Exodus Would Usher In A New Era for Arlington

By Brigid Schulte
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 26, 2005

Arlington would still be home to the Pentagon. But in losing thousands of civilian defense workers and private contractors, the county also would lose some of its identity.

In the prosaic, boxy office buildings of Crystal City and Ballston and Columbia Pike, some of the world's smartest scientists, researchers and analysts have developed some of the most powerful and deadly weapons. Some have devised maps from satellites and divined intelligence. Others simply have balanced the Army's books.

Arlington, which along with Alexandria could lose more than 20,000 defense-related jobs as a result of the Base Closure and Realignment Commission vote yesterday, was named in 1920 after the estate of a Civil War general. World War II transformed it from a sleepy farm community to an urban center, bustling with workers and a sense of national purpose.

Now, it could have to remake itself.

"We've had a long history with the Department of Defense," said Jay Fisette, chairman of the Arlington County Board. "This is a mixed bag for us."

Mixed, he said, because there could be some initial hardship. People would move. Families would be uprooted. Traffic and the resulting air pollution probably would get worse, as thousands of jobs move south to the self-contained Fort Belvoir in Fairfax County and the Quantico Marine Corps base in Prince William. Office space in Northern Virginia would be vacant and cheaper.

And mixed, he said, because that cheaper office space would fill with other businesses, which could revitalize and reinvigorate such places as the demi-skyscrapers and empty streets of Crystal City, which could be described as sterile at best. "This gives property owners a chance to upgrade," Fisette (D) said. "It creates more opportunities."

In an ironic way, Fisette and other Northern Virginia officials predicted that the decision to move so many defense jobs outside the Beltway might draw far-flung, outside-the-Beltway businesses closer in.

U.S. Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.) represents the Northern Virginia area that is slated to lose jobs and the area of Fairfax where they would be moved, which is set to boom. He foresees short-term pain over the forced change of character around the Pentagon. Yesterday's move was the equivalent of four major base closings, he said, and repercussions would be regionwide.

"There won't be tumbleweeds in Crystal City," he said. "Because of Arlington's proximity to D.C. and being on a Metro line, this space will fill right up."

Moran described the defense work in Arlington as the brains behind the military. And, after intense lobbying, Virginia lawmakers persuaded commissioners to leave some of the top defense research agencies right where they are.

Commissioners voted to allow the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Office of Naval Research -- which is in the process of moving into a new, $12 million building in Ballston -- to stay.

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