GSA is going against the law
The decade-long saga of whether the city of Portsmouth will take control of the McIntyre Federal Building continues as the General Services Administration recently said it wants fair market value for the 2.16-acre downtown property. That’s not in keeping with the legislation of January 2004 approved by Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush that required the property be transferred to the city of Portsmouth for nominal cost for “economic development purposes.”
GSA officials can spin it all they want, but the legislation was and remains clear. Furthermore, the legislation reprogrammed $11.2 million planned for renovations to the McIntyre building for the site acquisition, design, construction and relocation of federal agencies to Pease International Tradeport. The GSA did purchase an 11.6-acre site on Oak Street at the tradeport, but has not done any work at the site. It has, though, removed the site from development costing taxpayers considerable money.
The city will once more have to reach out to its congressional delegation. Fresh off her reelection, hopefully Sen. Jeanne Shaheen can renew her efforts to complete this transfer as soon as possible. It is hoped that Sen. Kelly Ayotte and Congressman-elect Frank Guinta can also apply appropriate pressure to help complete a deal that should have been done years ago.
Returning this property to the tax rolls of the city is the right thing to do, and a branch of government should not be tangling up the process. This is especially true as the GSA was legislatively instructed to relocate agencies in the McIntrye building and turn the property over and it accepted the funds to do so. The return of property to the city will bring hundreds of thousands of dollars to the city in property tax revenue, assuming it is privately redeveloped. If it is, it will also bring millions more in construction labor and material investments.
According to City Councilor Eric Spear, the GSA has suggested that since it did not construct a new federal building at the tradeport as the 2004 legislation instructed, it is not required to give the city the property for free. Failure to follow terms of legislation should not be used to void that legislation. While it may be true that when the GSA traditionally disposes of property, it does so by trying to get fair market value for it. However, and again, that’s not what the legislation said. A branch of government administration cannot go against congressionally approved legislation.
It’s curious that city officials are working with GSA officials to help find downtown office space for the federal agencies in the McIntyre building, because as City Manager John Bohenko said “One thing they made clear is they do not want to go to Pease.”
It’s not even clear whether the GSA or the agencies in the McIntrye building have that choice given the acceptance of funds and the acquisition of the Pease site. Unless downtown office arrangements are temporary, in order to quicken the transfer of the McIntrye property, then the agencies either need to move to Pease or the federal government needs to return the tradeport site to the control of the Pease Development Authority.