Springfield Site Losing Out to Alexandria for Defense Jobs

Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, September 25, 2008; Page B01

Army officials are likely to announce Monday that they will relocate 6,400 jobs originally slated for Fort Belvoir to Alexandria, and not to a transit-accessible location in Springfield preferred by state, Fairfax County and congressional officials, according to several people with knowledge of the Army's thinking.

Assistant Army Secretary Keith E. Eastin said in an interview yesterday that Army Secretary Pete Geren will make a decision by Monday. It is part of a plan by the Army and Congress to move 20,000 defense workers, most of them from office buildings in Arlington, to Fort Belvoir.

That decision, part of a larger base realignment program, was intended to put the jobs, many of them sensitive, in more secure locations. But Fairfax officials and Northern Virginia congressional leaders successfully lobbied the Army to shift 6,400 of the jobs to another nearby location to minimize the effect on traffic around Fort Belvoir.

Northern Virginia officials had lobbied heavily to have the 6,400 workers move to federally owned property in Springfield within a half-mile of Metrorail and Virginia Railway Express stations.

But several problems have emerged with the Springfield site, which houses a General Services Administration warehouse.

Army officials say it is doubtful that the site could be up and running by their deadline of September 2011. The enormous wooden warehouse is filled with row upon row of original, hard-copy patent applications. "You have to see it for yourself," Eastin said. "It is an incredible operation. The Patent and Trademark Office has their files there. It is beyond description."

Moreover, the property also contains some kind of secure operation, a common hurdle in the Washington area, said several government sources who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the deliberations.

Fairfax County officials are bracing for the likelihood that the jobs will be put at one of two possible sites in Alexandria: Victory Center on Eisenhower Avenue or Mark Center near Interstate 395 and Seminary Road.

Both have limited access to public transit, and Fairfax officials fear that their county would take the brunt of the new traffic. They said it would be a mistake to choose a flawed location for the sake of time.

"I believe that everybody will understand if you need a little more time to fix the GSA site," said Gerald E. Connolly (D), chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. "To stick blindly to the deadline and choose an inferior site is foolish and compromises security. Why wouldn't you go with the optimal solution?"

Alexandria officials, though, said they would welcome the infusion of jobs and expressed faith in the Army's vetting process.

"We have two excellent sites in Alexandria that meet the Army's space, security, expansion and transportation criteria," City Manager James K. Hartmann said through a spokesman.

But the Alexandria locations have their own problems. Dana Kauffman, who until January represented Springfield on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, said choosing the Victory Center wouldn't "pass the giggle test" because the Army previously occupied the property but pulled out because of security concerns following the 2001 terrorist attacks.

Although Victory Center representatives have said the building is being gutted and renovated with all the necessary security upgrades, Kauffman said: "The building's still in the same spot. They haven't moved the railroad tracks, and they haven't moved Eisenhower Avenue. And those are the reasons they pulled out less than five years ago."

Fairfax Supervisor Jeff C. McKay (D-Lee) said the biggest problem with Mark Center is its distance from public transit. The owners have proposed creating a shuttle service to drive workers to the Pentagon and Metro, which McKay called an untenable idea that would create traffic troubles for Fairfax.

"I thought that was always the black sheep of the options," McKay said.

State Transportation Secretary Pierce R. Homer has said the Victory Center is the next-best site after the GSA parcel in Springfield. It is served by Metro and is near the Capital Beltway. And with Virginia Railway Express trains running nearby, construction of a VRE station would be possible, according to official Virginia comments submitted to the Army.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company