Alexandria In just a few months, the National Science Foundation will open at its new location along Eisenhower Avenue. In September, the new building will bring more than 2,000 employees into the Carlyle neighborhood. The facade is already complete, new residential towers are completed or in development across the street. So Alexandria is left wondering: what will the new NSF building mean for the city?
An Agenda: Alexandria panel on April 24, “Here Come the Scientists – How Will the New National Science Foundation Impact Alexandria?,” highlighted that while the NSF will bring benefits to the area, it also comes with a share of problems.
According to Stephanie Landrum, president and CEO of the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership, the Eisenhower Valley has faced stagnation over the last five years after the initial bump from the Federal Courthouse and Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) wore off.
“There [wasn’t] a lot of people breaking ground,” said Landrum. “So we’re already seeing signs of success. The announcement and decision to move was the domino that kicked off investment in Eisenhower … Once that domino fell, almost all other parcels [in the area] have sold. That’s why we wanted them as a catalyst. The Holiday Inn was closed, renovated, and reopened by a new investor. Paradigm broke ground and developed after the [NSF] announcement.”
Frank Cole, president of the Eisenhower Avenue Public-Private partnership, was wary of comparisons to the PTO.
“People in the Eisenhower area have one real bit of history, the PTO, to look back on,” said Cole. “I think a lot of people were expecting the NSF to be like the PTO, but a little smaller. But this does not have the number of opportunities that the PTO brought. It brings other opportunities, but not a lot of ancillary businesses [the way the PTO did]. There’s going to be some, but not a lot.”
Cole said the businesses coming in as a result of the NSF move will likely be high tech contracting businesses. However, Landrum said many of those new tenants won’t move into the area immediately. Many of those contractors still have leases at their locations that it wouldn’t make financial sense to break from.
“The lesson of the PTO, what we’ve seen over the last 12 years,” is that development “has followed as people’s leases naturally expired,” said Landrum. “That will happen at the NSF only if we build the right type of project for people to move into; if we encourage [developers] to build new office space so people can move in as leases expire.”
However, with the arrival of the major office comes a concern: can Eisenhower support this new population? Initially, the answer was no. Landrum said the new development would put a large demand on local residential and hotel space. With the nearby Holiday Inn already having a healthy occupancy, Landrum said the area will likely need a new hotel built in the future.
The area has already seen a spate of new residential growth. The luxury housing at Parc Meridian, located across Eisenhower Avenue, opened earlier in 2017. At the City Council meeting on April 22, the council approved three residential towers in the empty lot between Parc Meridian and the Eisenhower Metro Station. The new towers will hold 1,200 residential dwelling units and 67,000 square feet of retail space. As part of the deal to move in, the Hoffman Company also agreed to renovate the Eisenhower Metro plaza.
Cole noted that anytime 2,000 new people show up into an area, opportunities and challenges follow.
“There’s retail [in the area], but not as much as what’s needed,” said Cole. The new retail and grocery stores coming in with the Eisenhower East development helps, but Cole said the area needs more. “Those are the kinds of things we will be looking at growing in the area, things that have been missing in the Eisenhower area. Our growth in retail is pretty significant.”
Landrum said her only regret with the project was that the development in the area wasn’t worked on quicker to be available before the NSF moves in.
There is another significant impact of new growth that Cole says the area isn’t ready for.
“If there is a single concern, it’s traffic,” said Cole. “Not parking, but traffic itself. Congestion is going to be an issue there as years go on. Several rather large residential projects that by 2020 are going to bring tens of thousands of new people. What they bring in is not a parking problem, but absolutely a traffic problem. There are plans underway for widening Eisenhower, but we know that has been pushed back.”
There are infrastructure improvements planned with the new developments, but Cole reiterated that unless Eisenhower Avenue is widened the area will face a major traffic crisis. Cole also said he was worried about how the new food trucks located along Eisenhower will impact the brick and mortar retail, but said he believes they are inevitable. Eisenhower Avenue was one of the locations approved for limited food truck usage last year by the City Council.
Considering the NSF was brought to Alexandria with the help of $23 million in tax abatements over the next 15 years, there were questions from the audience about how financially beneficial the project was going to be for the city. According to Landrum, the abatement was the first in the city’s history.
“The tax abatement is a big deal,” Landrum acknowledged. Landrum said the city contracted with a real estate project evaluator, Delta Associates, to do a return on investment model for the company to ensure that it would be a worthwhile. “[The city] will make $50 million off this project in real estate taxes alone over 10 years, and that doesn’t take into account spin off from other developments or the catalytic impact of a building like this.”
If the government purchases the property, Landrum said a a clause is built into the contract that payment will have to be provided in lieu of taxes.
Before its move to Alexandria, the NSF was previously located in Ballston. The NSF’s lease in Alexandria is for the next 15 years.