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National Science Foundation: 'The Catalyst for Exciting Development' in Alexandria

Federal and city officials hold groundbreaking ceremony for new NSF complex on Eisenhower Avenue.

(From left) Planning Commissioner Derek Hyra, former councilman David Speck, City Manager Rashad Young, Councilman Paul Smedberg, former mayor Kerry Donley, Councilwoman Del Pepper, Mayor Bill Euille, Councilman Tim Lovain, Councilman John Chapman
(From left) Planning Commissioner Derek Hyra, former councilman David Speck, City Manager Rashad Young, Councilman Paul Smedberg, former mayor Kerry Donley, Councilwoman Del Pepper, Mayor Bill Euille, Councilman Tim Lovain, Councilman John Chapman

Alexandria welcomed the National Science Foundation to the city Monday with a groundbreaking ceremony at the site of where the federal research organization’s new headquarters will be constructed over the next three years.

U.S. Rep. Jim Moran (D-8th) and Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille both heralded the NSF’s move from Arlington County’s Ballston neighborhood and expressed expectations that the new office complex will bring vitality to Alexandria’s Eisenhower Valley.

“We believe that NSF will be the catalyst for exciting development here,” said Euile.

When the office is completed in 2017, the NSF will bring an estimated 4,273 total jobs to the city between the organization’s staff and a substantial contractor tail. The NSF has an annual budget of about $7 billion and operates as the funding source for approximately 20 percent for all federally supported basic research conducted by U.S. colleges and universities.

Moran said the move will be the largest transfer of federal workers since the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office moved from Crystal City to Alexandria a decade ago. The two organizations will soon be working in synergy just footsteps from each other.

City officials expect the NSF to be an overwhelmingly positive addition to the city’s tax base and for it to produce positive economic spin-off. The institute is expected to generate 90,000 hotel room nights per year and spur the construction of new hotels, residences, eateries and other retail along Eisenhower Avenue. 

“[Former mayor] Chuck Beatley had a vision, it was [former city manager] Vola Lawson’s vision,” said Moran. “They saw that the Eisenhower Valley could be a real economic source and a strength for the city. It’s a place in Alexandria where we could realize economic potential without affecting some of the individual neighborhoods. And we’re realizing that. … I do think we need more transportation options here.”

In June 2013, the General Services Administration announced it had selected a 15-year lease on a plan submitted by longtime property owners the Hoffman family for a 667,759-square-foot complex located next to the AMC Hoffman Center 22. The final rate is expected to save U.S. taxpayers about $65 million over the life of the lease.

In order to secure the lowest lease-rate offer in an extremely competitive process to land the NSF, Alexandria gave Hoffman Development a $23 million tax abatement and offered the GSA $35 million in credits towards rent and relocation costs. The city also waived a $750,000 contribution to the Eisenhower Avenue Improvement Fund and considered eliminating a $1.04 million contribution to the city’s affordable housing fund.

Planning Commissioner Derek Hyra said in October 2013 that the affordable housing waiver was a blemish on the deal.

“Added up, there are probably $80 million in incentives to get NSF to move here and it’s probably worth that money,” Hyra said at the time. “But I think we’re sending a signal to the federal government, to NSF and to the developers in the city that we’re willing to put some of this on the backs of the low- and moderate-income residents of this city by giving up a million dollars in affordable housing contribution.”

Ultimately, City Council opted to dedicate $500,000 of the tax revenue generated from the construction of the NSF complex to the city’s affordable housing fund.

With all the deals done, Monday’s ceremony was about realizing a long-term vision the Hoffman family had for its previously swampy section of town decades ago.

“This will be a 21st Century workplace that will empower the nation with discovery and innovation,” said Cora Marrett, acting director of NSF.

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