The federal government has decided to put the U.S. Geological Survey's Menlo Park campus up for sale in the coming months.
The U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) approved placing the 17-acre site at 345 Middlefield Road – which has served as the headquarters for USGS – on the market sometime in the next five months, according to a Jan. 24 OMB letter. Workers at the campus, which includes 17 buildings and 390,217 square feet of rentable space, began to relocate this past summer to NASA Ames Research Park at Moffett Field in Mountain View in an effort to save money on rent.
"The Menlo Park area is the epicenter of the technology sector and home to such companies as Google, Apple, Intel and E‐Trade and the real estate market is one of the strongest in the country with an office vacancy rate of 4% and rents in excess of $100/SF (square foot)," federal Public Buildings Reform Board officials wrote in a Dec. 27 letter to OMB. The board was established in 2016 to identify opportunities for the federal government to "significantly reduce its inventory of civilian real property and thereby reduce costs," the board's website states.
The USGS move to Moffett Field is scheduled to be completed in 2023, the letter states. Under the current timeline, USGS will finish moving people and equipment off of the Menlo Park campus to Moffett Field by January 2023, said USGS spokesperson Paul Laustsen in an email. The campus is owned by the General Services Administration, the government agency that serves as a property manager for federal office buildings. USGS will then decommission the campus and release it back to the General Services Administration (and the new owner). The decommissioning should be completed by September 2023, he said.
The USGS site is one of 12 federal properties the board identified last year to sell, and the sites have a total market value between $500 million and $750 million, according to the December letter. The properties must be sold within roughly a year following OMB's approval of the plan in January, unless OMB determines that a two‐year timeframe is in the "financial interest of the government," the letter states.
It's not yet known how much the Menlo Park property will be listed for.
"Currently, GSA is completing necessary due diligence to submit a Report of Excess within 60 days as required under the FASTA law," a General Services Administration spokesperson said in an email Feb. 21. "Upon completion of this report, GSA will determine the most efficient method to sell the property. The sale strategy will include gathering market information and communicating with the city to ensure that interested parties are made aware of the opportunity and updated information will be posted at disposal.gsa.gov."
Menlo Park resident Nancy Wagner, who has lived on Morgan Lane for 10 years, is sad to see USGS leave, "just as it was sad to see Sunset (Magazine) leave Menlo Park."
"Both (Sunset and USGS) were draws when we moved in to Menlo Park and they did a lot of community outreach," she added.
Wagner said the move could help address the city's housing needs. She still would not like to see a "mega (housing) complex" built on the USGS property since the area doesn't have the transportation or sewage infrastructure to support an influx of new residents, she said. She also hopes a developer would consider including an open space or a public park since there is a lot of space available on the site.
In the long term, Menlo Park City Council members have expressed interest in seeing affordable housing developed on the site. Although proposals for future use of the USGS property have not yet come before the council, the parcel is zoned for public use and "anything other than that would require rezoning," said Mayor Cecilia Taylor in an email.
In December, after preliminary conversations about creating a temporary safe parking facility at the USGS parking lot for people living in vehicles, then-mayor Ray Mueller announced that he and San Mateo County Supervisor Warren Slocum had decided to drop the idea, determining that it is not feasible.
The idea, as Mueller previously explained, was to bring in a nonprofit homeless services provider – such as Menlo Park-based LifeMoves – to operate a safe parking site at USGS before the property is sold to private developers.
Former Menlo Park Planning Commission member Stu Soffer, who lives in the neighborhood, said that he sees the space as a "blank canvas."
"It's an odd spot," Soffer said of the USGS campus, which sits across the street from St. Patrick's Seminary & University, near housing and Menlo-Atherton High School. "Its traditional usage is as a research park. What people will want to put in is housing. I don't think a shopping center would go there because it would be a real traffic problem."
Background on the site
USGS takes up 330,607 square feet on the campus, while other tenants – the Transportation Security Administration, Veteran's Health Administration, Defense Contract Management Agency and Office of Personnel Management – occupy just 13,540 square feet.
The decision to move to Moffett Field was in large part financially based. USGS has reportedly paid $7.5 million a year to lease its Menlo Park offices, and that rent was expected to spike in the coming years.
The General Services Administration is obligated under federal law to charge market-rate rent for its properties, even in pricey locales such as the Bay Area, where office space goes for a premium cost.
The plan to move was first announced in 2016.