New FBI facility: tough case to crack: Government struggling to find site to build field office for bureau

The highly-sought-after job of developing a new building for the FBI’s Indianapolis field office is still in play, but it’s hampered by the federal government’s inability to find a site for the building.

A bevy of local and national developers are expected to throw their hats in the ring to develop the building, which the Government Services Agency says needs to be 110,000 square feet.

For the winner, it would be a high-profile project and one of the more significant build-to-suit office deals in recent years.

But the dynamics of real estate in Indianapolis appear to be working against the federal government’s attempts to find a site.

The GSA, which handles new building projects for most federal agencies, typically issues separate requests for proposals on a building site and the building.

In this case, the agency last fall started looking for a 6.37- to eightacre site within Marion County. At the same time, it issued a separate request for interest from developers to build the office building.

Indianapolis’ wealth of nationally known developers-such as Browning Investments Inc., Duke Realty Corp. and Lauth Property Group-may be making the site search more difficult. A source familiar with the search said those developers are probably pitching land they already own or control with the expectation they’d be chosen to develop the building.

If the GSA can’t find a site separately, it’s possible the agency will accept joint proposals for both the land and the building, said GSA spokesman David Wilkinson. That, however, would “complicate the process,” he said, by cutting out some would-be developers that might not have a site lined up.

GSA set a Feb. 28 deadline for proposals from developers, but it might be extended. The proposals will be used for a “preliminary screening to determine qualified developers,” Wilkinson said. Those who pass muster would be considered further.

Most of Indianapolis’ heavy hitters in real estate attended an informational meeting in late January, said one person at the meeting. The usual suspects-Browning, Duke and Lauth-are tight-lipped on their prospects of chasing the job, however. Lauth Executive Vice President Michael Curless said the company does plan to respond to the GSA’s latest request, “as I assume many other local and national firms are.”

Choosing a site

Another factor limiting progress on the building is said to be the FBI’s preference to stay downtown, where eight-acre chunks of land are hard to come by.

The FBI’s Indianapolis field office is in the Minton-Capehart Federal Building at 575 N. Pennsylvania St. In FBI fashion, an agency spokeswoman declined to say how many of the agency’s employees work there or what sort of work they do, except that they are special agents and professional staff.

The Stadium Drive area just northwest of IUPUI could work if enough land can be assembled from private owners, several real estate sources said. However, that area has been earmarked by the city for BioCrossroads life sciences development. The FBI’s building would house only offices, not researchers, so it wouldn’t fall within the city’s vision for the area.

Regardless, a high-profile project like the FBI building could give the Stadium Drive area a needed boost. Admittedly a long-term goal, the conversion of the corridor from industrial buildings to a center of cutting-edge technology has mostly failed to draw private investors. Indiana University has been quietly amassing land along the corridor for future expansion of IUPUI, and the school’s Biotechnology Research and Training Center anchors one end of the corridor at 16th Street.

The city of Indianapolis is said to be trying to woo the FBI to one of several sites in targeted redevelopment areas, such as East Washington Street, but none of those areas are downtown.

Indianapolis Economic Development Director Gordon Hendry declined to comment on the city’s efforts to offer a site to the FBI, saying only, “We’re following it very closely.”

Focus on design

Although the GSA doesn’t appear to be any closer to picking a site or developer than it was last fall, architecture buffs can expect a new building with a more pleasing design than the Minton-Capehart Federal Building, which was completed in 1976.

That’s because just over a decade ago, GSA developed a Design Excellence Program for all its new facilities, from skyscraping courthouses to border patrol stations.

The program arose from a recognition that in the latter half of the 20th century, federal buildings “were indistinguishable from commercial structures, lacked inspiration and were not embraced by the public,” according to the GSA Web site.

In other words, they’re ugly.

While new federal buildings aren’t likely to include the opulent mosaics and stained glass of the Birch Bayh Federal Courthouse, built on Ohio Street as a post office in 1912, GSA has focused increasingly on quality architecture, engineering and construction in its new buildings.

The agency even hands out awards every two years for the best of its new buildings as judged by a private-sector panel of architects, engineers and designers. Architects for new buildings include some of the bestknown firms in the country.

In 2004, the U.S. Courthouse in Hammond garnered one of 16 GSA design awards given to more than 140 applicants. Designed by New York-based Pei Cobb Freed & Partners Architects LLP and Indianapolis-based Browning Day Mullins Dierdorf, the 275,000-square-foot limestone-clad courthouse won praise for everything from landscaping to a threestory glass-walled atrium.

GSA’s design program makes it more attractive for leading architecture firms to participate in government projects, said Richard Fitzgerald, an associate partner at BDMD who worked on the Hammond project for 10 years before its 2002 opening.

“It’s a commitment to design and build monumental buildings with the same enthusiasm we used to have in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s,” he said. “They’re buildings that will endure 100 years.”

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