Sherwood's Notebook: Bye-Bye FBI? …Not Yet!

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

With all the news about the planned relocation of the FBI headquarters to the ’burbs, some of us were getting excited.

We already were imagining sipping lattes or dining al fresco at the expected spectacular commercial and residential redevelopment of the old, bulky headquarters at 9th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW.

Well, hold on.

The Brutalism dead zone will be with us a while longer. It’ll be at least a couple of years before the FBI even moves out, and longer still before any commercial redevelopment of the site occurs.

The federal General Services Administration will spend the next 18 months or so doing legally required environmental assessments of the three potential sites in the suburbs (in Greenbelt, Md., Landover, Md., and Springfield, Va.) and more time picking a developer to design and build the new headquarters with all of its security needs.

At some point the FBI will move out of its J. Edgar Hoover headquarters, and then serious moves to redevelop the downtown site will begin.

That timetable is pretty long even if nobody attempts to declare the FBI’s current site historic. That could be very time-consuming.

Is it historic? Construction on the downtown site began in 1967 and was completed in 1974 at a cost of about $130 million. The building was officially named for longtime FBI director Hoover, who died in 1972.

Various stories about the spare building note that originally it was planned to have commercial stores and other amenities, but the FBI wanted a secure headquarters, and American commerce apparently was considered too dangerous to tolerate.

After the attacks of 9/11, the FBI became even more isolated. It canceled what had been very popular public tours, especially for high school classes. Officials apparently never appreciated that the nation’s premier law enforcement agency ought to be able to reliably secure its own headquarters enough for the public to see it.

■ Historic, really? The Hoover Building routinely leads or makes any top 10 lists of ugly buildings in Washington. But sentiment can change. The best example of that is what is popularly known as the Old Executive Office Building just to the west of the White House. Its official name is the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.

The building was completed in 1888, and its French Second Empire style of architecture was almost immediately unpopular, with various calls until the 1950s for it to be remodeled or replaced. According to an official White House account, even former President Harry S. Truman in 1958 urged that the building be saved, saying it deserved to remain as “the greatest monstrosity in America.”

We’ll see if the “ugly” FBI headquarters gets any sort of reprieve.

■ D.C. happy to see FBI go? District government leaders are practically falling all over themselves proclaiming that it’s not a bad thing the FBI will be moving to the suburbs. Rather than focusing on the loss of 11,000 city jobs, leaders are salivating over the likely commercial redevelopment we mentioned at the top of column.

City officials also are glad the FBI didn’t snare the old Walter Reed site. The city anxiously wants to redevelop part of Walter Reed with housing and commercial projects. The FBI would have created another dead zone, a hyper-security compound that wouldn’t embrace any American free enterprise.

But officials in fact would have liked for the FBI to have been part of the city somewhere, maybe in the faltering Homeland Security complex at the old St. Elizabeths Hospital site in Southeast Washington.

So the District is not so much delighted the FBI is leaving town but, more likely, resigned.

■ Finally, the mayor’s race. This week is the deadline for independent candidates to file petitions to make it on the Nov. 4 ballot. It’s a big deal for independent David Catania as well as Carol Schwartz, a former council member who jumped into the race late.

Catania particularly has been keeping up a steady stream of campaign meet-and-greets and taking political shots at Democratic nominee Muriel Bowser.

Bowser declared after her April 1 primary victory that she would not debate any candidates until they formally qualify for the Nov. 4 ballot. Her campaign has said there’s no reason to help give her opponents chances to boost their own campaigns. Catania has said he’ll debate Bowser anywhere, anytime, an expected tactic by someone who is seen as trailing the front-runner.

But whatever your politics, the petition vetting process will take nearly another month, and then there won’t be any excuse for any candidate to not appear before the public that will choose the next city leader.

Tom Sherwood, a Southwest resident, is a political reporter for News 4.

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