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Don Peebles: Trump Will Take Active Role In FBI HQ Decision

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New York developer Don Peebles, a longtime colleague of Donald Trump who met with the president-elect last month, said he thinks the multibillion-dollar FBI HQ decision will reach Trump's desk.

Don Peebles: Trump Will Take Active Role In FBI HQ Decision

Peebles told Bisnow he and Trump discussed the GSA, the agency that controls the federal government's real estate, during their meeting.

The relocation of the FBI HQ — which has been narrowed down to three sites in Greenbelt and Landover, MD, and Springfield, VA — will be one of the biggest decisions the GSA has to make during Trump's term. The selection announcement had been scheduled to come in late 2016 but was then pushed back to March.

While Peebles expects Trump to generally take a hands-off approach to the agency's activities, he thinks major decisions like the FBI HQ will reach the president's desk.

The relocation will likely include a swap with a developer to build on the Hoover Building site on Pennsylvania Avenue (below). Trump still holds the majority interest in the Old Post Office building hotel he redeveloped across the street, which presents one of the developer's most clear-cut conflicts of interest, but his ability to sway the FBI decision could present more problems.

Two of the New York-based developers bidding on the projects have deep ties with the president-elect. Unless Trump divests from the hotel, as ethics watchdogs in and out of government have urged him to do, the selection of the developer of the Hoover Building will have a direct impact on his finances.

FBI Hoover

Peebles had no indication of which site Trump prefers, but he believes he will make the selection less political than the Obama administration would have.

"I don’t think the politics are going to go into his decision," Peebles said. "I think the way he’s going to govern is based on what makes a prudent decision."

Trump has yet to appoint an administrator for the GSA, which is not one of his biggest posts to fill, but is one that Peebles said is on the president-elect's mind as a real estate person.

"They are the biggest tenant in the DC Metro area with a lot coming up, that’s going to be a key," Peebles said. "Given his knowledge of real estate and his whole adult career, I think he’ll bring a talented team."

Don Peebles: Trump Will Take Active Role In FBI HQ Decision

In addition to touching on the GSA, Peebles said his meeting with Trump included personal conversation and a discussion of how to improve economic opportunity for African-Americans. He described Trump as laid back during the meeting and said he was surprised at how many questions Trump asked him and how receptive he seemed. 

Peebles, who is considering a run for New York City mayor, remained neutral during the presidential campaign and would not disclose for whom he voted. 

He said Trump's experience as a real estate CEO makes him well equipped for the Oval Office, since development heads need to be versed on a wide range of topics but can delegate minute details to subject matter experts.

"As a real estate developer, a Trump presidency makes me optimistic," Peebles, pictured at a Bisnow event with his son Donahue in 2015, said. "For the first time we have a president that understands our business. ... Trump will be the best president the real estate industry has ever had."

The policy change he said Trump could make that would benefit the real estate industry the most would be financial regulatory reform, plus the possibility of a boost in infrastructure spending. 

He praised Trump's pick for Housing and Urban Development secretary, Dr. Ben Carson, and said he thinks people are underestimating him. 

"If you think of other HUD secretaries, more often than not they don’t have real estate experience," Peebles said. "He’s a visionary person, but one who’s focused on implementation, and I think Trump will surround him with capable assistant secretaries. I think that will prove to be a good pick." 

Peebles will discuss his outlook on the Trump administration at Bisnow's Economic and Political Forecast event at The Watergate Hotel on Jan. 12.