Suburban Maryland counties, businesses join FBI frenzy -- Gazette.Net


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This story was updated on Jan. 25, 2013.

Representatives from about 20 Maryland businesses were among the 500-plus people who flooded an assembly room at the General Services Administration headquarters in Washington, D.C., one afternoon last week, all with their eyes on one prize: landing the FBI’s new headquarters.

But some also questioned the feasibility of the GSA’s hopes of exchanging the outdated J. Edgar Hoover Building in downtown Washington with developers of the new campus.

The crowd, including business executives and officials from Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, faced long wait lines and was often shuffled into an overflow room, as GSA officials dealt with greater interest than they had expected, county officials said.

Last month, the GSA released a request for information from the business community for developing a new 2.1 million-square-foot FBI headquarters within 2.5 miles of the Capital Beltway. The nation’s chief law enforcement agency is now in the Hoover building. The new complex would cost billions and employ 11,000 workers, plus contractors.

Peter Brooks of DOO Consulting was at the Jan. 17 event — dubbed FBI Headquarters Industry Day — to explore opportunities for his sustainability consulting company. Brooks referred to DOO, with offices in Bethesda and Baltimore, as the “H&R Block of the U.S. Green Building Council.”

Brooks, director of business development, said the event helped him understand the GSA is interested in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification from the Green Building Council for this project, something that was not clear in the request for information, he said.

“I left the event excited and very inspired,” he said, adding that while he wishes his company had time to show the GSA a full range of innovative sustainability options, it probably has time only to speak about the “virtues” of hiring a sustainability consultant.

The GSA wants information responses by March 4.

Brooks also lamented that businesspeople couldn’t really network at the gathering because of its crowded setup, although he appreciated the chance to meet with the officials involved. He recommended the Washington Convention Center for future presentations.

Building trade not ‘realistic’

While John Voycik, senior principal with Laurel civil engineering firm Stantec — formerly Greenhorne & O’Mara — called the event worthwhile for his company, he also is skeptical about the GSA’s aspirations. The GSA wants to swap the Hoover building with developers for the new campus, should a site be selected.

“I don’t think they’re being realistic about what the development community can do here,” Voycik said, adding that the Hoover building will probably cost developers significantly for renovations. “I don’t see a one-for-one swap.”

Voycik said he attended the event because the former Greenhorne & O’Mara has long been involved in high-profile, large federal consolidation projects and has the experience from an environmental engineering perspective to support the GSA and architects in this project.

The GSA might have to look for other ways to make this project happen, given the fiscal constraints on both the federal government and the development community, he said, and nothing major will likely happen with the project until late in the year at the earliest, he said.

On the local government side, the event highlighted the fierce competition involved in this process, said David Iannucci, assistant deputy chief administrative officer for economic development and public infrastructure for Prince George’s.

“We emerged with a renewed sense of confidence that we have the superior sites and can make the private partnerships to see this through,” he said, adding that Northern Virginia counties also are very interested.

Prince George’s has a good advantage with its available acreage, access to federal highways and public transit and available developments with the business community support for such a project, Iannucci said.

“We’re virtually convinced Montgomery County doesn’t have any sites that meet those requirements. Virginia is focusing on the Franconia-Springfield area,” he said. “Virginia is always going to be strong competition.

“Prince George’s is all in on going after the FBI headquarters,” Iannucci said, adding that the county will work with elected officials at all levels to make a strong case.

Tina Benjamin, manager of special projects for the Montgomery County Department of Economic Development, said Montgomery does not have properties that could meet the requirements, and she could not think of any specific sites that hit the exact standards, but she said the private sector might have ideas.

“There are hundreds upon hundreds of companies interested in this project. I arrived 10 minutes early and waited 20 minutes to get inside,” she said. “It was ridiculous. It’s a huge real estate deal.”

She also said GSA officials did not focus much on the request for information during the event and mainly focused on the deals it could make for redeveloping the area around the Hoover building, a prize commercial and residential neighborhood.

lrobbins@gazette.net