Correction to This Article
A July 18 Washington Business article implied that all civilian employees at Fort Belvoir can shop at the ^ base commissary and buy gasoline at the base. Those who are retired military or family members of current or retired military have those privileges. The price of gas cited in the story also was incorrect. On Monday it was $2.27 a gallon for regular unleaded.

Assessing Fort Belvoir's Problems and Prospects

Traffic leaves Fort Belvoir on Backlick Road during evening rush hour. Most of it turns south onto Route 1, entering an already congested commuter route.
Traffic leaves Fort Belvoir on Backlick Road during evening rush hour. Most of it turns south onto Route 1, entering an already congested commuter route. (By Rich Lipski -- The Washington Post)

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By Elissa Silverman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 18, 2005

Carved out of a colonial estate in southern Fairfax County, Fort Belvoir has for decades functioned like a self-sufficient island. Twenty-two thousand workers, most of them civilians, trek there for work each week, but they mostly spend their money at the base's gas station ($2.07 a gallon for regular unleaded), its restaurants, shopping mall and commissary (at $87.5 million in sales last year, the highest grossing base store in the world).

Military retirees roam its two 18-hole golf courses.

But since the Pentagon's Base Realignment and Closure commission released its recommendations in May, local officials say expectations are growing that this part of Fairfax County will finally come to resemble its neighbors in Tysons Corner and Reston, with sleek glass office buildings and upscale retail replacing the auto body shops and dollar stores that are now outside the base's gates.

The proposed relocation of 18,420 Army and civilian personnel to Fort Belvoir and its largely vacant Engineer Proving Ground would probably have federal government contractors following them down Route 1, buoying that section of Fairfax.

"Ever since the BRAC announcement, there has been a heightened level of interest and activity from the commercial development community," said Richard Neel, president of the Southeast Fairfax Development Corp. "The people are coming."

"We're interested in understanding what development opportunities there are," said Margarita Foster, a vice president and market research director at Cassidy & Pinkard, one of the firms that has begun scouting the area. "We have clients who are Department of Defense contractors, and they are relying on us to keep them informed about availability of office space."

Hotel chains have also called around, looking to find available parcels. "I have no doubt that if I'm looking [other hotels] are looking, too," said Robert S. Mannon, senior vice president for development at Marriott International Inc. "We're following the jobs and the trends in the market, and they're all headed to Belvoir."

Military bases and agencies produce mixed effects on local economic development. Just as their arrival can produce spinoff businesses, their closing can open large tracts of land to private investment.

In the Washington area, Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens has referred to the area around Fort Meade and the National Security Agency as the county's "gold coast."

"There's been incredible job growth generated by both Fort Meade and NSA, which in turn attracts defense contractors," said Jody Couser, an Owens spokeswoman, referring to Lockheed Martin Corp., Titan Corp. and other defense contractors clustered in the National Business Park, an office park near the two facilities.

The District has had less success with Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and that facility's proposed closing is expected to spark interest from developers in a newly available expanse of urban land.

"I don't think Walter Reed itself generates economic development on Georgia Avenue," said D.C. Council member Adrian M. Fenty, who represents the area around the hospital. "The proof is in the pudding: Walter Reed has been there for decades, and if it was going to spur economic development it would have done so a long time ago."


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