Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) sent a memo to its employees last week telling them that NSF planned to move its headquarters from Arlington to Alexandria by the end of 2016.
Whether NSF HQ would stay in Arlington has been under active discussion for over four years. All of the important decision-makers have had more than enough time to carefully consider their interests and options. This move was not a hasty decision.
In that light, Arlington County Manager Barbara Donnellan made a poor decision publicly to question whether others had acted wisely. Ms. Donnellan issued a press statement that “we do not believe such a move would be in the best interests of the NSF, the federal government or the American taxpayer.”
In her initial anger in learning of the decision, Ms. Donnellan could be excused for harboring these sentiments, but she never should have issued a press statement to this effect. Arlington, as the losing bidder, has zero credibility to question whether other participants acted in their own self interests.
Also troubling was County Board member Jay Fisette’s statement that the federal government had pitted local jurisdictions against one another in a way he had not expected. His statement is troubling because it reflects a lack of understanding of the “new normal” competitive environment in which Arlington now finds itself.
Funeral for Arlington Firefighter Injured on 9/11 — A funeral will be held today for an Arlington firefighter who was a first responder on 9/11. Phillip McKee III suffered a severe leg injury while battling fires at the Pentagon following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack. He also inhaled toxic dust and later suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. His family says McKee, 41, died from complications from those injuries. McKee, who held degrees from Yale and Harvard, was openly gay and is survived by his husband and partner of 15 years. [Washington Blade]
County Officials: No Subsidies for Gov’t Agencies — With the county still reeling from the impending loss of the National Science Foundation, Arlington officials are sticking to their guns and saying that offering tax breaks and other financial incentives to lure federal agencies is bad policy. Arlington Economic Development Director Terry Holzheimer is pushing for the General Services Administration to disclose additional information related to the decision to move the NSF to Alexandria by 2017. “None of it makes any sense,” Holzheimer said of the decision and its impact to other government tenants in Ballston. [Washington Business Journal]
Bluemont Trail Improvements – Arlington County crews will be widening a section of the Bluemont Trail between Buchanan Street and the Ballston Holiday Inn this month. Crews will also be removing obstructions and landscaping around the trail. [Bike Arlington]
SUPERNOVA Photos — Dozens of artists invaded public spaces in Rosslyn over the weekend for the SUPERNOVA Performance Art Festival. Some of the artists and their performances can be seen in a series of photos published the the Ode Street Tribune blog.
Democratic Primary Today — Democrats will go to the polls today in Virginia to vote in the primary for lieutenant governor and attorney general. Among the candidates is Arlington resident Aneesh Chopra, who’s running for lieutenant governor. Polls will remain open in Arlington from 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. [Arlington County]
The National Science Foundation, Arlington’s 12th largest employer, will be moving to new offices in Alexandria by 2017, employees at its Ballston headquarters were told today.
NSF employs 2,237 people in Arlington, according to Arlington Economic Development data. It’s the county’s 12th largest overall employer and its 8th largest government employer. Located in the Stafford Place I and II buildings at 4121 and 4201 Wilson Blvd, the NSF is also central to Ballston’s science and technology economy.
In a memo (below), NSF Acting Director Cora B. Marrett told employees today that the General Services Administration has signed a lease for a “new state-of-the-art building” at Alexandria’s Hoffman Town Center development, adjacent to the Eisenhower Avenue Metro station.
“We are told that the construction will take approximately three to four years to complete, so we anticipate a move to this new facility by the end of 2016,” Marrett wrote. “GSA has extended our leases at Stafford I and II for the interim.”
The National Science Foundation’s future in Arlington has been up for discussion since 2008, as the agency and the GSA considered whether to renew its Stafford Place lease, which was set to expire in December 2013. Arlington’s congressional delegation — Rep. Jim Moran and Sens. Mark Warner and Jim Webb — wrote a letter to the GSA in February 2010, urging the agency to renew NSF’s lease in Arlington.
Moving out of Arlington could have a “detrimental effect” on the National Science Foundation and on other scientific organizations that enjoy research synergies the Ballston area, like the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Virginia Tech Research Center, the lawmakers wrote.
“We believe… Arlington [is] the ideal location for NSF Headquarters,” the letter said.
So far, the lawmakers have not commented on the planned NSF move. Attempts to reach numerous Arlington County and Arlington Economic Development officials were not successful.
The National Science Foundation describes itself as an “independent U.S. government agency responsible for promoting science and engineering through research programs and education projects.”
NSF’s 15-year lease in Alexandria will save a total of $65 million on rent, and will provide the government with $35 million “which can be applied to further rent savings, reduce costs of relocation, and reduce overall operational costs,” according to a press release.
The move, a coup for economic development in Alexandria, “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,” the Washington Post wrote.
Update at 4:10 p.m. — Arlington County has issued a statement about the National Science Foundation move.
Arlington County is disappointed by the General Services Administration’s announcement that it will move the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) National Headquarters out of Arlington, Arlington County Manager Barbara Donnellan said Friday.
“We do not believe such a move would be in the best interests of the NSF, the federal government or the American taxpayer,” Donnellan said. ”Moving the NSF out of Arlington would run counter to the federal government’s investments over the last two decades in Arlington’s ‘scientific center of excellence’ that serves our defense and national security interests so well.”
Given concerns with GSA’s recent leasing decisions, County officials expect there will be vigorous oversight by Congress and others in the coming weeks. There are many unanswered questions about this announced move, and whether it would achieve the savings that GSA projects. “We continue to believe that Arlington County offers the lowest cost and highest value option for the NSF and other government agencies,” Donnellan said.
