After 54 years of maintaining its headquarters in New York, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics will break ground for its $55 million "Aerospace Center" next week on Ninth and D streets SW.

The AIAA looked at several sites in New York, seriously considered a site in Alexandria and ended up leasing a $12 million piece of land for $8 million from the District government.

AIAA chose the District location because, among other things, it is in the "heart of Washington's aerospace activity," said AIAA's executive director, Nelson Friedman.

"The new location places the Institute at an important focal point of Aerospace activity near NASA, the Pentagon, the FAA, the National Air and Space Museum and Capitol Hill," Friedman said.

"Members who visit these centers will be able to combine their visits with AIAA business," said Thomas V. Jones, chairman and chief executive officer of Northrop Corp. and the chairman of AIAA's $5 million relocation fund-raising campaign. AIAA's decision to relocate to Washington was the result of efforts by both the Washington Board of Trade and the District government which Friedman called, "impressive and extremely helpful."

"Some people told us dealing with the D.C. government would be next to impossible," said Friedman. "We did not find that to be true at all."

Two years ago, the AIAA took part in the Washington Board of Trade's ExecuTour. The ExecuTour is a two-day event that introduces interested companies and businesses to Washington and the surrounding suburbs as potential sites for relocation.

AIAA then used the Board of Trade as a base to interview potential developers.

Although Alexandria's Economic Development Authority was helpful and aggressive during this period, the District government came up with a competing bid and a better location, according to Friedman.

Once the AIAA made a tentative decision, the city's Economic Development Authority Commission began setting up interviews and providing data so the AIAA could make a final choice.

According to Freidman, "Mayor Marion Barry and his administration have expeditiously moved on each phase of the project."

The 40,000-member AIAA plans to move to D.C. in the summer of 1987, opening up 60 new jobs for District area residents.

The proposed $55 million project is a joint venture between AIAA, New York developer D. Kenneth Patton and the Mutual Life Insurance Co. of New York.

The AIAA will occupy the top floor of the ten 10-story building and lease out the other floors to engineering and aeronautics companies, said Friedman. They will have 13.3 percent ownership in the building with a 49-to-50 year renewable lease on the 1.66 acres leased from the government, with an option to purchase after 15 years.

The AIAA has 63 chapters and 135 student branches in the United States with 6 percent of its members from other countries.