County Council President Roger Berliner on Thursday urged the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) to sell the land it owns and to use the money to improve the beleaguered system Metro system.
In a letter to Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld, Berliner said WMATA controls what may be the most valuable properties in the county, the sites of the Bethesda and White Flint Metro stations.
“Both properties could be sold, rather than leased, for substantial funds,” Berliner wrote.
In Bethesda, Brookfield Office Properties has a ground lease above the Metro station. The company plans to build a high-rise at the site once the county completes work on the Bethesda Sector Plan.
At White Flint, LCOR has been selected as the site’s master developer, Berliner’s letter said. But LCOR has failed to move forward with 4.5 million square feet of envisioned development just north of the station on Rockville Pike, he said.
In addition to generating revenue from the sale of the land, development of the properties would increase jobs and Metro ridership, Berliner said. “If you can create revenue, and riders, and help local governments create jobs, that’s the trifecta. And that’s growth,” Berliner said in a telephone interview.
Neither LCOR nor WMATA responded to requests for comment.
Berliner said the letter followed a private meeting in November with Wiedefeld and Nina Albert, WMATA’s real estate director.
“I think we’re in sync, but I look forward to their response,” he said.
If Metro sells its land, the agency would create confidence that it is maximizing its assets, especially when Metro is asking the public for higher fares and greater tax support, Berliner said.
Berliner said that part of the problem is that the federal government insists that if WMATA sells land, the money goes toward capital projects, but if WMATA leases land, the money can go to operating costs. The federal government needs to reconsider the distinction, he said.
“If we want to find money for Metro and to try to stem all these ridership losses, the broad concept is we should be doing as much as we can to use the land that Metro has,” Berliner said.
Berliner said WMATA’s real estate holdings at the Bethesda and White Flint Metro stations could bring in tens of millions of dollars. Earlier this month, Metro forecasts put the subway system’s needs at $1 billion over three years.
“Last time I checked, millions help,” Berliner said.