After a three-city tour to promote the General Service Administration's new Economic Catalyst Initiative, director Denise Turner Roth was back in D.C. on Nov. 20 to talk about how the agency is partnering with local government encouraging economic development.
"It's really how we try to seek to leverage our footprint in communities and support the economic visions of those communities while getting the best value for our partner agencies," she said.
The initiative seeks to provide mutual economic benefit for both the agency and cities around the nation through a series of deals that allow GSA to reduce its property footprint and encourage mixed-use development.
Roth helped roll out the initiative this week with a three-day tour of Detroit; Cambridge, Massachusetts; and Charlotte, North Carolina, where GSA has struck agreements for various real estate projects.
In Detroit, the GSA bought an office building for $1 and will consolidate federal operations there with a $75 million renovation, combining agencies from across 40 locations in the area into the building.
In Cambridge, the agency is proposing a swap with developers for its 14-acre Department of Transportation facility, located in near MIT in Kendall Square, a site ripe for development. GSA is hoping to trade the site with a developer in exchange for a new DOT lab facility in the area.
Officials also plan to trade a 3.2-acre federally-owned site sight near transit development for a Charlotte courthouse that can provide GSA with more office space in the city.
Roth said the three projects represent the agency's commitment to identify solutions that benefit GSA property management plans and spur economic growth around the nation.
"What that has meant for us is several months of discussions internally in terms of what is our current policy as it relates to placement vis-a vis working with local municipalities or economic development leaders in terms of identifying of where we go, how we make those choices, what is the appropriate role and what does that look like," she said.
Roth said that the initiative was inspired development opportunities she helped shepherd in her previous roles, including as city manager of Greensboro, North Carolina.
"What really goes behind that was the change of economy that occurred with the loss of textiles and the change of the tobacco industry," she said.
"They had strong business leadership that was committed to finding a new economic path for that community. At the same time, the city obviously had an interest for strengthening its economy and the universities had capacity that they were building in that town. So it was a merger of all of this interest and activity to say, 'What is the future of this community?'"
Roth said she wants to take that cooperation on the national scale, identifying opportunities where GSA can benefit from a consolidation of federal properties and leased space while working as a partner with local government to bolster economic spending.
The director added that the agency will try to look for opportunities in central business areas, transit areas and infrastructures that it can target for the initiative, also utilizing its existing property portfolios as a guide three years prior to any asset moves.
But that will take more planning and more transparency when it comes to GSA's leases, which Roth said is in the works.
"I'm sure we'll have that discussion about how there has been quite a bit of expectation, I think fair enough, in terms of how we are managing our leases and how informative we are being to the market of decision-making and timing," she said.
"No one can really plan if you tell them three months in advance, 'Hey, there's going to be a lot of space here.'"