By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 28, 2007
For a community best known as the spot where three interstate highways cross, just about any news of people coming to live or work -- and not merely to pass through -- is good news.
"There's a tendency to put Springfield on the back burner," Bob Stockton said from his barbershop on Brandon Avenue. "Tysons always had the name for being the place. Springfield got a bad name for a while."
Stockton and others in his southeastern Fairfax County neighborhood hope that the name will be rehabilitated. On Thursday, the U.S. Army announced that it would tear down an empty General Services Administration warehouse near the Franconia-Springfield Metro station to build offices.
The decision is the cornerstone of a plan that would dramatically ramp back the move of 22,000 jobs to Fort Belvoir as part of the Pentagon's 2005 base closure and realignment recommendations. The Army has agreed to move just 8,500 jobs to the post's Engineer Proving Ground, heading off what Virginia and Fairfax officials have described as a potentially catastrophic spike in traffic congestion for the area.
The move will instead put thousands of federal workers on the 70-acre GSA site, within walking distance of the Metro. County leaders say it could catalyze central Springfield, beginning its transformation from a patchwork of motels, strip shopping centers and fast-food joints in the shadow of the Mixing Bowl to an economic anchor for southern Fairfax.
"It's a magnificent opportunity for a series of the right kinds of dominoes to fall. Offices tend to bring you quality restaurants, and the restaurants bring up the retail," said Fairfax Supervisor T. Dana Kauffman (D-Lee), who performed an audit of GSA warehouses as a federal management intern a quarter-century ago.
Upgrading restaurant and retail options is only part of the challenge that Springfield faces. Its massive confluence of roadways -- Interstates 95, 395 and 495, along with Old Keene Mill and Franconia roads -- has fragmented the community into sectors that don't easily connect. It has made a collective identity elusive.
"Springfield is not a place," a 2006 Urban Land Institute Study flatly declared.
There are hopeful signs. The eight-year, $676 million Mixing Bowl project is finally complete. The developer KSI has assembled nine acres for condominiums, a 160-room hotel, offices and a central public plaza or gallery that would be known as Midtown Springfield.
The downturn of the condominium market has kept the project from getting off the ground, but Kauffman and others hope the GSA venture provides a kick-start. Same for the frayed Springfield Mall, which was bought in 2006 by Vornado Realty Trust of New Jersey with as-yet-unrealized plans to remake the 80-acre site.
The Army's announcement also throws new wild cards into Springfield's future. There is uncertainty about the impact of thousands of new office workers.
"We have just transferred 10,000 people to the middle of Springfield," said Supervisor Elaine N. McConnell (R-Springfield). "To use that land is great, but if anyone thinks it's resolving our transportation problem, they are dealing with a misconception."
McConnell said she is especially concerned about providing a bus link from the GSA site to Metro. According to Kauffman, Metro has begun a review of upgrades that would be necessary to handle the expanded use of the Franconia-Springfield Station. The county is also completing a connectivity study that will outline other transportation improvements.
Fairfax County school officials, who had been bracing for the influx of an estimated 3,200 schoolchildren under the old plan, are awaiting word from on the impact of the new agreement. Schools spokesman Paul Regnier said he expected the Defense Department "to come up with a new number of schoolchildren that they estimate will come."
Residents of Loisdale, the neighborhood adjacent to the GSA site, said they have yet to digest the potential issues.
"Hopefully we can address them and come up with some answers," said Joe Johnson, who represents Loisdale on the Lee District's land use committee.
Staff writer Maria Glod contributed to this report.