It’s difficult to find a fan of the J. Edgar Hoover Building, the FBI’s headquarters at 935 Pennsylvania Ave. NW.
The FBI and the U.S. General Service Administration consider the building functionally inadequate and in a poor state of repair. Its lack of space scatters the bureau’s staff in costly and inconvenient satellite offices, and its downtown location is considered vulnerable to an attack.
Meanwhile, the District government and local developers see a dead zone in the heart of a vibrant neighborhood. Big, unwelcoming and closed to the public, the Hoover Building is an unsightly impediment that occupies nearly two city blocks.
We don’t see a compelling argument against a new headquarters location. Under land-swap agreements, private developers were competing to help pay for a new FBI headquarters in exchange for rights to the old property. The deal would provide a modern, secure and generally more appropriate facility for the FBI and a better use of prime Penn Quarter real estate — all while minimizing the cost to the country’s taxpayers.
Alas, any such deal is dead for now. Amid uncertainty over funding allocations, the General Services Administration last month decided to essentially scrap all the efforts made thus far, both by government staff and the development community. There’s no winner under this scenario.
We can only hope now that the process can resume. Perhaps now that we’re under a different presidential administration, the FBI will even remain in D.C., as part of the planned Poplar Point redevelopment that would sit across the Anacostia River from the flourishing Navy Yard area. While prior decision-makers rejected the site as too small to cost-effectively accommodate the FBI’s needs, we hope that this centrally located, federally owned and Metro-accessible parcel will now attract interest — potentially providing an economic boost to Ward 8. We commend Ward 2 D.C. Council member Jack Evans for raising this site again with the White House.
But even if the new headquarters ends up out in the suburbs, we are still eager to see the process move forward. Redeveloping the Hoover Building as a vibrant mixed-use project will help address the District’s surging demand for residential, office and retail space in walkable neighborhoods, and it can convert a prominent eyesore into an amenity for locals and visitors alike.