City Enticing FBI to Move Downtown

By Amos Maki

City leaders are attempting to bring the FBI Downtown. The FBI is searching for a significant amount of office space, and local leaders, including U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, are urging the law enforcement agency to locate Downtown.

To snare the FBI, officials would need to locate a Downtown property that adheres to seismic standards, setback needs, security concerns and a slew of other requirements outlined by the FBI in a solicitation first posted by the General Services Administration in December.

The GSA solicitation said the FBI wanted to be located in “an office, research, technology or business park that is modern in design with a campus-like atmosphere” or an “attractively landscaped site” that appears “professional and prestigious” while helping foster a “professional image.” The GSA, which handles real estate for the federal government, was seeking a 20-year lease to begin in early 2015.

The solicitation, which required 95,580 square feet, essentially covers all of Memphis.

The FBI occupies East Memphis office space at the Eaglecrest 1 office building at 225 N. Humphreys Blvd., behind Christian Brothers High School and adjacent to Baptist Memorial Hospital-Memphis offices.

“Our goal is to not just react but to proactively plan how to make our Downtown a viable option. You have got to take some steps to plan ahead to make the project work.”

–Paul Morris
President, Downtown Memphis Commission

Cohen, citing federal policy and an executive order first signed by former President Jimmy Carter that was designed to halt federal flight to suburban locations, would like to see the FBI move Downtown, where officials are grappling with Pinnacle Airlines vacating 170,000 square feet at One Commerce Square and the state decision to leave the Donnelley J. Hill State Office Building.

“Downtown has been federal policy for years and it’s been federal policy to locate in central business districts,” said Cohen, who has been working on the issue. “While the FBI has security concerns I believe they could be met Downtown and should be sought.”

Downtown Memphis Commission President Paul Morris said his agency has been working on the issue closely with the GSA, which he described as “extremely responsive.”

“We’re working with them to help work through any challenges that might prevent them from locating Downtown,” Morris said.

Morris, who praised Cohen’s efforts on behalf of Downtown, also noted the seeming conflict between the FBI’s requirements and the executive order directing the GSA to favor locating federal offices in central business districts.

“Sometimes you have too many rules and you can’t comply with them all at the same time,” Morris said.

Because of the slow wheels of a government dealing with funding cuts known as the sequester, which has put many government spending plans on hold, it is unclear when a decision will be made on the FBI office. Still, Morris said that isn’t stopping the Downtown agency from trying to positively position Downtown.

“Our goal is to not just react but to proactively plan how to make our Downtown a viable option,” Morris said. “You have got to take some steps to plan ahead to make the project work.”

It isn’t just the local FBI office that could be moved. The GSA also posted in December a Request for Information to build a new, state-of-the-art FBI headquarters to replace the J. Edgar Hoover Building near the White House.