- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Old Post Office Pavilion at 12th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW was singled out as an example of government underutilization of public buildings in a congressional hearing last week.

The General Services Administration (GSA) purchased the lease on the Old Post Office for $7.1 million in 2001 with a plan of reviving it from a second-string mall, tourist attraction and offices for small government agencies.

Since then, little has changed.

The GSA has entertained plans to turn it into a museum, hotel or office building, but they have not progressed beyond plans.

It generated $5.4 million in rent last year for the government. However, the GSA — the federal government’s manager of public buildings and leases — spent $11.9 million on upkeep and administrative expenses.

“I’m tired of sitting on our assets and not realizing their full potential,” said Rep. John L. Mica, a Florida Republican and ex officio member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee on economic development, public buildings and emergency management. “The Old Post Office building is a valuable public asset in the heart of our nation’s capital. This is an economic development opportunity that can provide jobs and get a return for the taxpayer.”

The building opened in 1899 as the District’s main post office and narrowly missed the wrecking ball several times in the past century. Now, it is treasured by historical preservationists for its 19th-century architecture, which includes a 315-foot-high clock tower that was considered a skyscraper when it was built. The building was placed on the Historic Register in 1973.

The subcommittee is considering legislation introduced in January by Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s Democratic nonvoting delegate to Congress, that would authorize the GSA to participate in a public-private partnership to redevelop the Old Post Office with private funding.

Its location, covering a full city block in Federal Triangle, close to federal government buildings, the District’s prime office locations and a Metro station, make it an attractive target for developers.

A major obstacle to redevelopment has been the 19th-century design, which made it unusable for anything significant other than a post office.

“During decades of underutilization, the GSA has attempted to make the space suitable for office space, but its huge, cavernous central area and the narrow shelf that surround the atrium can accommodate only a few very small agencies,” said Mrs. Norton, the subcommittee’s chairman.

The building appears to need a major renovation to accommodate private uses, such as a hotel, Mrs. Norton said.

The GSA published a Request for Expression of Interest to private developers in 2005. The GSA received 20 responses from reputable developers, many envisioning a mixed-use design.

However, the price is high.

“As last estimated in 2007, it would cost well over $100 million to modernize the Old Post Office,” David L. Winstead, GSA’s commissioner of the public building service, testified to Congress last week.

Property Lines runs on Thursdays. Call Tom Ramstack at 202/636-3180 or e-mail tramstack@washington times.com.

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