Berlin Mayor Wowereit (left) and U.S. Ambassador Coats sign embassy agreement. (Photo courtesy of U.S. State Dept.)

U.S. and Berlin officials have signed an agreement that they say advances long-stalled plans to build a new U.S. embassy in the German capital. Under the memorandum of understanding signed May 2, the new facility would be located on Pariser Platz near the Brandenburg Gate, the site of the pre-World War II U.S. embassy.

In 1996, the State Dept. had selected a team led by Moore Ruble Yudell Architects & Planners with Gruen Associates to design a 215,000-sq-ft building. But the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam prompted security concerns about the Berlin plan because the proposed facility would not be set back 100 feet from the street, as Congress required. In 1999, the Senate Appropriations Committee cited security shortcomings and called the site "unusable" and said it should be sold.

But early last year, shortly after Colin L. Powell became Secretary of State, he made clear that he felt the U.S. embassy should be on the Pariser Platz site. Charles E. Williams, director and chief operating officer of State's Office of Overseas Buildings Operations, says Powell also said he is willing to waive the 100-ft setback requirement in Berlin's case.

Under the May 2 memorandum, the setback would be increased slightly, says U.S. Ambassador Daniel R. Coats. The U.S. also agreed to pay to relocate a section of a street about 8 meters to increase the space around the building.    

Original design will be modified. (Photo courtesy of Moore Ruble Yudell Architects & Planners)

Coats, who signed the agreement with Berlin Governing Mayor Klaus Wowereit, said, "We plan to construct a beautiful building which will be fitting, in accordance with the architecture of this very historic place, and at the same time provide for important security concerns." He also said "some architectural redesign" will be done.

The State' Dept.'s Williams wouldn't specify what additional security measures the facility would have to compensate for lacking the 100-ft setback. He says, "Everyone who has any equity in and around the site has agreed to cooperate with us to allow certain security features to be put in place."

The U.S. says it hopes to have the new design finished in a year and start construction in summer 2003. Williams says he expects to seek construction bids in spring 2003. He says the building's size will be more than 200,000 sq ft.

The project is to be done by the end of 2006. But the changes require congressional approval.