Social Security Administration Planning Move

The Baltimore Sun reports that nearly 30 years after the Social Security Administration opened its $92 million Metro West complex on Baltimore’s west side, federal officials are planning to move 1,600 employees from there to an office building to be constructed near the Reisterstown Plaza Metro station in Northwest Baltimore.

The state Board of Public Works is scheduled to consider Aug. 26 a request from the Maryland Department of Transportation to transfer an 11.3-acre parcel at 6100 Wabash Ave. to the U.S. General Services Administration in preparation for the proposed development.

The GSA is seeking a private developer to construct a 538,000-square-foot office building and 1,076-space garage and lease it to the Social Security Administration.

According to state and federal officials, the building is needed by 2012 to accommodate 1,600 SSA employees who work in “functionally obsolete” space at the Metro West complex at 300 N. Greene St. About 400 more Metro West employees will be relocated to the Social Security Administration headquarters complex in Woodlawn, leaving none at Metro West.

The Reisterstown Plaza project will be one of the largest and most expensive federal office buildings to rise in Baltimore in years. The GSA has not disclosed a construction price, but using an industry standard of $200 per square foot, it would cost more than $100 million to build. It is expected to result in the creation of hundreds of construction jobs and to bring federal employees to a section of Baltimore that has been hard hit by the recession.

“This is not a stimulus project, but it will do exactly what stimulus money is meant to do,” said City Councilwoman Rochelle “Rikki” Spector, whose district includes 6100 Wabash Ave. “It is really an economic generator for the next 40 years.”

“Keeping these employees in Baltimore City will further strengthen our neighborhood as we continue to recover from this terrible economic recession,” said Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a Maryland Democrat. “This is a huge victory for our community.”

It’s a “major construction investment in Baltimore,” said Laurie Feinberg, chief of comprehensive planning in Baltimore’s planning department.

The project will be the first phase of a larger “transit-oriented development” that is expected to bring housing, stores, office space and parking to land around the Reisterstown Plaza Metro station.

The state owns two dozen acres close to the station and plans next year to seek a developer interested in building a large mixed-use project next to the SSA facility, according to Christopher Patusky, director of the Office of Real Estate for Maryland’s Department of Transportation.

Gov. Martin O’Malley has made transit-oriented development a high priority for Maryland, and the SSA project puts Reisterstown Plaza in a position to become a model for other transit stops, Patusky said. “Locations around transit are becoming more and more desirable for everyone,” even government agencies, he said. “We anticipate that this will bring up [property] values all around the site. It’s a home run for the entire area.”

The Reisterstown Plaza site was selected over at least 24 others considered by the General Services Administration. Now used mostly for parking, it is bounded by Wabash Avenue, Mount Hope Drive, the Powder Mill Branch stream and the Seton Business Park. The Metro station borders the site’s northeastern portion.

The state intends to “transfer” the land to the GSA for $6 million, and the agency is expected to assign it to the developer it selects to build the Social Security Administration offices. According to regional public affairs officer Gina Blyther Gilliam, the General Services Administration expects a selection by next spring, and the developer will lease the building for 20 years to the SSA. Congress authorized federal funding for the project in 2006.

Metro West was hailed as a key to the revitalization of Baltimore’s west side when it opened in 1980. Federal employees were expected to help revive the area by shopping at Lexington Market and along Howard and Lexington streets.

According to public officials, the 15-story tower and two five-story wings no longer meet the needs of the Social Security Administration for a variety of reasons, including technological inadequacy and the security risk posed by a sky bridge over a major highway. According to Gilliam, the GSA’s goal is to “dispose of” the Metro West facility after the SSA moves out. One potential user is the University of Maryland, whose Baltimore campus is several blocks to the south.

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