Alexandria successfully courts National Science Foundation

By Derrick Perkins (Photo/Curt Suplee, National Science Foundation)

City leaders and economic experts learned Friday that they had pulled off a surprising coup — successfully luring the National Science Foundation to Alexandria.

The General Services Administration announced Eisenhower Valley would become home to the foundation’s headquarters, a move that Val Hawkins of the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership could only describe in baseball terms.

“We’ve been working on it for two years, and it’s one of these things that involved so many people. It involved the mayor and city manager’s office, AEDP, the developers and brokers,” he said. “To us, it’s a home run. It’s an absolute home run.”

Officials expect the foundation — which will relocate from Arlington to the Hoffman Town Center complex in 2017 — to bring 2,400 jobs to the city as well as about 200,000 yearly visitors. It’s predicted to pump $83 million into Alexandria’s economy annually over a 15-year lease.

“The NSF’s decision to locate its headquarters in Alexandria is a tremendous gain for our entire community,” said Mayor Bill Euille in a statement. “Having the NSF headquartered in Alexandria will strengthen our growing knowledge-based economy and directly contribute to our professional workforce.”

Beyond the immediate boost in jobs and visitors, officials hold tight to hopes that the foundation will spur economic development in Eisenhower Valley and serve as a catalyst for other businesses. Hawkins predicts that new restaurants, shops and hotels will pop up in the area.

And by choosing a site near the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the foundation will help make the Port City more attractive to tech and science firms, he said. Though stopping short of calling Eisenhower Valley the city’s future Silicon Valley, Hawkins described it as a “game-changer” for the neighborhood.

“With the USPTO being there, it makes it the intellectual property rights capital of the world, and now we have the National Science Foundation,” Hawkins said. “Just think of all the technology — it’s really going to be a high-tech area.”

Alexandria’s courtship of the foundation has been a multiyear process. In 2011, city council passed a resolution detailing its interest in bringing the agency to Alexandria.

Part of the city’s overtures to the science foundation included an offer of a tax break in exchange for choosing Alexandria. The lower real estate tax rate will save the foundation about $23 million in 15 years but still generate around $50 million for city coffers.

The GSA touted the deal as saving taxpayers $65 million over 15 years while announcing the move. The lease is 30-percent below market rate, according to the GSA.

The foundation will take up space in a planned 660,000-square-foot, LEED gold-certified complex near the Eisenhower Avenue Metro station. Construction of the facility is expected to create about 800 temporary jobs in the city.

Despite heavy wooing, Hawkins said the GSA’s sudden decision came as a surprise to most. It also has drawn criticism from Arlington’s top elected officials, who sought to keep the foundation within the county.

Jay Fisette, vice chairman of the county board, called the deal a “giveaway of Alexandria taxpayers’ money” in an interview with the Washington Post. Hawkins, though, only spoke positively about the development.

“You could say the USPTO was a grand slam home run, so this is a home run,” he said. “But this has the potential of being a grand slam because of all the spinoff business and development generated.”

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