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FBI breaking ground on new building after series of holdups

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Every construction project has its inevitable hiccups, but the building process for the new FBI building in Sorrento Mesa has been accented with what are more like loud burps.

The U.S. General Services Administration awarded $223.4 million in January to a Las Vegas-based company to create the new building. But in a somewhat unusual twist, the federal government gave the money to PH FBI SD, LLC, owned by The Molasky Group, as a 20-year build-to-suit lease, instead of buying the building outright.

When construction is completed in 2013, the FBI will have a brand new 248,882-square-foot building in the 10000 block of Vista Sorrento Parkway, just south of the split between Interstates 5 and 805. This larger space will allow the FBI to consolidate about 15 of its squads in one building, as opposed to the four squads that call the current FBI building home, said Keith Slotter, the special agent in charge of the FBI's San Diego office.

"By bringing many of those squads together, we will be able to terminate a number of leases, which is cost saving, and it will allow for better access and collaboration," he said.

The building will rest on about 11 acres of land, and will be joined by a parking structure and garage where the FBI can service their vehicles. In addition to extensive office space, it will house all investigative files, a vast evidence room and other special areas where different types of evidence can be stored, Slotter said.

A rendering of the new FBI building in Sorrento Mesa, which will be completed in 2013. Image courtesy of U.S. General Services Administration

Because the building will be leased by the federal government, it must comply with criteria set by the Interagency Security Committee, which was established after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 to create security standards for leased buildings. The committee has a long list of security requirements, ranging from 24-hour camera surveillance to shatter-resistant material on all exterior windows to a ventilation system that protects against airborne chemical, biological, or radiological attacks.

After a lengthy funding approval and bidding process, The Molasky Group was awarded the contract to build and lease the building. The company competed against five other bidders from the San Diego area, said Richard Worthington, its president.

But trouble was on the horizon.

On March 11, SN Investment Properties, LLC, filed a lawsuit against Molasky's companies and Irwin Molasky, the 84-year-old owner, along with ARE-Sorrento View, LLC. ARE owned the plot of land the FBI offices would be built on and planned to sell it to Molasky. But SNI, which owns the adjacent plot of land, said it had an express non-exclusive easement.

"There was an easement that went through the middle of the property (ARE) owns, and (Molasky) had plans to build over that easement, so that caused us some concern," said Jordan Schnitzer, the president of Harsch Investment Properties, which owns SNI.

SNI filed claims for injunctive and declaratory relief because "the development of the FBI Project would interfere with, destroy or prevent the reasonable use of the SNI Easement," according to court documents.

The case was settled out of court on July 18. Neither Worthington nor Schnitzer would comment on the terms of the settlement.

After the case's dismissal at the beginning of September, the project's ground can be broken, Slotter said. Construction is expected to last about a year, so the FBI can move into its new home in 2013.

During peak construction times, the building process will employ between 300 and 400 people, Worthington said.

"This will be great for the local economy, because there are no major projects under way down there, other than the federal courthouse," he said. "The project will contribute jobs and property taxes. Because the building is owned by a private firm and is leased to the government, it is not exempt from paying property taxes."

Slotter agreed the building would be good for San Diego, not only because of the jobs it could create, but also because of its look, which was designed by Minneapolis-based HGA Architects.

"It's a very dynamic, nice-looking building," he said. "It will add to the overall San Diego look in a positive way."

Worthington took his praise for the design several steps higher.

"This is going to be the best building we've ever built as a company," he said. "It's absolutely spectacular. The architecture and design are fantastic, the site is great and the purpose of the building is amazing.

"This is an exciting project be involved with, and it will be one of the most attractive buildings we've created."

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