Capital One, Hilton, Northrop Grumman and other industry heavyweights have established Tysons Corner as a popular landing spot for top corporations, but Northern Virginia officials have sidelined the area in their pursuit of Amazon as the online retailer seeks a second headquarters location with as many as 50,000 jobs.
Members of the Fairfax and Loudoun county boards of supervisors, with the blessing of Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), have decided to propose another site for an 8 million-square-foot campus for Amazon: the Center for Innovative Technology, adjacent to Dulles International Airport.
According to officials from both counties, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the plans were meant to remain private, the state would offer the CIT campus, valued at around $30 million, to Amazon in conjunction with two privately owned parcels and subsidies from both counties.
McAuliffe has not chosen a favorite site in the commonwealth for Amazon, but officials said he backed the CIT plan. A McAuliffe spokesman declined to comment on the record.
The Washington area is viewed as a contender to land Amazon’s second headquarters because of its well-educated workforce, public transit system and airport accessibility. Bids are due Oct. 19, and the online retailer plans to make a decision by early next year. Amazon 1. Amazon wants to occupy its first building in 2018 but eventually wants to expand 8 million square feet.
Local officials’ selection of CIT, which straddles the Fairfax-Loudoun line, has chafed developers in Tysons, who have spent years advancing plans aimed at landing such a prize. A new comprehensive plan envisions an urban street grid and allows increasingly tall office towers, such as the 470-foot headquarters that Capital One is building.
Tysons, still peppered with auto dealerships and strip malls, does not present a blank canvas the way CIT can offer farther west. But it is already home to dozens of restaurants, thousands of apartments and four Metro stations. CIT pitched a complex that would have had retail and housing in addition to more tech space, but a Metro station at CIT isn’t expected to open until 2020.
Cityline Partners, developers of one of the largest real estate portfolios in Tysons, is already building its Scotts Run project, slated to include a mini city’s worth of offices, retail and residential units around 17 acres of parkland and a street grid lined with bike lanes. Although the Cityline property isn’t as large as 100 acres, the space Amazon cites in its request for proposals, it could accommodate Amazon’s needs, said Donna Shafer, executive vice president at Cityline.
Shafer said that even if local officials believed the CIT site was best suited for Amazon it made no sense to exclude other sites from public support. “We’re disappointed, and it’s confounding,” she said in an interview. “We don’t understand how the county wins by taking options off the table. Nobody knows exactly what Amazon wants.”
She argued that the area ought to provide a range of urban, suburban and rural proposals. “At one point in time there were three options [under consideration] — a CIT site, a Reston site and a Tysons site . . . and that seemed like a pretty good range of options,” she said.
Fairfax County board chair Sharon Bulova issued a statement saying that the county was “going to adhere closely to the requirements laid out by Amazon in the response to their request for proposals and will put what we believe to be the best site forward based on Amazon’s strict criteria.” She said that “there are many great potential areas for corporate headquarters in the County, but Amazon was very specific about what they’re looking for.”
Ultimately, there will likely be more than a dozen bids submitted from private and public sector stakeholders in the District, Maryland and Virginia. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) has thrown his weight behind the Port Covington area in Baltimore. In Virginia, Richmond, Norfolk and Virginia Beach have expressed interest.
The Washington area may have a particular draw for Amazon founder Jeffrey P. Bezos, who owns The Washington Post and has a home in the District. Amazon has also beefed up its Washington lobbying arm.
When it was created in 1985, the nonprofit CIT was viewed as an opportunity for Virginia to capitalize on the area’s technology expertise to “accelerate innovation, imagination and the next generation of technology and technology companies.” But the growth never materialized. Plans to expand the center well beyond its angular tower of 173,000 square feet into a mixed-use technology hub have not advanced, and last year the Virginia General Assembly declared the property surplus so that it could be sold. As of August, when the property went up for sale, 19 private tenants occupied the building, according to the state.
Shafer said Cityline will submit a proposal to Amazon but will likely lack the public support the CIT site will enjoy.
“We’ve discussed our site with local government officials and have tried to get their support,” she said. “But it has not been enough to change their decision.”
Follow Jonathan O’Connell on Twitter: @oconnellpostbiz