News Article

To Pr. George’s County leaders, Greenbelt selection heralds a new chapter
November 11, 2023


By: Lateshia Beachum and Erin Cox

As critics of the Biden administration’s decision to award a new FBI headquarters project to Maryland attacked the process, state and local officials said the prize was long overdue for Prince George’s County, a wealthy Black enclave whose leaders have long sought to secure parity withneighbors in the Washington metropolitan region.

In pitching the Greenbelt site for the $3 billion facility, Maryland strategically emphasized how it would further the Biden administration’s goal to invest in communities overlooked by the federal government, a point the state’s first Black governor made in conversations with the president and bureaucrats.

“We know this is going to have such a lasting impact,” Maryland Gov. Wes Moore (D) said in an interview Thursday, the day after the General Services Administration announced that Greenbelt had been selected.

“We’re talking over 7,500 jobs. We’re talking billions of dollars of economic activity. And that is going to serve as a catalyst for the larger tech revolution that’s taking place in the state of Maryland right now,” Moore said, referring in part to Baltimore’s recent designation as a federal technology hub.

Prince George’s County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D) credited the persistence of the Maryland delegation and its shared vision for the county — not only as a beacon of Black wealth and upward mobility but as a destination for transformative development that for so long has passed the county by.

“This equitable selection by the GSA means so much more than another building,” said Alsobrooks, who is running for U.S. Senate. “Now that the FBI is coming home to Prince George’s County, we are all overjoyed to watch as our community flourishes.”

The GSA ended a more than decade-long fight over the FBI headquarters when it picked Greenbelt over two other sites, Landover and Springfield, Va. GSA documents ranked Greenbelt first on five criteria — the weighting of which sparked fierce debate among the politicians fighting for the project — except for proximity to the FBI’s facility in Quantico.

FBI Director Christopher A. Wray said in an internal email to employees that he had concerns about the selection process, providing ammunition to Virginia leaders hoping to change the outcome.

Maryland’s leaders, however, spent most of Friday affirming why they believe Greenbelt is the best choice and vowing to make sure the community gets its due.

“While we’re a wealthy county by national standards, in the region, there are those who look at Prince George’s County as the less affluent jurisdiction,” David Iannucci, president and chief executive of Prince George’s County Economic Development Corporation, said in an interview.

Prince George’s County has a median household income of just over $91,000, trailing the District and Fairfax, Loudoun and Montgomery counties on that same metric, according to census data.

The county’s standing will change, Iannucci said.

“We’re already a different county today than we were yesterday because of the decision,” he said. “This changes Prince George’s County in real terms and in branding.”

The GSA estimated that the timeline for closing on the Greenbelt property would be nine months and projected a gap of nearly three years between the closing date and the start of construction, according to the site selection decision.

With so many requirements to fulfill, Iannucci projected it could take slightly more than three years for construction to begin for the building he sees having “generational change” attached to it.

The agency’s current headquarters at the J. Edgar Hoover building, a hulking edifice that occupies an entire block of prime real estatein downtown Washington, is falling apart and doesn’t meet the agency’s security requirements.

Greenbelt, a small city of about 25,000 people, has waited in limbo for more than a decade while trying to figure out how to grow the area, said reelected Mayor Emmett V. Jordan. Greenbelt, he noted, has been ripe for change since it was created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Resettlement Administration as part of the New Deal in 1937 — a planned community that was initially only open to White residents.

Greenbelt has taken action to correct previous harm to minority communities by establishing a reparations commission, voting in its first Black woman council member and electing what will be the first majority-female council. More recently, the majority of voters in the city said they would approve of voting eligibility in city elections for noncitizens.

“Greenbelt’s evolved over time,” Jordan said.

Maryland leaders on Friday credited Alsobrooks’s predecessor, Rushern L. Baker III, with making the case for the FBI to come to Greenbelt early in the process; part of a broader effort Baker oversaw to bolster the reputation of a county mired in political scandal.

Officials noted his focus on luring businesses needed to diversify the tax base and his efforts to lure amenities for county residents tired of watching the shops they wanted go elsewhere.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) reiterated Friday that part of the mission in bringing the FBI to Maryland is rectifying what Maryland leaders saw as long-standing unfair distribution of federal resources.

“This county was overlooked for many years on the types of federal facilities that we saw in the Washington area,” Cardin said.

Even with the elation of top officials, some residents have qualms about what the massive project might bring.

District 4 Prince George’s County Council member Ingrid S. Watson said her constituents have expressed concerns about the potential impact on schools in the area if families relocate nearby to be close to the headquarters.

With years to go before walls are slated to rise on the site outside the Greenbelt Metro station, Virginia officials pledged to continue fighting the move, raising questions about the selection process. Sen. Mark R. Warner, (D-Va.) has called for an inspector general review of the decision.

Jeffrey C. McKay, chair of Fairfax County’s board of supervisors, accused Metro officials Friday of “putting their hand on the scale,” drawing attention to a September 2022 decision in which the Metro Board authorized staff to negotiate a joint development agreement with the GSA for the sale of up to 40-acres of Metro property at the Greenbelt Metro station without holding a competitive solicitation.

McKay said he complained about the legal procedure ahead of that vote by the board, which includes officials from Virginia, Maryland, D.C. and the federal government. The move, he said, made it seem like the site had more regional support than it did.

“It seems like an unnecessary legal step that was made only by design to make it appear like it had the full support of Metro and, therefore, the full support of the region,” McKay said about the agreement for the GSA to develop as many as 40 acres at the Greenbelt site, adding that he requested without success that the vote on the agreement be deferred until after the GSA made its decision.

In a statement, Metro Board Chairman Paul Smedberg said, “The Board of Directors did not have any involvement in GSA’s selection decision” and neither did Metro staff. “Additionally, Metro was made aware of this news when it was made public.”

McKay countered, “They might not have been involved in the negotiations but they were involved in terms of signaling support of the Greenbelt site to the GSA.”