Just three months ago, local leaders and residents cheered the announcement that the U.S. Transportation Security Administration would move its headquarters to the long-dormant Victory Center in the Eisenhower West neighborhood, bringing 3,000 jobs to Alexandria and filling 500,000 square feet of vacant office space.
But that piece of good news and the resulting celebration now appears to be premature. A federal judge last week voided the lease, signed by the General Services Administration, following a lawsuit from a company that proposed a competing project in Springfield, Va.
That property owner, Boston Properties Inc., alleged that the GSA dismissed environmental issues and relaxed other requirements for the project, like proximity to Metro, maximum lease size and other issues.
Experts say such a ruling is unprecedented. And unfortunately, the verdict itself is under seal until attorneys can redact private and proprietary information about the bid process, so Alexandrians are left in the dark as to why the lease was voided, not to mention what happens next.
We are disappointed to see that something viewed as a huge win for Alexandria and a potential driver of the local economy and development in Eisenhower West is now in doubt. And it is frustrating not to be able to discern whether the lease was voided because of a minor error or something more substantial — or whether fault lies entirely with the GSA or if actions by the property owners, city government, or business leaders played a role in the verdict.
In the face of this uncertainty, the owners of the Victory Center must do everything possible to reverse the judge’s decision. Local officials had commented that the TSA was the last chance the property had to secure a federal tenant before the owners looked in a completely new direction to find occupants. It is paramount that leaders and the property owner keep a close eye on the decision and appeal it, if necessary.
Furthermore, the city’s elected officials, staff and the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership should stand ready to support the property owner in reapplying for the lease, if the GSA needs to start the process over.
As we wait for more information and any appeals to occur, everyone involved must prepare for a worst-case scenario, one where the TSA goes elsewhere. The property owner should be ready to move on to other commercial tenants or be prepared to redevelop the property altogether. And city leaders should similarly prepare to aid in that process.
With city council’s approval last weekend of the Eisenhower West small area plan, a roadmap for redevelopment in that neighborhood, the loss of the TSA could significantly affect interest in developing the area and the speed at which it takes place.
And if the judge’s decision stands and another property is chosen for the federal agency, there must be accountability. Although the competing property owner only sued the GSA and Government Accountability Office, we will not be certain where there were alleged lapses until the verdict is made public.
Officials, both business and governmental, must determine what can be done to avoid this situation in future bids for federal tenants.