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Virginia, FBI Leaders Cry Foul On HQ Decision As Maryland Cheers 'Historic' Win

The federal government has finally made the decision to move the FBI out of downtown D.C. to the Maryland suburbs, the result of an interstate tug of war that spanned a decade, three presidential administrations, and several stops and starts.

But the start of construction is still years away, and Virginia lawmakers and the FBI itself are already publicly castigating the decision and pushing for a reversal.

The FBI's J. Edgar Hoover Building headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue.

FBI Director Christopher Wray sent an email to staff Thursday telling them a three-person panel unanimously favored a site in Springfield, Virginia, due to its proximity to FBI facilities in Quantico, The Washington Post reported Thursday

The Post also reported Wray sent a letter last month to leadership of the General Services Administration, the federal government's real estate arm, calling on the agency to scrap its decision and restart the process. Wray reportedly raised concerns that the official leading the process overruled the site selection panel that recommended Springfield and awarded the headquarters to Greenbelt instead.

The accusation raised the ire of Virginia's governor and congressional delegation, who sent out a joint statement Thursday afternoon calling the site selection process "tainted."

The GSA released a statement Thursday defending its process, saying it worked to incorporate the FBI’s feedback and address the agency’s concerns. 

“GSA and FBI teams have spent countless hours working closely together over many months, so we’re disappointed that the FBI Director is now making inaccurate claims directed at our agency, our employees, and our site selection plan and process,” GSA Administrator Robin Carnahan said in a statement. 

“Any suggestion that there was inappropriate interference is unfounded. The choice of Greenbelt, Maryland, is fully consistent with the decision-making process as well as all laws, regulations, and ethical considerations. We stand behind the process, the decision, and all of the public servants who carefully followed the process and made a good decision on behalf of the FBI and the public.”

How this dispute between agencies will play out remains uncertain, but one veteran government leasing broker, Cushman & Wakefield Vice Chairman Darian LeBlanc, said he expects the GSA’s decision to stand and the project to move forward in Greenbelt. 

“If I had a dollar for every time an agency didn't like a site GSA selected for them, I could retire,” LeBlanc said. “There’s always dissent, and GSA usually gets its way. They’re the real estate branch for the federal government, and they’re empowered to make those decisions.

“Ultimately, Christopher Wray works for the administration. I don’t think GSA would have made this announcement as publicly as they have unless the administration was prepared to defend its decision.”

But Prince George's County officials were jubilant Thursday morning upon news of the announcement, highlighting it as a historic move that would advance equity and economic development in a majority-Black county they say hasn't benefited as much from federal investment as its D.C. and Northern Virginia counterparts. 

“This decision will bring generational transformation and investment for Prince George’s County and the State of Maryland, because large federal job centers have driven job and income growth in our region,” Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks said in a statement. 

Prince George's County Economic Development Corp. President David Iannucci told Bisnow it was a “historic moment” that would change the brand of the county. 

“This is a really important breakthrough in the federal government recognizing its obligation to the region as a whole to spread more federal resources more equitably and to be consistent with President Biden's executive orders on the allocation of federal resources in underserved communities,” Iannucci said. 

The development site totals 61 undeveloped acres adjacent to the Greenbelt Metro station, the terminus of the Green Line. It is near the University of Maryland's flagship College Park campus and the Discovery District, a science-and-technology-focused neighborhood that houses offices for companies like IonQ, Adobe and Raytheon, and some federal agency offices. 

The Greenbelt site is owned by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority and the state of Maryland. Last September, WMATA's board approved measures that would allow it to negotiate a noncompetitive joint development agreement with the GSA for 40 acres of the site to serve as the FBI location. The board also planned to redevelop 14 of the other acres into a mixed-use neighborhood. 

A conceptual site plan of the FBI headquarters proposal in Greenbelt from a past GSA report.

Ken Ulman, the former Howard County executive and candidate for lieutenant governor who for the last several years has spearheaded development efforts in College Park, said he expects the FBI headquarters to have a domino effect in the region.

“We don’t know exactly what it will be, but we know that it will be significant,” he said. 

“It's another reason for companies, other government agencies, nonprofits to want to locate here in our Discovery District and nearby in Prince George's County,” he added. “It also, frankly, just brings more people, and with more people means, you know, a more vibrant community.”

Ulman said he is seeing the business effects already. He had a meeting scheduled Thursday morning with a large government contractor that already has a “significant presence in the region.” Upon hearing the FBI news, the contractor began discussing possibilities for relocating a group that contracts with the FBI to the area.

“We were meeting with them on a broader collaboration and kind of showing them what we're doing here in our Discovery District, and immediately they flagged their work — they probably have contracts supporting large federal agencies — and they immediately flagged what they do and support the FBI,” he said.

“So yeah, whether or not that specific company locates jobs here, we don't know, but there's going to be a lot of those similar conversations over the next year or two years. I mean, this is going to take a long time to build out, but this is when the conversations start about these opportunities.”

Florida-based Morning Calm Management owns the 50-acre Capitol Office Park a mile away from the proposed FBI development, a site it purchased in 2016 for $49M. 

CEO Mukang Cho told Bisnow that Morning Calm plans to convert a portion of the property to residential and keep some as office. While he said the recent FBI news doesn’t change his company’s immediate thinking about its investment, he believes it will grow his existing property value and lure more businesses to the area. 

“A lot of businesses and organizations that transact or have a relationship with really any branch of federal government, you can imagine that there will be folks looking to be more proximate to the headquarters,” Cho said.