Fairfax County fights to house the FBI
By Corinne Reilly,
It’s prime real estate with plenty of space. Ideally located near Metro, buses and major highways. A short walk to shopping and restaurants. Lots of parking. Easy access to the CIA and Quantico. Proven protection enjoyed by a “highly secure government tenant” that already occupies some of the property.
The way Fairfax County officials see it, what more could the FBI want in its new headquarters?
In the months since the bureau announced its desire to abandon the crumbling, Brutalist behemoth that is the District’s J. Edgar Hoover Building, jurisdictions across the Washington region have made it known that they want the thousands of jobs the FBI would bring.
The District hopes to keep the agency. In Maryland, Montgomery County recently threw its hat into the ring, much to the chagrin of Prince George’s officials, who had assumed that they would be the state’s only competitor.
In Virginia, Fairfax County officials are pushing hard for a site in Springfield near the Springfield-Franconia Metro station that houses large, federally owned storage warehouses that are well past their prime. The county has long hoped to redevelop the area.
“We’re not being shy about saying that we think the Springfield site fits the criteria perfectly,” said Fairfax County Supervisor Jeff C. McKay (D), whose Lee district includes the old warehouses. “This is a golden opportunity.”
But Maryland and the District aren’t the only competition. The city of Alexandria and Prince William, Loudoun and Stafford counties also have been suggested for the relocation. The Springfield site could even lose out to another spot in Fairfax — the Exxon Mobil campus in Merrifield, which the company plans to leave next year. Fairfax favors the Springfield site because it is already federally owned; a public-sector tenant at the Exxon campus would cut the county’s tax base by an estimated $2.5 million.
Leaders from across Northern Virginia are set to meet Thursday in Arlington to try to get on the same page to make sure their state doesn’t miss out.
U.S. Reps. Gerald E. Connolly and James P. Moran Jr., both Fairfax Democrats, have said they support the Springfield site, but their top priority is finding a place for the FBI in Virginia. Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R) also wants Virginia to host the FBI but hasn’t backed any particular location.
In a solicitation to real estate developers last month, the agency that oversees most federal buildings — the General Services Administration — proposed swapping the Hoover building’s valuable land on Pennsylvania Avenue for the construction of a new, consolidated campus elsewhere in the Washington region. Among the GSA’s requirements: roughly 55 acres of land and 2 million square feet of space in a location that is easy to protect. A decision is at least months away, and the move wouldn’t happen for several years.
Fairfax says the Springfield location meets all the criteria and has lots of other advantages, too. The site is close to public transit — Metro, Virginia Railway Express, buses and Amtrak — as well as every regional highway except Interstate 66. What’s there now, mostly furniture and patent and trademark records, would be easy to move.
Officials wouldn’t say exactly what else is there now, but they described a “highly secure government tenant” that probably could stay on and share security with the FBI.
Despite claims by Maryland officials that more FBI employees live there, Fairfax says the biggest chunk lives in Virginia, which is also home to the FBI’s major training site in Quantico. “Maryland did a cursory look with a lot of asterisks,” McKay said of the competition’s employee count.
And Fairfax officials say they are willing to bet that FBI employees would overwhelmingly support the Springfield site, both for its convenience and because it is a short walk to plenty of shopping and restaurants — or at least it will be soon. The warehouses are near a site that recently was rezoned for roughly 1 million square feet of new office space with ground-level retail. And across the street, the Springfield Mall is being redeveloped into a walkable town center.
The dilapidated warehouses are a major roadblock to the area’s revitalization, while a new FBI campus could be a centerpiece, said Sharon Bulova (D), chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.
Although it’s not yet clear who might be a front-runner, Prince George’s County could be among the serious competitors. Arguments for a site there include that Prince George’s also has plenty of Metro access, it would help relieve Beltway congestion by reducing the number of westbound morning commuters, and it would spur economic development in a less-affluent part of the region that badly needs it.
But Fairfax is putting up a fight. Nearly a year ago, supervisors unanimously passed a resolution supporting the Springfield site for the FBI. Since then, McKay and the county’s Economic Development Authority have been meeting with local developers to put together a selling package to submit to federal officials by a March deadline. County staffers have put in countless hours pulling data to help market the Springfield site, and the county’s lobbyists are working to convince legislators. The county has named winning the relocation a top legislative priority for the year.
Bulova said she’s confident that the Springfield site can win on its merits, but she’s worried political factors could sway the competition. “It’s important that we not take anything for granted. We were all burned by the Mark Center,” she said, referring to the federal government’s 2011 decision to relocate thousands of its employees to a traffic-choked site near Alexandria with no nearby public transit. Fairfax County wanted the employees moved to the Springfield site.