From the Ground Up

Army Approves Office Park for Aberdeen

By Chris Kirkham
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 23, 2006

A Rockville developer has received government approval to build an office and research park on the Aberdeen Proving Ground, an Army research and training site northeast of Baltimore.

When completed, the Government and Technology Enterprise project will be a 2-million-square-foot office and research park. The project's cost was not disclosed. Geoffrey Lilja, a senior director at Rockville developer Opus East LLC, said construction of the first phase, a three-story office building and a one-story flex building for office or industrial use, will begin early next year. The first 150,000 square feet of space is expected to open for tenants in early 2008.

Opus East has no committed tenants, but Lilja said he has received inquiries from several defense contractors. The rest of the project, which will include lab and research space, will be built based on interest from prospective tenants, he said.

Lilja expects that government contractors who do electronics testing or design communications equipment will be interested in the laboratory space. He said the entire project might take 10 years.

Last year's decision by a federal commission to relocate more than 4,000 government jobs from Fort Monmouth, N.J., to Aberdeen Proving Ground sparked developer interest in Harford County, where Aberdeen is. A number of high-tech, private-sector software developers and engineers are expected to move to the area as Fort Monmouth, which handles software engineering for intelligence gathering and military communication, completes its gradual closing.

A government report released recently estimated that 30,000 new government and private-sector jobs would be added in Aberdeen by 2012.

Science Applications International Corp., which has a large federal contracting business in McLean, bought a high-tech, defense-related Massachusetts firm with a location in Harford County shortly after the realignment plan was announced.

"We felt that with the expansion of Homeland Security and the expansion of the mission of the agencies at Aberdeen, there would be a growth in contractors who might find that an attractive place to locate," Lilja said.

"It seemed like the military connection notwithstanding, it was also really good real estate," added Lilja, citing Aberdeen's location midway between Washington and Philadelphia and its proximity to an Amtrak/MARC station as reasons to develop on the land.

The site is part of a new nationwide leasing program run by the Army Corps of Engineers on military sites. The Army advertises open spaces and chooses from competing developers to build on the land. It then enters a long-term lease with the winning firm. Opus East was chosen last year but got the go-ahead Oct. 12 to start construction.

The military gets money by leasing the land to a developer, and the developer gets money by leasing to tenants. The Army still owns the land, but the development company owns the buildings and can set rental rates, according to Lilja.

There are dozens of similar projects around the nation, including at Fort Greely in Alaska and Camp Navajo in Arizona. Officials with the Army Corps of Engineers did not return calls seeking more details.

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