House Republicans once again have gone “on location” to highlight another underutilized/vacant/surplus federal property in an attempt to convince GSA to dispose of it. In yet another “Sitting on Our Assets” hearing, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure’s Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management held a field hearing this morning (Monday, June 19) at the West Heating Plant in Georgetown, which has been vacant since 2000. The subcommittee, which oversees federal buildings, previously held hearings at the Old Post Office building and the Cotton Annex to prompt action on those properties.
“The Georgetown Heating Plant is an example of an underperforming building that if sold or redeveloped to better use could provide a positive return to the taxpayer,” the subcommittee noted in its briefing memo. “While GSA is now proceeding to a sale of the facility that sat idle for 12 years, maximizing the return to the taxpayer of this high value asset is critical.”
The 2.08-acre property—which includes the 20,000-square-foot former steam-generating plant as well as four above-ground fuel storage tanks—is viewed as one of the most valuable undeveloped sites in Georgetown, despite the complex array of environmental, historic preservation, and zoning approvals that will be required for its redevelopment. Some developers have said the plant would require so much environmental remediation that it may be less expensive to tear it down and replace it with a new building than to salvage the existing structure. The Art Deco-style coal-burning plant opened in 1948 to serve a group of federal buildings in Northwest D.C.; it later was converted to burn natural gas.
The agency announced last October that it planned to sell the plant, located at 1051 29th Street, N.W., this summer, and recently posted some basic information about the property—along with a “Coming Soon” banner—on GSA’s real estate auction site. Today’s hearing featured testimony from Flavio Peres, deputy assistant commissioner of real property utilization and disposal for GSA’s Public Buildings Service, who testified that the plant is on the market and will be sold via an online auction that will commence this September.
Representatives John Mica (R-Fla.), who chairs the committee, and Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), who chairs the subcommittee, said they were not convinced that GSA is moving quickly enough, particularly since the government has spent an estimated $3.5 million to maintain the building during the past decade. Peres admitted, in response to a question from Mica, that the “for sale” sign on the building was posted only “yesterday afternoon.” “It just doesn’t seem like anyone is minding the store,” Mica commented, while Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) noted that the GSA’s apparent reluctance to move more quickly in selling the heating plant also has been evident at other federal properties in the city, including a Secret Service building at 9th and H Streets, N.W., and a warehouse at 49 L Street, S.E., near Nationals Park.
Peres stated that GSA expects to get fair market value for the Georgetown property, and stressed that the agency is seeking “national and international feedback” from potential buyers.
Denham said the subcommittee will consider holding additional on-site field hearings at other federally owned vacant properties around the country until GSA begins to work more actively to dispose of them. “The job is not getting done,” he added. In GSA’s defense, Flores noted in his written testimony that over the past ten years the agency has “disposed of over 280 GSA assets, valued at $260.5 million” and that it has “saved more than $300 million, as part of the $3 billion goal outlined in the June 2010 Presidential Memorandum, ‘Disposing of Unneeded Federal Real Estate.’”