UPDATE: Developer’s Proposal Would Keep FBI Downtown, Build New Headquarters Near Union Station

A previously unreported plan by Republic Properties would allow the FBI to remain in downtown DC rather than relocating to the suburbs, answering the dreams of many FBI officials.

By: Garrett M. Graff

Amid the 35 proposals to relocate the FBI’s headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue—the area’s biggest economic development gem in years—is a surprising plan that might just keep the Bureau in downtown Washington, constructing a new building close to Union Station and answering the dreams of many senior FBI leaders.

The Union Station proposal—not previously reported—is backed by Republic Properties and renowned DC architect Arthur Cotton Moore and would provide the FBI with the full required 2.1 million square feet (2,107,242 to be exact) of new space. Republic Properties proposes to build on an empty lot—bordered by North Capitol Street, Massachusetts Avenue, Northwest, and New Jersey Avenue—currently used as parking for the Government Printing Office, which occupies the eastern portion of the block. The neighboring GPO building, which handles the printing of the Congressional Record and passports, among other projects, is underused and in need of renovation itself. Republic Properties is proposing renovations to the GPO facility, the addition of underground parking, and the construction of a new FBI headquarters.

While much of the attention around the headquarters move has focused on the suburbs—suggested sites include Springfield, Virginia, and Greenbelt, Maryland—many senior FBI officials have longed for a viable solution that would keep the Bureau’s 11,000 headquarters staff in downtown DC. The Hoover Building, built nearly 40 years ago and aging badly, has forced the FBI to split its headquarters staff across more than 20 annexes in Washington. Yet FBI officials are wary of moving to the suburbs, which would complicate relations with Congress, the White House, and especially the Department of Justice—currently just across Pennsylvania Avenue from the existing Hoover Building. FBI officials also hope to reopen its public tour, closed since 9/11, in a new headquarters, allowing the building to once again be a major stopping point for tourists.

View in a larger map.

Yet thus far there have not been many viable options that would keep the FBI downtown. The DC mayor’s office put forward a proposal to move the FBI to Poplar Point, a suggestion that frustrated developers who have hopes to turn the area along the Anacostia River into commercial and residential properties. Because the federal government already owns the Union Station land, unlike Poplar Point or the proposed area in Greenbelt, it also wouldn’t remove valuable land from the property tax rolls.

The Union Station idea appears to satisfy most concerns raised by local governments and the FBI itself: It provides easy public transportation, with the Red Line, VRE, and MARC trains all just a block and a half away; it also would allow easy access to the FBI’s huge Washington Field Office, just a couple of blocks from the new proposed building, and easy access to Capitol Hill. While one of the primary justifications for a move to the suburbs has been providing the necessary security “setbacks” for a new FBI facility, the unique geography of the Union Station plan would provide at least a 50-foot “setback” from nearby roads.

The Republic Properties’ proposal would involve constructing a 12-story building adjacent to the existing GPO facility and an underground parking garage that could accommodate up to 480 cars per level, as well as closing the neighboring block of G Street, Northwest, to public traffic. The FBI would be housed primarily in the new building and in one connecting wing of the underused historic GPO building. The GPO has occupied the property since the middle of the 19th century, and the current facility dates to 1903. At the time it was built, the neighborhood north of Union Station was known as “Swampoodle.” 

The General Services Administration, the government’s real estate agency, has said it hopes to offer the existing Hoover Building land on Pennsylvania Avenue, worth an estimated $900 million, in a trade for a developer willing to build the new headquarters elsewhere, allowing the gigantic Brutalist memorial to J. Edgar Hoover to be rebuilt as a hotel or office building.

There’s been no specific date set yet for the next phase of the GSA process for the FBI headquarters site selection.

UPDATE 04/08/13: Gary Somerset, a spokesperson for the Government Printing Office, contacted The Washingtonian to say the GPO was not aware of Republic Properties’ plan. In a statement, he said, “This is news to us. Republic Properties has not discussed this proposal with us, and GPO has no relationship with them. GPO has no plans to dispose of the property currently behind our buildings. GPO’s buildings are utilized for GPO operations supporting the information product requirements of Congress, the White House, federal agencies, and the public. Per congressional authorization, they also house elements of the US Capitol Police, the Architect of the Capitol, the Senate Sergeant at Arms, and the US Commission on International Religious Freedom.”

Click on the image to view a larger version. Image courtesy of Arthur Cotton Moore.