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From The Ground Up

Biotech Park Development Sought for GSA Warehouse Site

By Dana Hedgpeth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 10, 2005; Page E01

Just off Interstate 395 in Springfield, past a shopping mall and a strip of big-box stores, a chain-link fence wraps around a huge, light brown warehouse.

Inside the sprawling, 1.2 million-square-foot building -- roughly the size of 21 football fields -- are rows of computer monitors and hard drives, copying machines and desks. Coat racks stand by stacks of leather office chairs, bookcases, metal and wood file cabinets, and shelves full of green ficus trees in straw pots.

New furniture, artwork, old desks and supplies are stacked throughout Building A, a 1.2 million-square-foot General Services Administration warehouse in Springfield. Below right, James Donatone, building manager for the GSA, walks through reams of filed patents that fill about 300,000 square feet of the space. (Katherine Frey -- The Washington Post)

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Boxes of paper and shrink-wrapped burlap sacks to hold sand are stacked in one part. There's even a large, old-fashioned scale that is five feet tall.

The warehouse is owned by the General Services Administration, which acts as the federal government's real estate agent.

Some politicians and developers in Fairfax County want the GSA to sell the about 80 acres where the large warehouse and a dozen smaller ones sit and develop it into a commercial property.

"We're talking about a prime piece of real estate adjacent to the Springfield Metro station, the VRE station and most every major interstate in Northern Virginia," said Fairfax County Supervisor T. Dana Kauffman (D-Lee), who represents the Springfield area. "We want a private developer that has the wherewithal to leverage a major piece of land for real employment opportunities, not another residential community."

County economic development officials and Kauffman said they would like to see the GSA land developed as a biotech research and development campus. The land sits next to the medical education campus of Northern Virginia Community College and is between Loudoun and Prince William counties, where a handful of biotech firms and a biotech-heavy branch of George Mason University are.

There is one problem, though: No one has stepped forward to develop the land. A few years ago, county officials said they talked to developers about interest in the site. There was, but many wanted to build houses on it, which county planners and officials don't want.

Some developers said the site has potential, but probably not for biotech. Some argue that there isn't enough of a biotech business in Fairfax to warrant such a development. Maryland is by far the local leader in the biotech industry thanks to the National Institutes of Health, which funds research and around which has sprouted dozens of biotech firms.

"You could have a [development] of four, five or six restaurants with an office park environment there," said Steven B. Peterson of the Peterson Cos., a major developer in Fairfax. "Springfield is old and tired. It could use a shot in the arm."

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