transportation access, and environmental quality. The updated Element includes a supporting Addendum which details Transportation Demand Management and Transportation Management Plans.
I understand the manufacturing requirements for BEP and why the location in DC proper is no longer suitable. Even if it comes at the cost of DC's tourism offer ("Popular tourist stop Bureau of Engraving and Printing may move to Maryland," WTOP) and transit efficiency.
Streetcar entering Bureau of Engraving + Printing tunnel 1960.
When the area population was more concentrated, most federal workers got to work by streetcar and bus.
Negative impact on the area transit system. But at the same time, every agency that leaves DC usually does so at the expense of transit by locating in poorly connected places with limited transit service.
This will lead to a drop in ridership and revenue for Metrorail, which needs every rider and dollar it can get, and a significantly increased number of motor vehicle trips and more road congestion.
At the very least, agencies should be required to be close to transit, ideally accessible via multiple lines, and to facilitate this, the federal government should re-commit to helping fund transit extensions for both Metrorail and the "soon to be built" Purple Line light rail which will serve Montgomery and Prince George's Counties, but was also conceptualized to include Alexandria and Arlington and Fairfax Counties.
The section of the Purple Line under construction is from Bethesda to New Carrollton.
Note that I made the point that the military base consolidation process also affected the DC area negatively on this dimension, in that the process specifically disavowed responsibility for transportation and transit on the part of the federal government, despite changes that made the system less efficient ("BRAC and transit efficiency," 2009).This photo shows the results of a local business tracking how its employees get to work.
It should be required that agencies that move out of the city do before and after data collection on how people get to work.
Federal agency leakage as a DC economic development issue. This may or may not be a DC "economic development" issue. Are there opportunity costs in having federal agencies?
On the other hand losing any agency can be seen as a negative act for DC, given that DC isn't particularly successful in broadening its business sector ("Boeing to move "headquarters" to Northern Virginia," "Why Mayor Bowser is right to be leery of systematic lowering of taxes," 2015) and that central business districts because of covid are hurting big time ("To recover from COVID-19, downtowns must adapt," Brookings) and DC is no exception ("As offices stay empty, downtown D.C. looks for post-pandemic identity," Washington Post)
Because of security requirements, federal buildings tend to be anti-city because they require big setbacks and militate against mixed use, and federal employees don't spend a whole lot of money on food and sundries--consumer surveys for the Southwest DC Ecodistrict planning initiative found that about 65% of federal employees don't eat out.
I go back and forth depending on the agency. There are opportunities for larger spaces but they are not in the central business district. And actually, BEP's move could result in more space for different agencies. Similarly, the Government Printing Office wants to move too and it has a large space.
And the FBI, although they should do a "reengineering" of its staffing functions, keep headquarters personnel in the core, while perhaps other functions could move ("Maryland hopes revived for landing FBI headquarters," Maryland Daily Record).
Although it diminishes the primacy of DC as the home of the federal government, even if the Capitol, White House, and Supreme Court, agencies do, especially when anti-government types hold elective office.
For example, during the Trump Administration the USDA Economic Research Service moved to Kansas City ("After the relocation gutted their workforces, USDA research agencies struggle to rebuild," Federal News Network) and the Bureau of Land Management to Grand Junction, Colorado although under President Biden its moving back ("Interior will move BLM headquarters, senior officials back to DC," Federal News Network).
For a long time, Republicans haven't been interested in investing in agencies that are located in DC ("Consumer bureau headquarters renovation plan gets GOP flak," Los Angeles Times, "Congressional dysfunction isn't battering the Washington area economy, it's the anti-government perspective of the Republicans," 2018, "Implications of a Trump/McConnell/Ryan Administration on DC's commercial real estate market," 2016).
And as the quotes in the WTOP article indicate, suburban jurisdictions are constantly recruiting agencies that are based in DC. And they have way more Representatives and Senators than DC.
Labels: economic development, federal policies and the city, sprawl, transportation demand management