FBI HQ Selection Expected Soon, And Prince George's Officials Are Hopeful For 'Transformational' Win
David Iannucci recalls the moment in 2017 he learned that the General Services Administration was calling a meeting to cancel its FBI headquarters relocation search. The head of the Prince George's County Economic Development Corp. jumped in a car with then-County Executive Rushern Baker and rushed to Capitol Hill for a "packed" meeting.
"I wondered if I jumped out at 60 miles an hour how badly I was gonna be hurt," Iannucci said. "We just couldn't believe this was really happening."
The prospect of losing out on a development expected to total well over 1M SF and bring 7,500 new jobs means a lot to Iannucci and other county and state leaders, who believe Prince George's County is overdue in receiving the kind of investment from the federal government that has historically passed the county by.
Five years on from that tense drive, the FBI has restarted the search and is expected to pick one of three sites for its new headquarters this fall.
Prince George's County is the site of two of three locations on the shortlist for the FBI's new headquarters. If either of the two sites — in Landover and Greenbelt — is selected, it would be "transformational" for the region, Maryland leaders across all levels of government say.
"Getting a big federal job center like the FBI in Prince George's County would be our opportunity to really introduce that kind of growth on this side of the Beltway," said Angie Rodgers, deputy director of economic development in Prince George's County. "Something of that magnitude, with that number of jobs, will really be transformational for us."
Iannucci has stuck with the tortured process to find a replacement for Downtown D.C.’s J. Edgar Hoover building through three presidential administrations.
The headquarters search began over a decade ago, only for the General Services Administration under former President Donald Trump's administration to decide instead that the FBI would redevelop the site of its current headquarters and remain in place.
Congress prevented the GSA from funding the new plan, which Iannucci said would have been much more costly than selling the site to private developers and moving the FBI to the suburbs.
"There are literally reams of reports that were in existence at that time that said the worst decision, the most costly decision, the least secure decision was to go on that site," Iannucci said. "It was contrary to every piece of paper that had been written about the Hoover Building."
The Biden administration formally restarted the search earlier this year, and in June, Maryland Rep. and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer led a successful push to secure $500M in funding for the project in the fiscal year 2023 budget.
Though a decision hasn't been made, experts believe the GSA will demolish the J. Edgar Hoover building and sell all or part of the land, roughly two blocks of prime real estate along Pennsylvania Avenue, to private developers. The sale could generate millions for the GSA, which would reinvest that sum in the new FBI headquarters.
In its most recent prospectus, the GSA signaled it intends to keep about 750 personnel in D.C. to remain close to Capitol Hill while moving the bulk of its headquarters workers, about 7,500 people, to the new suburban facility.
Maryland has remained steadfast in its pitch to provide major funding for the headquarters should it relocate to Prince George's County. The state has earmarked roughly $200M over the next two fiscal years toward infrastructure improvements related to either site in order to reduce friction for the development.
The county has also been working to advance transit and development in the region, taking lessons learned from plans to add density around FedEx Field in Landover and the New Carrollton Metro station, where the IRS opened a major office facility in the 1990s.
"We think of infrastructure in terms of its ability to unlock the potential for private development,” Rodgers said. “To be able to come in and make those kinds of investments upfront … we hope unlocks not only the potential for the FBI to locate at a Maryland site, but also then it helps along the other private development that we think will follow."
What's more, county leaders say locating the FBI headquarters in Prince George's County would show the region that the GSA is putting weight behind its statements about equity and sustainability.
Despite being home to some of the wealthiest Black communities in the country, Prince George’s County ranks 107th of the 150 largest counties in the United States in terms of economic mobility, compared to second for Fairfax County and 12th for Montgomery County, according to a report from Connected DMV.
“We have seen this growth on the west side of the Beltway in majority-White communities, whereas Prince George's County, majority-African American, has never gotten to experience that kind of growth,” Rodgers said.
That's not an accident, Rodgers said, but rather the product of repeated decisions by the federal government to locate agencies like the National Institute of Standards and Technology, National Institutes of Health and others in different, Whiter suburbs of Washington, D.C., bringing with them the attendant government contractors and residents that fuel economic development.
"I want people to also start comparing what [Prince George’s County’s] income and wealth looks like compared to a Fairfax and a Montgomery County,” Rodgers said. “The story is drastically different, and a lot of it is driven by those decisions of where we catalyze economic growth, which is where we decide to place major federal jobs centers in this region."
Not everyone thinks the equity argument holds weight with the federal government. Cushman & Wakefield Executive Vice Chair Darian LeBlanc, who leads the brokerage's government services group, said he was doubtful the equity pitch held much weight, despite receiving support from Reps. Anthony Brown and Kweisi Mfume and County Executive Angela Alsobrooks.
"I’m a Black guy ... but in my personal opinion, placing that towards the top of a rationale for the location of the FBI headquarters should be a secondary consideration, sort of in the category of a ‘nice-to-have,’" LeBlanc said.
The broker said each of the three finalists for the headquarters had its own problems. Greenbelt's site, currently a parking lot for the Metro station, isn't the ideal shape or size, while the site of the former Landover Mall isn't particularly close to a Metro station at all, LeBlanc said.
Meanwhile, the Springfield site is being used by the CIA, and Virginia has said it would help find an alternative location for that facility should the FBI choose its proposal.
"Purely if you place odds on the site, I would say there’s a 60%-plus chance that it would end up in Prince George’s County," LeBlanc said. "I think the jury is still very much out."
Prince George's County leaders say equity is just one piece of a broader pitch that they think surpasses that of Springfield. They say their proposals provide quicker time to occupancy and lower costs, and the Greenbelt site, in particular, would encourage higher Metro ridership, a more sustainable option that would prevent adding traffic to the congested Beltway during rush hour.
Ultimately, the decision is motivated by the need to find a new, secure home for the FBI's workforce after it had been forced to work in a building that is literally crumbling, Iannucci said. But to Maryland leaders, the selection of Prince George's County would be a spark that could ignite a new era of economic development in the region.
"Rebalancing the federal jobs portfolio, is it good for Prince George's? Of course, that's why we're pushing it,” Rodgers said. “But it is also good for the region."