ORLANDO, FL—The federal government is sitting on an untappedgold mine of thousands of vacant or under-used properties—including600 buildings at Kennedy Space Center alone—that, if taken over bythe private sector, could go a long way to spur investment and helplight a fire under the lagging economic recovery.

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That assertion came from US Rep John Mica(R-FL), who was the keynote speaker at the RealShareCentral Florida conference, held here yesterday. Micaspoke to about 200 real-estate brokers, developers, property ownersand investment specialists. The event was one in a series ofRealShare Conferences that are held across the country with anational event coming Nov. 4-5 in Miami.

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“The federal government is the biggest property owner in theworld,” Mica said. “It would be great for business if these vacantfederal buildings would be sold. However, the waste goes on.”

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Mica blamed in particular the US General ServicesAdministration for being especially slow to release vacantor under-utilized properties. The GSA is an independent governmentagency that helps manage and support the basic functioning of otherfederal agencies. It supplies products and communications forfederal offices along with transportation and office space tofederal employees.

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In its role as the government's primary “landlord,” the GSAalone is sitting on some 14,000 buildings and other properties thatare vacant or under-utilized, Mica charged. This does not includeexcess space on military bases or properties controlled by otherfederal agencies.

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“The government is sitting on its assets,” Mica said withchuckles greeting that remark around the conference room, filledwith more than 200 attendees.

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Mica chairs the House Transportation Committee,and one of its subcommittees oversees public buildings. In thatrole, Mica said he has had only modest success in getting the GSAto release properties the government no longer uses. He cited onecase in which he “embarrassed” bureaucrats into attending a hearingin a vacant annex of Washington's Old Post Office when “it was 32degrees outside and 38 degrees inside. Everyone was wearingtopcoats,” he said.

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Ultimately, Mica's panel succeeded in cajoling the GSA toauction off the postal annex. It is now a five-star hotel employing1,000 people, he said. There have been a few other such successes,he added.

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Asked after his formal remarks what it would take to force theGSA to take a broader, wholesale approach to the privatization ofthese under-utilized assets, Mica said bills to accomplish thatvery goal have passed the House more than once but keep gettingkilled in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

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“That could change after next Tuesday,” he said in reference tothe midterm elections, where one-third of the Senate seats are upfor grabs. In fact, he said, if the Republicans regain control ofthe upper house of Congress, many good things could happen in themonths following.

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If the Senate “flips” next week, Mica said there could be a lotof positive changes in tax law and regulatory issues. IfRepublicans do take over the Senate—the House is considered certainto remain in GOP hands—a great deal of pro-business legislationcould be passed between next February and August 2015 when, henoted, the next presidential election cycle will gear up.

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“In spite of your government in Washington, we are coming out ofthe recession, albeit slowly,” Mica said. “Slower than it shouldhave been.”

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Because of Mica's role as chair of the House TransportationCommittee, many of his comments at RealShare about the prospectsfor new development in the Tampa-Orlando corridor weretransportation-oriented. Among his points:

  • Extending Central Florida's SunRail commuter line to OrlandoInternational Airport will create new development opportunitiesnear the airport and along the route.
  • An even greater impetus to development around Orlando's airportwill come with the doubling of the airport's capacity with theconstruction of a new southern terminal. The project includes $1.4billion worth of infrastructure and transportation improvements,including an intermodal center to connect the north and southterminals. But, he cautioned, “transit-oriented development takesawhile.”
  • When Port Canaveral, which is on the Atlantic coast just northof the space complex, upgrades to a greater focus on containershipping, as opposed to its current emphasis on passenger cruiseliners, another 5,000 jobs should be created. Improvements at theport could include new freight-rail lines to connect ports on theAtlantic and Gulf coasts of Florida.
  • Shifting much of Florida's freight traffic on railroads to thespine of the state through a new intermodal center at Winter Haven “will take more trucks offInterstates 4 and 75 than anything else we could do over the next50 years.”

Mica insisted he is bullish on growth and new economicopportunities in the Tampa-Orlando corridor. “We're about toexplode in development in central Florida,” he said.

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