Monday, May 23, 2005

Walter Reed Army Medical Center is likely to become the offices of a federal agency, such as the Department of Homeland Security, under procedures that the U.S. Army plans to follow to dispose of the property.

“I think the fact that it would be well-secured and set back from the road are certainly valuable assets for that kind of a federal agency,” said Sandy Paul, vice president of Delta Associates, an Alexandria real estate research firm. “I’m not going to say it would be perfect, but I think it would be considered.”

Homeland Security’s operations have been spread among federal agencies throughout the area since Congress created the department after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. A former naval base called the Nebraska Avenue Complex, near American University, is serving as its headquarters.

“The Department of Homeland Security will remain at the Nebraska Avenue Complex for the foreseeable future,” agency spokeswoman Valerie Smith said.

Under realignment procedures, Walter Reed would have to be closed within six years.

If no federal agency claims the site, the 113-acre campus would be turned over to the District for charitable purposes, which real estate executives said would be unlikely because of its value for urban development.

A final option is to sell the property to private developers or the District.

Walter Reed would be consolidated into the planned Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on the grounds of the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda under a Defense Department plan announced last week to close or reduce 62 military bases and “realign” hundreds of other facilities.

“It’s like any federal property — it’s offered up to federal agencies first,” said Glenn Flood, Defense Department spokesman.

If Homeland Security takes the property, it would end several years of speculation over whether the agency would move to the campus of St. Elizabeths Hospital or a new site that would be built in Northern Virginia.

“Homeland Security has been thinking about consolidating at some point in the future,” said Joe Delogu, director of the federal services group for Spaulding & Slye/Colliers, a Washington real estate services firm. “Walter Reed could present a unique opportunity for a group like that.”

Behind its iron bars, the Walter Reed campus features the main hospital, a military barracks, the National Museum of Health and Medicine, a hotel, more than a dozen brick support buildings and open space with trails and trees.

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams told editors and reporters at The Washington Times last week that it would be “good to have a federal presence on that site.”

He also said he would be interested in using the hospital campus as a “mixed-use, multipurpose site.”

However, he said any decisions on using the property depend on the Base Realignment and Closure Commission, which is scheduled to give its assessment of the Defense Department’s recommendations to President Bush by Sept. 8.

Mr. Bush is supposed to accept or reject the recommendations by Sept. 23. If he accepts them, Congress could modify them before the Army disposes of any property.

“We’re really early in the process,” Mr. Williams said.

The Army plans to follow procedures similar to the General Services Administration in disposing of the property, Mr. Flood said.

First, a notice would be published in the Federal Register giving federal agencies an opportunity to claim it.

If no federal agency wants the property, the District would get the next chance for ownership.

The 1987 McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act would require that the District get an opportunity to use it for charitable purposes.

Title V of the act says federal agencies must make “surplus federal property,” such as buildings and land, available to states, local governments and nonprofit agencies to assist homeless people.

They also could use it for other charitable purposes.

If the District fails to find a worthwhile function for the campus, the Army could seek bidders to buy it at fair-market value. The bidders could include private developers.

“Within six years, it has to be done,” Mr. Flood said. “We don’t want to be a landlord of vacant property.”

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