- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 1, 2000

The Williams administration is considering what surely will turn into a hotbed of political debate: selling several prominent D.C. government buildings and generate, potentially, tens of millions of dollars in revenue. Among the sites under consideration are the Reeves municipal center at 14th and U Street N.W, the old municipal center at Third and D Street N.W. and, across the street, the pricey city hall, which is commonly referred to as Judiciary Square. All three sites are easily accessible by Metro and all three, especially the old municipal center, which houses police headquarters and motor vehicles offices, are in ideal locations for office and retail space.
&160;&160;&160;&160;&160;&160;”The concept,” Mayor Williams told The Washington Post, “is to capture the value of these buildings to help defray the cost of investing in neighborhoods to better service the community.” In other words, sell while the market is interested and deliver to depressed neighborhoods that need long-term economic development. At first blush, the idea appears a win-win situation.
&160;&160;&160;&160;&160;&160;For instance, Judiciary Square was initially leased in 1992 as a temporary home for the executive and legislative branches while the 19th century city hall underwent massive renovations. With those renovations near completion and protracted legal obligations clear, the mayor and the D.C. Council will soon return home. Obviously, then, the question is what to do with Judiciary Square.
&160;&160;&160;&160;&160;&160;An 11-story, block-long structure, Judiciary Square truly is convenient for lobbyists, activists, the media and the city employees who work there. But the lease deal was never easy to swallow, even after then-Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly and the council haggled over the agreement, whose total cost is $320 million for the building and the land over 20 years. Interest, however, was 11.5 percent, which means taxpayers pay about $9 million a year in interest alone. The city could not afford it then when it was drowning in red ink and it cannot afford it now even though financial prospects are rosier.
&160;&160;&160;&160;&160;&160;What Mr. Williams is trying to do, it appears, is sell while the D.C. market is hot and relocate government to places such as Southeast and Northeast, whose neighborhoods, for the most part, depend on mom-and-pop operations, fast-food chains and small retail outlets to generate revenue. Moreover, many of the neighborhoods in those parts of the city depend heavily on government services and public transportation, so there is no getting around the fact that selling those huge buildings and using the money to establish satellite offices could, in and of itself, improve not only the District’s financial picture but its quality of services as well.
&160;&160;&160;&160;&160;&160;That’s the theory. The reality is a little more complicated than that. Frankly, however, neither the Reeves Center, which opened in 1986, nor the other city-owned projects that were intended to spur revitalization, such as the human services offices on H Street N.E. and the Lottery Board and Taxi Commission offices on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue S.E., ignited the kind of development needed in those neighborhoods despite their proximity to Metro.
&160;&160;&160;&160;&160;&160;Serious deliberations on the sale of and construction of key city-owned office buildings are indeed warranted. The more pressing concern is whether the proposal is practical and whether it can fulfill the promise to the neighborhoods that are supposed to benefit.

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