Various activities this weekend mark the official launch of the holiday season in Alexandria. From the annual Scottish Christmas Walk and Parade of Lights in Old Town, to the Christmas tree and menorah lightings and Pop-up Holiday Bazaar in Del Ray, to the first of four weekly Alexandria Times Holiday Gift Guides (see page 15) – it’s clear Hannukah and Christmas are right around the corner.
One could, however, make the case that this year the holidays will be anti-climactic because the present to get excited about already arrived on Nov. 13 – Amazon’s announcement that half of its HQ2 will be located in Arlington’s Crystal City. The Amazon campus will be built in the newly branded neighborhood of National Landing, and – perhaps even more significant for Alexandria – Virginia Tech will open an innovation campus within our city limits on Swann Avenue in Potomac Yard.
The Virginia Tech piece of the plan has gotten less attention than Amazon’s new headquarters, but the new campus, which was approved by the Tech Board of Visitors on Monday, has the potential to be transformative for Alexandria. We agree with City Manager Mark Jinks’ assessment that “… the biggest gain for the city is getting a cutting-edge research institution.”
While a development of this size will come with attendant challenges, we view the benefits of this project as vastly outweighing any negatives.
A few key takeaways from the announcement:
• The location could not be better from Alexandria’s perspective. By siting the campus in Arlington, just beyond our northern boundary, Alexandria will receive many of the benefits from Amazon’s second headquarters but will dodge some of the worst by-products.
Traffic congestion in our city will be vastly less than if the campus had been located on Eisenhower Avenue, for instance.
• There will be a significant multiplier effect. Some estimates have it as high as a 5X effect, while David Howell of McEnearney Associates cautions that it may be “just” 1 to 1.5X (“Impact of Amazon HQ2 on Alexandria,” Nov. 22 Alexandria Times). So that’s somewhere between 50,000 and 125,000 additional jobs that will come to the region, primarily in Arlington and Alexandria. More doctors, teachers, dog walkers, restaurants, retail stores, etc. will be needed to support the Amazon workers.
• This is going to increase both residential and commercial property values. By taking a chunk of existing commercial office space off the market, demand and pricing for existing office space should rise. Likewise, an influx of 50,000 to 125,000 people, many of whom are going to be well-compensated tech workers, is going to create demand for new housing as well as raise the value of existing homes.
• The $1 billion Virginia Tech campus is going to be a tremendous boost to Alexandria. The graduate program will focus on computer science and software engineering, and will offer specializations in domains such as technology and policy, machine learning and artificial intelligence. A facility like this in our city limits will help attract additional tech companies to the Port City in coming years, and will provide opportunities for partnerships with Alexandria City Public Schools.
In short, the Amazon-VT announcement is a bit like asking Santa for a scooter and receiving a pony. We may have to scramble to provide our gift with food, shelter and other necessities. But relatively small inconveniences are a small price to pay for the economic gift of a lifetime.