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VA consolidation to cost 800 downtown jobs

VA consolidation to cost 800 downtown jobs

Workers will relocate to a government building in Overland.

Robert A. Young Federal Building

The Robert A. Young Federal Building, shown in the midst of renovation in a photo taken at sunset in February 2011. Photo by J.B. Forbes,

The government’s decision to consolidate a Veterans Affairs office in Overland means relocation of more than 800 jobs out of downtown St. Louis.

Officials with the government’s landlord, the General Services Administration, said Thursday that 640 VA employees will leave the privately owned, leased building at 400 South 18th Street. An additional 180 VA workers will move from the Robert A. Young Federal Building, at 1222 Spruce Street.

The moves are a blow to downtown, which struggles to retain workers even though its residential population grows steadily.

Jason Klumb, the General Services Adminstration’s regional administrator in Kansas City, said the worker relocation is in keeping with the government’s preference to put employees in GSA-owned buildings.

The regional Veterans Benefits Administration office on South 18th Street occupies the entire building a private developer constructed for the VA in 1993. GSA’s lease on the four-story building expires in June. The government has been leasing the structure for $1.9 million per year from the current owner, GSA-VA St. Louis LLC.

The building is just east of Union Station, which is undergoing renovation by Lodging Hospitality Managment. Bob O’Loughlin, the company’s chief executive, said the VA move will have little effect on Union Station’s hotel, which concentrates on convention business.

“But you don’t like to see a neighborhood lose jobs,” he said. “You hope somebody comes in and takes the office space in that building.”

A spokeswoman for St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay didn’t respond to requests for comment.

A GSA spokeswoman said the agency has been working since 2011 to consolidate the Veterans Benefits Administration offices in St. Louis. Agency employees now downtown will move to the government-owned Prevedel building next to the former Military Personnel Records Center in Overland.

The moves come as GSA prepares to spend nearly $100 million to update the Prevedel building and the Robert A. Young building, also known as the RAY building. Klumb said money for the projects comes from a GSA appropriation included in the federal budget Congress approved in December.

Most of the money — $70.2 million — will be spent on the RAY building to make it more earthquake resistant. Exterior walls, utility lines and entrances will be braced to increase the safety of the 2,670 employees who will remain after the VA workers leave.

The 20-story building opened in 1931 as a warehouse for the Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis. The government acquired it in 1941. Primary tenants are the IRS and the Army Corps of Engineers.

Work at the Prevedel building will focus on its heating and air-conditioning systems. The $27.1 million project includes separation of the building’s utilities from the former records center and renovation of 200,000 square feet of currently vacant space for the VA.

A GSA spokeswoman said the Prevedel project should begin this fall with construction at the RAY building to get underway by summer 2015.

The building in Overland is named for Army Sgt. 1st Class Charles F. Prevedel, whose remains were returned to relatives in 2011, decades after his patrol was ambushed in Vietnam in 1969. Prevedel was a Green Beret whose parents lived in Spanish Lake.

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Tim Bryant is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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