Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Years Late, Old Post Office May Deliver


President George Bush has signed a bill into law that seems to finally set in motion the redevelopment of the Old Post Office building at 1100 Pennsylvania Avenue, in downtown DC's Federal Triangle. The law specifically encourages the General Services Administration (GSA) to develop the building upon authority it received back in 2001, but which the GSA failed to implement.

The federal law specifically faults the GSA, given authority to redevelop the building in 2001, for dallying to produce its 2004 Request for Expressions of Interest, a document which generated substantial buzz and private sector feedback at the time, but which the GSA miscarried, leaving it unchanged. GSA could not be reached for comment.

GSA and the Office of Management and Budget had been evaluating redevelopment options for the famed edifice on Pennsylvania Avenue for a number of years. Federal Triangle’s Old Post Office was the largest government building and the first steel-framed building in the capital when initially built as the headquarters of the Post Office Department in an attempt to revitalize the surrounding neighborhood.

Complete demolition is not a threat as it was after WWII, but under the National Historic Preservation Act the government space can be leased to private tenants, providing endless possible uses for the building. In the 80’s, the GSA tried to take advantage of this by creating retail space on the first two floors, a project that has since proved financially unsuccessful. Congress suggested that the use of the lower level space not be predetermined, but rather this redevelopment project to be used as an opportunity for developers to submit unique ideas for the building – with the stipulation that any changes made to the inside of the building during redevelopment be reversible.

The bill calls for the facility to put to a better use than its’ current incarnation as the home of a food court and a dwindling number of government offices. This would mark the first step towards the realization of one of the key tenets of the National Framework Plan (which DC Mud reported on last Friday). Specifically, the Plan calls for the 109-year-old historic building to be incorporated into the grounds of a new, mixed-use development that would stretch from 9th Street to 12th Street NW. How this would affect any current tenants remains to be seen. The GSA is given specific authority to move the current federal tenants into other buildings.

The speed of the redevelopment does seem a bit, well, postal, given that the idea was initially put forth…wait for it…44 years ago. The Pennsylvania Avenue Commission - initiated by President John F. Kennedy in 1962 - recommended the demolition of the Post Office to allow for completion of Federal Triangle and revitalization of what was then a decaying strip of Pennsylvania Ave. Nancy Hawks, the Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts at the time, led a crusade against the measure that included letter writing campaigns and full blown street protests. Eventually, the government backed away from the matter and the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places – a status that will protect it against demolition during any redevelopment efforts that take place. Metropole

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank god! It's an amazing building, and it should be put to an interesting use. Preferably something with entertainment value, given its unique location. It would be an opportunity to breathe some life into that area.

IMGoph on Oct 15, 2008, 2:04:00 AM said...

housing, housing, housing! we need more mixed-use downtown.

Anonymous said...

housing, housing, housing........Absolutely!

jhuenn on Oct 16, 2008, 3:40:00 PM said...

I liked going there to eat. But what's killed the retail business is the post 9-11 metal detectors and guards at the entry.

Anonymous said...

What would also be nice to include would be some sort of theater/concert stage use included in a mix use. Given it's inner core and proximity to other theaters, it sounds feasable. Sure wish they could redevelop the Giant Kleenex Box that is the Kennedy Center! Hideous Architecture blocking the Potomac!!!

Anonymous said...

Can you say 'college adjunct facility' - JHU, GWU, GU, AU, Stanford, et al....law school, fininace/business, international relations, law school, etc...the lower floors can be conference, major lecture spaces, or library areas....it does not work as an open public commons or an office building....

Anonymous said...

I particularly like the educational aspect of space utilization. Any one of the local Universities could lease the space for classes/theater/lecture/whatever. Not too keen on the housing idea though. It would more than likely be ridiculously over-priced and unattainable for us "normal" people.

 

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