Prince George's County came out strong this week with private- and public-sector support as the search for new FBI headquarters was announced Monday.
In neighboring Montgomery County, meanwhile, the General Services Administration’s announcement sparked a more muted response.
With both jobs and prestige at stake, both counties are mustering their forces to lure the FBI headquarters from Washington, D.C., and fend off potential bids from Northern Virginia.
“This is the largest economic development opportunity to present itself,” said David Iannucci, assistant deputy chief administrative officer for economic development and public infrastructure for the county. “It would be a multibillion-dollar construction process, with thousands of jobs.”
The GSA issued a request for information from parties for a new 2.1 million-square-foot location for the FBI headquarters, now in the J. Edgar Hoover Building in downtown Washington. In Maryland, the request specifies Prince George’s and Montgomery as possible host jurisidictions. The request comes just more than a year after a Government Accountability Office report determined that the federal law enforcement agency would be better off with a new building instead of renovating the existing one.
The current location could be part of a swap for a new site; District officials see the area as ripe for upscale commercial development.
“This is a once-in-a-generation federal relocation opportunity. My administration has aggressively pursued this and intends to continue its aggressive pursuit of this opportunity,” Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) said in a statement.
Steven A. Silverman, director of Montgomery County’s economic development department, called the project a "huge boost for any local economy."
"Of course we're interested," Silverman said, adding that the county's current focus is finding available land. "Other jurisdictions being more vocal should not be indicative of a lack of interest on our part."
Northern Virginia, home to the Pentagon, CIA and other federal agencies, also has been eyeing the project since early last year, when the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors adopted a resolution urging its congressional delegation to pursue it.
The jurisdiction that lands the new headquarters stands to gain 11,000 direct employees and thousands more in supporting private contractors, Iannucci said.
“What is critical is that we have the unified leadership of our congressional delegation,” he said. “Virginia is very good at what they do. We’ll need to work closely together to make this happen.”
U.S. Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski (D) of Baltimore and Benjamin L. Cardin (D) of Pikesville, House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Dist. 5) of Mechanicsville and Rep. Donna F. Edwards (D-Dist. 4) of Fort Washington have all announced their support for Prince George’s landing the project. Silverman said Wednesday he was not aware of that statement until informed by a reporter and had no comment on it.
He said that Montgomery officials have been working with the development community to identify potential sites, although they are still at the "beginning of the process." He said Montgomery has been looking at this possibility for the better part of the year.
"When they're putting 2 million square feet out there and doing it regionally, everyone's interested. We don't do too much regionally, so it's very unusual," he said, adding that it makes the most sense from the GSA's perspective to issue a regional request.
Silverman said Montgomery officials had not met with the GSA or FBI as of Wednesday, as they had been waiting to see how the process played itself out first, in terms of the GSA issuing a request. He said Montgomery had no specifics on site possibilities yet.
‘Shot in the arm’
“It will improve the county and state image and the area,” said Larry Hogan, president of the Hogan Cos., a real estate and development company in Annapolis that started in Prince George’s. “We definitely need the jobs.”
Hogan — whose company recently purchased the 759-acre Smith Home Farm development in Upper Marlboro, which is the largest piece of the Westphalia mixed-use project — said the FBI headquarters could help offset the state’s recent losses in small businesses, Fortune 500 companies and their associated jobs.
“We really need this shot in the arm,” he said.
Hogan emphasized the availability of “cost-effective” land in Prince George’s, especially the areas near Metrorail stations.
“It’s more bang for your buck,” he said.
Prince George’s officials have been inviting developers to submit proposals and are looking at about eight sites, including ones in Greenbelt, Landover and near Branch Avenue, Iannucci said. Aubrey Thagard, the county’s assistant deputy chief administrative officer for economic development and public infrastructure, has led a team focused on the issue for the last year, he said. The team has written to the FBI director, requested meetings with FBI officials, talked to consultants and developers, and kept in contact with the GSA.
“I’m just coming back from a meeting with a likely bidder,” Iannucci said Tuesday.
The project would herald in needed economic development for Prince George’s, said M.H. Jim Estepp, president and CEO of the Greater Prince George’s Business Roundtable. He said it could lead to more housing development for employees who choose to live close by and retail development to support them. Estepp also spoke of the potential for collaborations with the University of Maryland, College Park.
“It’s time we got our fair share in the county. We’ve been playing by the rules,” Estepp said. “It seems things always drift to Virginia or elsewhere even though the prices are higher there.”
The FBI headquarters would complement Prince George’s existing projects such as National Harbor in Oxon Hill, M Square Research Park in College Park and Joint Base Andrews in Camp Springs, he said.
“We would prefer to see something in the private sector,” Estepp said. “I commend the county executive on developing a package to help make this the spot selected.”
With all the county’s assets, a congressional examination of the process might be warranted if another jurisdiction is selected, he said.
For years, Prince George’s has tried to land more state and federal agencies; many residents commute out of the county for work.
The county is home to 25 percent of the region’s federal workforce but less than 4 percent of the Washington region’s leased federal government space, Baker said.
Among the federal agencies now in Prince George's are the Census Bureau in Suitland, which employs 4,285 people; the Internal Revenue Service in Lanham, with 5,539 employees; and the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition in College Park, which employs 698.
Montgomery County is home to such federal giants as the Food and Drug Administration in Silver Spring, with 5,745 employees; the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, with 14,261; the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Silver Spring, 2,550; and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in Rockville, 2,391.
The GSA wants information from interested developers by March 4.