This week we were gifted with another chapter in the ongoing saga of the U.S. Transportation Security Administration headquarters relocation. For those who aren’t keeping track, or find government agency relocation processes both boring and excruciating, here’s a recap.
Last August, it was announced to significant fanfare that the TSA was relocating from Arlington to the Victory Center compound on Eisenhower Avenue. There was much self-congratulation from our city’s elected officials during an election year on the acquisition. But last November, the lease was voided by federal judge Charles Lettow.
When the judge’s order was unsealed a few weeks later, we learned that the General Services Administration, the federal agency that handles procurement and government contracts, violated its own request for lease proposal when it awarded the TSA to the 665,000 square-foot Victory Center location. The RLP had called for a new site not to exceed 625,000 square feet.
This week, the GSA delayed the move by two more years, to 2020, and an amended RLP has been released to bidders. Since Prudential Real Estate Inc. is resubmitting a bid for Victory Center, it appears the property owner believes it meets the criteria of the amended RLP.
As we have just finished with March Madness, a college basketball analogy might help clarify what has happened. Imagine a top basketball recruit trying to choose between playing at Duke, the University of North Carolina and the University of Maryland. His overbearing father manages the process and ESPN carries the announcement that he has chosen UNC. There is dancing along Franklin Street in Chapel Hill, as the Tar Heel faithful begin envisioning a sixth NCAA Championship banner hanging in the Dean Dome.
But then, Duke accuses UNC of a recruiting violation. When the NCAA investigates, it determines that Dad had misrepresented crucial facts about the son’s eligibility and his scholarship is voided. Son is ineligible for a year, and then a new recruiting war ensues.
Several things seem clear from the TSA debacle. The first is that the delay is a big blow to development along Eisenhower Avenue. Like a shopping mall that needs a big department store as an anchor tenant before the likes of Gap or Banana Republic will commit, the delay in finding a tenant for Victory Center slows nearby construction and redevelopment.
Also, Alexandria’s office vacancy rate of 16.5 percent, while lower than surrounding jurisdictions, is still way too high. The TSA relocation was going to lower that to a still high 13.5 percent. This problem is not new, and is a regional issue, but it’s one that negatively impacts our city’s finances, as lagging commercial tax revenue has led city council to consider what we view as an unacceptably large increase in the residential property tax rate in next year’s budget.
While we hope that Alexandria eventually emerges from this circus of a process with the prize recruit in hand, redevelopment of the western portion of Eisenhower Avenue should not be left on hold for four years. We need to move forward with the assumption that TSA will not be relocating here and land the next best recruit possible. As Villanova showed this week, cohesiveness and tenacity can enable even a team of lesser names to still hoist a banner.