The Pikes Peak region’s economic development community anxiously awaits word on two important Federal buildings currently under consideration by the Congress and the Department of Defense. These include the Government Services Administration’s (GSA) search for a 21,000 square foot proposed Federal Consolidation office building to house a number of federal agencies, and the proposed 150,000 square foot Northern Headquarters for Homeland Defense, currently under discussion by the Department of Defense.
According to Congressman Joel Hefley (R-CO), news on the final selection of a Homeland Defense site could come as early as next week, but might take longer. “We’ve been working hard on this back in Washington,” he said. “Colorado Springs certainly has an excellent chance of being selected; we’re perfectly-equipped with NORAD (The North American Aerospace Defense Command) here – and with the close U.S.- Canada defense relationships already in place. There is a contingency of folks at the Pentagon, however, who think the headquarters needs to be near the Capitol. The final decision is going to depend on whether or not there is political pressure to keep it in Virginia.
“This is a big one,” Hefley added, noting the tremendous economic impact of a facility that government sources say could employ between 700 and 1000 people. Based on recent reports, the current the impact of the military on Colorado Springs exceeds $2.5 billion annually.
“We’ve been writing letters to the delegations working on the selection process, and I’ve been in touch with military officials, but this isn’t like promoting your community to attract a new business. This decision will be made by the Department of Defense, based on military priorities and research.” Hefley did say that military and political leaders had paid several visits to the Pikes Peak region to determine the area’s strategic viability.
Ron Simpson, Real Estate Industry Public Building Services director for GSA Region 8, says there’s one more factor at play in the Pentagon’s decision. “In view of the weaponry used today, the Department of Defense doesn’t really see great value in the Homeland Defense headquarters being inland or centrally-located, away from vulnerable coasts. They are much more concerned with available space (there is plenty of vacant space at all four sites under consideration) and the labor pool to support such an important program.
“This is a huge project to land,” Simpson added, agreeing with Hefley’s assessment. “It’s right up there with getting the U.S. Air Force Academy located in Colorado Springs. The economic impact would be significant, he also said, noting that salaries for such personnel would be higher than typical government wages. The GSA acts as the real estate arm of the government when agencies like the IRS or Social Security need a new facility, and may or may not be involved in locating the Homeland Defense facility. “The Department of Defense may opt to do its own negotiations with property owners – but we are often called in to handle real estate transactions.”
Simpson, like Hefley, has also been working on plans for a 21,000 square foot consolidated office building to house a number of federal agencies in the Pikes Peak region. Congressional budget approval on the building is pending. That building could be even larger, if approved for a new District Court that would co-locate with the agency offices. “Two executive orders from former presidents Johnson and Carter dictate that the GSA will give preference to federal buildings located either in historic districts or in the Central Business District,” he said.
“Our biggest challenge right now,” said Hefley, “is the opinion of Denver federal judges that Southern Colorado doesn’t have the case load to support a new Court facility. I’ve talked with a number of people, including U.S. Attorney John Suthers, who indicated that many cases in Colorado Springs or Pueblo, for example, don’t get filed at the Federal level because it’s easier to file in the State courts, because local law enforcement does not have to transport inmates to Denver for trial. Still, the federal judges like having close control of their Court system in Denver.”
While Simpson considers the consolidated facility temporarily “on hold,” he never gives up. “After all, look at the nay-sayers who didn’t believe the old Lowry Air Force Base would ever be successfully redeveloped,” he points out, “or that Fitzsimmons Army Hospital would become home to the University of Colorado’s School of Medicine and a Hospital. I am a native Coloradan and would be excited to see the Northern Headquarters for Homeland Defense and the consolidated federal building come to Colorado Springs.”
In the meantime, the local real estate and development community is hanging tight. Gary Hollenbeck, owner of Palmer-McAllister commercial real estate, says that he is in close touch with the GSA and others on prospective development. “We’d all like to see these projects land here,” he says, “but nobody will know until the government is ready.”