- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 8, 2000

The Newseum and the Freedom Forum will move to downtown D.C. by 2003, unless the D.C. Council rejects a proposal by Mayor Anthony A. Williams to cut through red tape that could delay the move.

Mr. Williams endorsed the Freedom Forum's $100 million plan to move its headquarters and the Newseum from Arlington, Va., to the District yesterday and urged the council to close the deal soon.

He called the deal an "extraordinary opportunity" for the District and said it shows the city can cut through red tape that frequently delays big development projects.

"We have attracted a world-class institution," the mayor said.

The Freedom Forum announced last month it would pay the city $75 million for the property at Pennsylvania Avenue and Sixth Street NW that now houses the D.C. Department of Employment Services (DOES).

The private, nonprofit organization said it would use the site to build an expanded headquarters and Newseum, the fast-growing journalism history and current events museum it operates.

The group said it would give the city an extra $25 million to develop affordable housing if officials approve the deal this year. Freedom Forum officials said they want to move before their lease in Arlington expires in 2003.

Mr. Williams said the city can avoid one regulatory hurdle by not soliciting bids for the site, a process often done when the District sells property.

But he said only the City Council can approve selling the building through a "sole-source contract."

The mayor also said he has received approval to sell the site from the U.S. General Services Administration, the agency that manages federal property and owns 67 percent of the DOES building. The agency approved the deal 18 business days after it was announced.

GSA would retain its ownership stake in the property once the District sells its portion, Mr. Williams said.

The D.C. Council must approve the sale. At a press conference yesterday in the DOES building's lobby, Mr. Williams urged the council to approve the deal swiftly.

A spokesman for council Chairman Linda W. Cropp said yesterday most council members believe the Freedom Forum is giving the city a good deal but stressed that the council won't consider its details until it reconvenes in September.

The property has been assessed at $44 million. If the Freedom Forum's purchase is approved, it would be the most expensive real-estate deal in D.C. history, officials said.

Several developers who have coveted the property for years have urged the city to accept the deal. Last month, the Downtown Development Roundtable, a group of prominent D.C. developers, wrote to Mr. Williams and asked him to proceed with the sale.

Robert O. Carr, president of urban development for CarrAmerica, said the Freedom Forum's plan "is just so unquestionably superior" to what a private developer could offer the city.

The Freedom Forum plan calls for 300,000 square feet of museum and office space, as well as a conference center, a restaurant and 100 condominiums.

Charles L. Overby, the group's chairman and chief executive, said a downtown location would make the Newseum more accessible to tourists, adding that "being located between the White House and the Capitol is a terrific place for the fourth estate to be."

A spokeswoman for Mr. Williams said the city will decide in September where to move the D.C. Department of Employment Services.

The department, which administers job-training programs for city residents, employs about 700 workers at locations throughout the District, including 400 employees at the site on Pennsylvania Avenue.

The city may consolidate some of its offices at the department's new headquarters when it is built, the spokeswoman said.

Eric W. Price, deputy mayor for economic development, said the administration is still considering how to best use the $25 million housing grant.

He said an announcement may be made in September.

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