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U.S. agency strives to be stronger community partner

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — The U.S. General Services Administration announced Monday a new focus on aligning with the economic development goals of local communities to retain and grow jobs.

The independent agency kicked off the initiative in Detroit as part of a national three-city tour to support the economic vision of communities across the country.

GSA Administrator Denise Turner Roth says the effort marks a stronger emphasis on bringing positive change to neighborhoods where federal agencies reside. The agency is implementing a community engagement strategy in its building, leasing and relocation planning.

“Where federal government is located can either promote or hinder community development,” Roth said during a morning news conference in Detroit City Hall. “It can be an anchor for development in a location, bringing hundreds of federal workers every day to buy lunch, spur retail and support public transit. Or, if done poorly a federal building can be an island that is walled off from the community.

“GSA needs to be far more consistent in ensuring that our federal buildings support economic development, rather than frustrate it,” she added.

To that end, GSA is holding up a number of partnerships in cities, including Detroit, that illustrate its commitment to communities.

The agency noted its $70 million investment into a building it purchased for $1 at 985 Michigan Avenue. The project will allow for an additional 700-800 federal employees from in and around the city to locate in a single federally-owned location and free up other commercial space.

Additionally, the agency has allocated $140 million for updates at Detroit’s federal courthouse on Fort Street.

U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence used Monday’s announcement as an opportunity to stress concern over the potential loss of 90 IRS jobs in Detroit.

Lawrence said GSA must continue to work with the IRS “to exhaust all available building options” in the city before the jobs are moved to Tennessee.

“Our dialogue has been consistent and I am very enlightened by the conversations we’re having,” she said. “Our goal is to keep those jobs here, in the city of Detroit.”

The congresswoman’s remarks come after the IRS last month said it still hadn’t found a suitable alternative location for the jobs and planned to move them next year. Detroit has hundreds of vacant or abandoned industrial buildings that congressional supporters argue should be considered first.

Roth on Monday said that the agency is working with the IRS to identify other potential options in the city.

Other GSA projects include a partnership in Massachusetts for a new Department of Transportation facility in Cambridge and the lease of a 220,000-square-foot field office for the FBI in Chelsea, Massachusetts. In North Carolina, GSA is working with the city of Charlotte to exchange a federally-owned site for the Jonas Federal Courthouse, a building that the federal government needs long-term.

CFerretti@detroitnews.com