News & Politics

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.

An architect's rendering shows what a proposed new FBI headquarters might look like on land now used as a parking lot by the Government Printing Office. Image courtesy of Arthur Cotton Moore.

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.

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.