The federal government plans to relocate the National Science Foundation from Ballston to the Eisenhower Avenue area of Alexandria in 2017, in what would constitute one of the largest transfers of federal workers in Northern Virginia since the Patent and Trademark Office departed Crystal City for Alexandria in 2005.
Headed by acting director Cora B. Marrett, the NSF is an independent agency that funds a wide array of science and engineering research. It is among the largest employers in Arlington with more than 2,100 headquarters employees, contractors and scientists.
After a competitive search, the General Services Administration announced Friday that it had selected developers of Hoffman Town Center, a 56-acre development just inside the Capital Beltway, for a 15-year, 660,848-square-foot headquarters lease for NSF.
The new headquarters is to be built on parking lots next to the AMC Hoffman Center 22 movie theater, a short walk from the Eisenhower Avenue Metro station. Eventually the developer, a unit of Hoffman Development Inc., plans 7 million square feet of offices, apartments, hotel rooms and retail.
The deal was highly sought after by Alexandria, Arlington and other jurisdictions not only because of NSF’s high-level staff but because it draws more than 60,000 visitors every year, many of them serving on scientific review panels. The foundation had a $7 billion fiscal 2012 budget.
Over the course of the 15-year lease, the GSA said in a statement that it expects to save about $65 million on rent and that the government would receive an additional $35 million to “further rent savings, reduce costs of relocation, and reduce overall operational costs.” The GSA has been aggressively cutting real estate cost and space requirements for its agencies, often at the insistence of members of Congress.
Alexandria officials, eager to jump-start development in the southern part of the city, offered the GSA incentives to bring down the costs. Officials have declined to share the exact value of the incentives but sources familiar with them, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly, said the inducements were worth tens of millions of dollars. Alexandria had a second site in the running, a mixed-use project by JM Zell Partners on John Carlyle Street called Carlyle Plaza.
Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille said in February that the NSF would be a major driver of the city’s knowledge-based economy: “We have seen the enormous benefit the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has had on the city since it located here, and believe that NSF would have similar positive benefits.”
Val P. Hawkins, president and chief executive of the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership, said in an interview that there were still steps for the deal to be complete but called the selection an “absolute home run” for the city.
“When they won the PTO, that was huge for the city and this would be the same,” he said. “To put the National Science Foundation over there with the intellectual property capital of the world, with the U.S. PTO, would just be an incredible thing for this city.”
The NSF will remain in Arlington at 4121 and 4201 Wilson Blvd. in the Stafford Place complex, for about four more years after it signed a short-term lease extension while Congress reviewed its lease renewal request.
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