Ernst & Young LLP, which has been searching for several years for Northern Virginia office space, has signed a lease for 122,000 square feet in a just-completed building in Tysons Corner.

The accounting firm's lease is the first at 8484 Westpark Dr., a nine-story, 270,000-square-foot building owned by a partnership of Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. and the National Automobile Dealers Association.

E&Y will consolidate its four local offices -- Bethesda, Tysons and two District locations -- into two, the new Tysons building and one of its existing D.C. buildings. To do that, the firm has juggled its personnel so that nationally focused operations remain downtown and local customer-oriented operations go to Virginia, according to Dick Dugan, managing partner for the mid-Atlantic area.

That means about 100 people will be moving from Bethesda and several hundred from the District, where E&Y has more than 1,200 employees. When the shuffling is finished, about half the company's 1,800-plus local people will work in the new building in Tysons.

The rapid growth of Northern Virginia's high-tech industry has meant that many service providers, such as lawyers and accountants, are also shifting personnel away from downtown so they can be close to their customers. But while the tech companies are largely settling along the Dulles Toll Road, Tysons Corner has attracted many of the service firms.

Dugan explained that in his company's case, Tysons made more sense than Reston or another western location because access to the Beltway is better, making it easier to reach customers in Montgomery County or along the I-95 corridor.

The landlord and tenant in this transaction were both represented by teams of brokers from Cushman & Wakefield. Scott Frankel and Brian McVay worked for E&Y; Doug Fleit and Ken Born worked for the building owners.

A Year to Remember

A new report from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments confirms what any count of building cranes suggests: Last year was the busiest in this decade for commercial construction in the Washington region.

Nonresidential construction starts totaled 29.3 million square feet in 549 projects, up from 21.3 million square feet in 1997. That's the highest since 1989, when 34 million square feet started. The low point since the study began in 1980 was 1993, when just 12.3 million square feet of construction started.

All told, the buildings started last year are worth $3.2 billion, the council estimates.

The Council of Governments' figures cover all kinds of government and private construction, including office, retail, hotel, research, educational and medical. The largest category in 1998 was office space at 11.5 million square feet, or 39 percent of the total.

The largest project begun during the year was the 1.3 million-square-foot MCI WorldCom office campus in Loudoun County. Close behind was the 1.1 million-square-foot Ritz-Carlton Hotel and Residences in the District. The largest suburban Maryland project was the 850,000-square-foot Clinical Research Center at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda.

Geographically, Northern Virginia accounted for most of the construction, with 336 projects and 16 million square feet of space, or 55 percent of the total square footage. That part of the region accounted for 64 percent of the new office space.

In suburban Maryland, there were 182 projects totaling 9.1 million square feet. The District had 31 projects totaling 4.3 million square feet.

Etc., Etc.

Atlantic Realty Cos. has acquired the office building at 8150 Leesburg Pike in Tysons Corner for $29 million from EastGroup Properties L.P. That works out to about $147 per square foot for the 197,427-square-foot building. Atlantic Realty, which currently has its offices a few blocks away, plans to move its 55 employees into one floor of the 13-story building. . . . Intrepid Real Estate has purchased the office building at 1211 Connecticut Ave. NW from a group of overseas investors for $18 million, or $144 per square foot for the 124,626-square-foot building. It's the third D.C. office building purchase for Washington-based Intrepid.

CAPTION: An architect's rendering of the just-completed building at 8484 Westpark Dr.