National Science Foundation may leave Arlington County for Alexandria

June 8, 2011

The National Science Foundation is considering a move from its Ballston location.

The foundation’s 20-year lease will be up in 2013, and it is searching for a bigger, cheaper place. The Alexandria City Council passed a resolution last week trying to lure the 2,100 employees to the city.

“We are going to pursue them, and we are going to pursue them aggressively,” Vice Mayor Kerry Donley (D) said during the council meeting.

The National Science Foundation wants about 690,000 square feet, or approximately 28 stories, near a Metro station that is also easy for people with disabilities to commute to. The Ballston headquarters has 550,000 square feet.

“It will be open and the best value for the government and taxpayers,” said Maria Zacharias, a foundation spokeswoman, who added that the exact building requirements have yet to be released.

The General Services Administration, which handles property and other acquisitions for the federal government, has approved a $38-per-square-foot lease rate cap, lower than most Arlington and Alexandria’s average commercial space rates.

In the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor and in Crystal City, rents are in the low $40s per square foot for existing buildings. New construction tends to average $45 to $60 per square foot.

Alexandria commercial rents hover between $35 and $45 per square foot. New construction rents are between $40 and $50 per square foot.

“They have told us that they would love to stay in Arlington and would love to stay in the Ballston area,” said Karen M. Vasquez of Arlington Economic Development. She said her office is working with the landlord, as well as with new potential locations.

The real estate firm handling the move declined to give details about an ongoing deal.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and several other high-level defense scientific research departments are situated near the National Science Foundation. For that reason, the area was left untouched by the Base Realignment and Closure, or BRAC, process and is favored by several congressmen, “reaffirming that notion that there is a tremendous amount of value in the collocation of these organizations,” Vasquez said.

“They have been here a long time, and they have put down quite a few roots in Arlington,” she said. “Many of their permanent staff, they live in Arlington. They’ve built families and homes, and their kids go to school here.”

Alexandria is an attractive location for the foundation, too, said Val P. Hawkins, head of the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership. The city has hotels, restaurants and great residential communities, he said. Other draws include four Metro stations, the proximity to Reagan National Airport and the waterfront, he said.

“It is a very, very competitive requirement, and we think Alexandria has an awful lot to offer, should they choose to leave Arlington,” he said.

Alexandria’s Victory Center, Hoffman Town Center and Carlyle Plaza, all in the Eisenhower corridor, and the former American Trucking Associations site on Mill Road were toured by foundation officials, city documents said.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, formerly based in Crystal City, could be a potential neighbor for the foundation at Carlyle Plaza.

“We view it as a long shot over here, but we are working hard to do everything we can to attract them,” Hawkins said.

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