Why Prince George’s County Won’t Improve It’s Share of GSA Leasing Anytime Soon

6505 Belcrest Road, a short walk from the Prince George’s Plaza Metro Station.

Prince George’s County leaders and their Congressional representatives have long complained that they have been spurned by the GSA. As evidence, they point to a 2007 University of Maryland report, which determined that the County is home to only 3.9% of the office space leased by GSA in the National Capital region. This, despite the fact that 25.7% of the federal workforce actually resides in the County. If anything, that ratio will get a bit worse in light of the recent Financial Management Service announcement that it will move 450 federal jobs from Hyattsville, MD to Parkersburg, WV, as part of its merger with the Bureau of Public Debt.

The County keeps wanting and waiting but the GSA isn’t coming, and here’s why: the County doesn’t offer large blocks of available office space–not the kind GSA is looking for.

GSA’s emphasis on sustainability has ramped up significantly in recent years, first in response to the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 and later to accommodate presidential edicts outlined in Executive Order 13514, which directs federal agencies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and “ensuring that planning for new Federal facilities or new leases includes consideration of sites that are pedestrian friendly, near existing employment centers, and accessible to public transit”.  The resulting policy implemented by GSA has been to locate offices within a 1/2-mile walkable distance to Metrorail Stations. In some instances, GSA has stretched this–up to 3 miles, or even 5 miles (in the case of the Fish and Wildlife Procurement underway in Virginia)–particularly for larger requirements, and also where security standoff and fenced sites are required. But these are increasingly rare. The GSA, by and large, chooses to be within walking distance of Metrorail Stations, and Prince Georges County simply does not offer much office space near Metro.

This is a fundamental planning problem for the County. Compare Prince Georges to downtown Washington, DC, Arlington or Alexandria where, by design, commercial development is packed tightly around Metro nodes. Even in areas of Fairfax County such as Tysons Corner or areas of Montgomery County such as Bethesda, Silver Spring, Twinbrook and White Flint there are literally millions of square feet of office space, with plenty of availability near Metrorail.

We ran a Costar survey of 50,000+ square foot, contiguous blocks of available office space and found that throughout the Washington, DC region there were roughly 135 options available within 1/2 mile of an existing or soon-to-be built Metro stations (and with BRAC vacancies beginning to open up, Northern Virginia will offer even more over the next year). Only two of those were located in Prince Georges County. Two. Ironically, both were in the same Hyattsville office complex that the Financial Management Service is slated to vacate.

Therefore, Prince George’s can really only hope to compete for large build-to-suit transactions and in the current budgetary environment those have largely gone the way of the Dodo.  Given the looming fiscal cliff, Congress’ inability to appropriate a budget and a bi-partisan view that the federal inventory must not grow, new construction is destined to become a true rarity.

If the County really wants to attract federal tenants, it must provide space that the Government can actually occupy immediately.  That means good quality space proximate to Metrorail.  If the County builds that, perhaps they will come.  Otherwise, the waiting will continue.

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