By Ian Simpson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. government's move to replace the FBI's crumbling Washington headquarters, dismissed as "a dump" by one congresswoman, has sparked a fight between Virginia, Maryland and the capital for the billion-dollar project.
Early signs point to suburban Prince George's County in Maryland as the frontrunner as officials in the Washington area look for possible sites and line up political support.
"Clearly this is a war between Maryland and Virginia," with the District of Columbia thrown into the mix, said Jeff McKay, a supervisor with Virginia's Fairfax County, which is competing for the new Federal Bureau of Investigations headquarters.
The federal crime-busting agency clearly needs a new home. Its hulking headquarters, the 1970s-era J. Edgar Hoover Building in downtown Washington, has nets rigged to catch falling stone from upper stories and rainwater floods the basement, the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, reported last year.
The FBI headquarters staff has far outgrown the moated Brutalist-style building and its 2.4 million square foot (220,000 square meter) site. Staffers have nearly doubled to about 17,300 since the 2001 attacks on the United States and are scattered across 40 sites.
Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia's representative in Congress, said the building was an "outlier" blighting an up-and-coming area of downtown Washington.
"It's considered a dump that detracts from the neighborhood," she said.
The General Services Administration (GSA), the federal office management agency, put out solicitations last month to developers offering to swap the Hoover Building for 2.1 million square feet (200,000 square meters) of office space on 55 acres in the Washington area.
The FBI and GSA estimated a cost of about $1.2 billion to buy a site, then design and build a new headquarters. The estimated completion time is seven years.
The District of Columbia and Fairfax County and Maryland's Prince George's and Montgomery counties have all expressed eagerness to land the FBI project.
"This is a huge priority for Prince George's County," said Aubrey Thagard with the county's economic development office.
Prince George's has long complained that it is shortchanged by the federal government. The county has only 4 percent of federal leased office space in the region, but a quarter of the government work force lives there.
A raft of Maryland lawmakers, including powerful Democratic Senator Barbara Mikulski and No. 2 House Democrat Representative Steny Hoyer, have backed Prince George's potential bid.
For their part, Virginia senators and representatives have touted their state as the FBI's future home. McKay, the Fairfax County supervisor, said he would attend a meeting with Virginia lawmakers this week on the FBI project.
Stephen Fuller, the head of the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University, said political backing for Prince George's County meant it was the favorite for the site.
The FBI project will be the biggest federal property deal in the capital area for the next 10 to 15 years. It is especially valuable as the area's commercial real estate market slows from federal spending cutbacks, he said.
(Reporting by Ian Simpson; editing by Andrew Hay)