“CEA” is the abbreviation for “Central Employment Area”. The term has significance in federal leasing dating back to August 16, 1978, when President Jimmy Carter signed Executive Order 12072. The Executive Order included a key provision that has greatly impacted the location of federal offices ever since:
Except where such selection is otherwise prohibited, the process for meeting Federal space needs in urban areas shall give first consideration to a centralized community business area and adjacent areas of similar character, including other specific areas which may be recommended by local officials.
Since then, Central Employment Areas have been defined in many major cities and GSA uses these as the common delineated search area for its office lease procurements. This is especially true in Washington, DC where – with very rare exception – every office lease procurement in the City is limited to the CEA. Over time, the CEA boundaries have expanded to include “emerging” areas of the City – such as Anacostia – that could hardly be deemed current commercial and employment centers, but City officials have designated them as areas where government occupancy would have a beneficial impact on economic development and employment opportunities.
Unfortunately, the CEA definition still seems arbitrary in many cities. Too often the definition omits areas that should logically be included, and GSA has been quick to sidestep the problem, referring requests for changes to local officials. In other instances, the delineated area is so broad that it competes very different commercial districts against one another. In the case of Washington, DC, buildings in the high density commercial core are competed equally against buildings in “frontier” development districts as both are part of the CEA. The result has been a steady exodus of federal tenants from the established (CBD and Downtown) submarkets to the emerging (NoMA and Navy Yard) submarkets. That has certainly served to seed the growth of those emerging districts, but often to the dismay of the tenants that were forced to move there.