I wasn't able to be at Thursday's hearing on the fate of the federally owned warehouse at Half and L Streets, but I can cobble together an update thanks to the folks who were there:
: "A group of Capitol Riverfront residents has been pushing to turn a vacant warehouse at 49 L Street SE into a community amenity called the Half Street Market
. But if a congressional hearing there this morning was any indication, they may be facing an uphill battle."
: "An official for the General Services Administration, which manges federal real estate, told the representatives that the 32,013-square-foot brick building was no longer needed by the government and that the agency was in the process of preparing it to be sold or traded for construction services on other projects, for which the GSA is in need of funding.
"'Given the high real estate value and rate of growth in the surrounding Capitol Riverfront neighborhood, the 49 L Street property presents us with many potential opportunities to find a better use for or to dispose of a vacant property from the federal real estate inventory and provide considerable savings to taxpayers,' said Michael Gelber, acting deputy commissioner of the GSA’s Public Buildings Service."
: "D.C. Councilman Tommy Wells, D-Ward 6, testified, saying that the District could be willing to put up the $19 million price tag for the property. U.S. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., spoke passionately in support of the project.
"The will is certainly there. But what of the way?
: "The GSA, however, is not in the business of giving away property at a discount even if its acting administrator, Dan Tangherlini, is a former D.C. city administrator and transportation official. Gelber reiterated in an interview that the agency’s preference was to trade the building for construction services, similar to the way the GSA is trying to use the J. Edgar Hoover Building as a trading chip for a new FBI headquarters elsewhere in the region.
"GSA has not disclosed how much it believes the L Street warehouse is worth but Gelber said putting it up for auction, as the agency did with the West Heating Plant, would likely fetch the highest price. Adding a requirement that a market be part of the redevelopment wasn't likely to help the sales price — quite the opposite. 'The more conditions you put on a sale the more that you affect valuation,' he said.
: "So it appears likely that the feds will be selling the property to the highest bidder—and with Union Market and Eastern Market both within a few miles of the site, the highest bidder probably won't want another market there."
: It's also worth noting that 50 M Street, the empty lot on the south end
of the warehouse's block, fronting M Street directly across from the Navy Yard Metro station entrance, is now on the market
, making it possible for a developer to have the entire block if it were to gain control of the warehouse and buy the 50 M site.
"A sizable contingent (for a Thursday morning) came out to the meeting in support of the Half Street concept, and Councilmember Tommy Wells and ANC 6D Commissioner Ed Kaminski testified in support of the project. Kaminski brought up a potential revenue stream that could help fund the market and culinary incubators on the ground floor: a boutique hotel on the upper floors could send a stream of cash to the GSA. Generally, Kaminski felt that the air rights over the warehouse could be utilized in a profitable manner.
The representatives seemed supportive of the local officials, and were open to the prospect of putting in motion a process that would lead to selling the building to the city. However, the question remains: can DC afford it?"