Canton Repository

October 17, 2003

Regula’s paves way to spend $2.1 million on land for complex

By PAUL M. KRAWZAK
Copley Washington correspondent

WASHINGTON — As part of an effort to build a new federal complex in Canton, Rep. Ralph Regula has used his clout as a senior appropriator to reserve $2.1 million in community development funds to finance purchase of the land for the structure.

If Regula’s “earmark” survives when the legislation receives approval from Congress, it would direct the Department of Housing and Urban Development to provide the city of Canton with an economic development grant to buy the land.

Regula has steadily pushed for a new building, and the General Services Administration agrees that a new one is needed to replace the 70-year-old Frank T. Bow Federal Building.

“We have a request in for the funds to purchase the land,” said Regula, R-Bethlehem Township. “I don’t think we’re going to have any problem with that.” The House has approved the spending legislation but it still faces action in the Senate.

The planned complex would house several federal agencies currently in the 73,154-square-foot Bow building, including the Internal Revenue Service, U.S. Bankruptcy Court and a U.S. Marshal’s office. A Social Security office, which is leasing space in Canton, also would move in.

Regula said the new building could open in two or three years at the earliest.

More than 40 developers have expressed interest in building the complex and leasing it to the government since the GSA solicited contractors through a published advertisement, GSA spokesman David Wilkinson said. GSA officials declined to release the list of contractors or estimate the cost of the complex, saying that would jeopardize getting the lowest bid.

However, in conversations with other federal officials, the GSA has said if the government built the complex it would cost an estimated $26 million.

The GSA described the project as one to three buildings on 4.5 acres in Canton’s central business district. Regula said land is being sought in the southwest portion of the business district. The buildings would have a minimum of 48,500 square feet, and the site would include 125 reserved parking spaces.

Under the plan, the federal government would provide the money for Canton to purchase the land. In the meantime, the GSA would hire a contractor to construct the building, which the GSA would then lease for 10 to 14 years. The government could include an option to purchase the building at some point.

Regula said the arrangement avoids the need for further congressional action. “You don’t have the long delays waiting for plans to be approved,” he said.

If the GSA built and owned the building — something increasingly uncommon — the agency would need congressional approval of the full cost before construction began.

But as long as the yearly cost of renting the building is less than $2.2 million, the current threshold, the GSA need not seek approval from Congress for the lease, officials said.

Regula said he personally discussed construction of a new federal building with GSA Administrator Stephen Perry, who served as a vice president for the Timken Co. in Canton before President Bush tapped him to run the agency.

“I discussed it with him in his capacity as head of the GSA but I’m sure he discussed similar things with many members” of Congress, Regula said. Asked if it helped that Perry was from Canton, Regula said, “Well, I don’t think it hurt.”

The GSA said the decision that a new federal building is needed in Canton “was made by GSA portfolio managers, who have the responsibility for making those decisions nationwide,” not by Perry.

Perry spokeswoman Viki Reath said it is common for the administrator “to meet with House and Senate members, who often express interest in the federal presence in their respective geographic areas.”

A GSA study concluded that in the long run it would cost less to lease a new federal building than to completely renovate the Bow building, agency officials said. They did not provide a copy of the study.

At Regula’s bidding, Congress inserted language in a spending bill passed earlier this year urging the GSA to consider a new federal building.

“The conferees strongly encourage GSA to move forward with the ongoing discussions with representatives of the city of Canton ... involving the Frank T. Bow Federal Building with the goal of finding suitable housing for federal tenants in the Canton area, which includes the option of building a new federal building,” the legislation said.

The GAO frequently creates space for government by entering into lease-build agreements, especially in small and medium-size cities such as Canton “where existing buildings often don’t meet space, safety, security or technology requirements of federal agencies,” Reath said.

The Bow building is 54 percent vacant, according to a recent General Accounting Office report on underutilized federal property. During the past three years, Regula has steered $1.5 million into renovation of the structure, which was named after Regula’s predecessor in Congress. Bow represented the area from 1951 until his death in 1972.

A $500,000 earmark Regula put into a spending bill last year is funding exterior renovation, which the contractor who is doing the work said will be complete later this month or in November.

Regula reserved another $1 million in a 2003 spending bill to rehabilitate the heating and cooling system.

Regula believes a new federal complex will spur economic development in downtown Canton.

“It can be an anchor for the southwest part of the city,” he said.

In July 2002, Regula suggested the city could make use of the Bow for municipal courts or other offices if the structure no longer housed federal offices.

The “best way to go,” he said then, would be for the federal government to give the building to Canton in exchange for the land where the new federal center will be constructed.

On Thursday, he said it’s possible the city could acquire the building but “nothing’s been done period” in determining its future. “I’d like to help out the city if possible,” he said when asked about the city acquiring the building.