Arlington, with its unique mix of vibrant urban villages, a highly educated workforce, proximity to the nation’s capital and excellent transportation infrastructure, is a great place for the federal government to do business.
Update at 4:45 p.m. — The City of Alexandria has released a press release on the move. An excerpt:
“The NSF’s decision to locate its headquarters in Alexandria is a tremendous gain for our entire community,” said Mayor William D. Euille. “Having the NSF headquartered in Alexandria will strengthen our growing knowledge-based economy, and directly contribute to our professional workforce. Our high quality of life, access to public transportation, and cultural charm are key reasons why government and private businesses are drawn to Alexandria.”
City planners project that NSF will spur more than 1,800 additional permanent jobs beyond its own workforce of 2,400, and more than 800 temporary jobs to construct the new facility. This is a 4.5 percent increase in Alexandria’s overall workforce. Over the initial 15-year lease, the headquarters is expected to generate more than $83 million each year for Alexandria’s economy. The economic impact includes new salaries and wages for Alexandria residents, and spending by NSF employees and visitors at local businesses.
Given the extraordinary economic benefit of the NSF to Alexandria, and in order to make the Alexandria sites’ bids as competitive as possible, the City proposed the creation of an Eisenhower Avenue Science Redevelopment District. The property used by NSF would be subject to a lower real estate tax rate, which is projected to be a $23 million value to the property owner over the initial 15-year lease. This would still result in approximately $50 million in new tax revenue to the City during that period, even after the tax incentive is factored in. The creation of the new tax district is subject to public hearing and approval by Alexandria City Council.
Fight to Keep National Science Foundation — The National Science Foundation’s lease in Ballston is up next year, and neighboring communities are trying to lure the agency away from Arlington. So far, officials in Alexandria are some of the only ones who have openly expressed interest in bidding for the NSF. Fairfax County officials have kept quiet about whether they’re interested, specifically for areas along the upcoming Silver Line like Tysons Corner or Reston. Communities have until January 9 to submit proposals to the federal government. [Washington Examiner]
Parking Concerns with Ashlawn Elementary School Expansion — Updated at 9:25 a.m. — Despite criticism from some neighbors in Boulevard Manor, last week the School Board approved plans for the expansion of Ashlawn Elementary School. Neighbors raised concerns about adding a new entrance on N. Manchester Street and adding additional parking on the school site. The issue will likely go before the County Board, which is able to adjust the number of parking spaces required under zoning requirements. [Sun Gazette]
SoberRide Program Ends Tuesday — SoberRide will continue offering free cab rides until Tuesday, January 1 at 6:00 a.m. Customers can call 1-800-200-TAXI for a free ride home (up to a $30 fare) from 10:00 p.m. through 6:00 a.m. every night until the program ends. All requests must be called in to the SoberRide dispatch and not to other cab companies. [Washington Regional Alcohol Program]
Flickr pool photo by Ddimick
During the event, Venus passes between Earth and the sun, making the planet look like a dark dot on the sun. It’s one of the rarest predictable astronomical phenomena. The passing should last for about six hours, but will be visible at different times around the world. According to the Transit of Venus website, Arlington residents should be able to see the transit starting at 6:04 p.m.
Friends of Arlington’s Planetarium will hold a viewing at the top of the Kettler Iceplex (627 N. Glebe Road, #800), starting at 5:45 p.m. Displays, telescopes and safety glasses for viewing the transit will be available at the free event.
The National Science Foundation is also sponsoring a free Transit of Venus event. A lecture by Dr. Larry Marschall, Professor of Physics at Gettysburg College, will take place from 4:00-5:00 p.m. in the National Science Foundation (4201 Wilson Blvd) atrium. He will use pictures, movies and stories to describe the significance of the event. There will also be a telescope set up outside the north entrance to observe the transit, around 6:15 p.m.
If you want to watch the transit but can’t make it to one of the viewing events, be sure to take measures to protect your eyes from the sun’s harmful rays. The Transit of Venus website lists some safe ways to view the passing, and specifically says looking at the sun through common sunglasses is not safe enough. Slooh, an online space camera, will also provide a live feed of the event that is safe to watch, starting at 6:00 p.m.
This will likely be your only chance to see the Transit of Venus, because the next one doesn’t happen until December 2117. The last one occurred on June 8, 2004. The events take place in a paired pattern, with transits eight years apart, then more than 100 years apart.
Photo via Wikipedia
The National Science Foundation currently employs about 2,100 people at its Ballston headquarters, according to a spokeswoman, but the government agency has indicated that it is potentially interested in moving to a new building when its lease expires in 2013. NSF would like the new space to be about 25 percent larger than its current location at 4201 Wilson Boulevard, and about 12.5 percent cheaper per square foot than the current comparable office rent in Ballston, according to the Washington Business Journal.
The federal government’s office rent cap in Northern Virginia is $38 per square foot, compared to the average Ballston Class A office rent of $43.47, according to WSJ. That has led to speculation that NSF might leave Ballston altogether.
“We’re going to pursue them and we’re going to pursue them aggressively,” Alexandria Vice Mayor Kerry Donley said of the agency’s impending lease expiration, to the Alexandria Times. Donley was instrumental in persuading the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to move its headquarters from Crystal City to Alexandria in the early-to-mid 2000s.
The area’s congressional delegation, however, has asked the General Services Administration — which helps manage government properties — to strongly consider keeping NSF in Arlington.
“We urge you to take into account recent developments that we believe continue to make Arlington the ideal location for NSF Headquarters,” said a letter to the GSA’s top official, signed by Sen. Jim Webb, Sen. Mark Warner and Rep. Jim Moran.
The letter, dated February 23, 2010, argues that NSF benefits from its proximity to Ballston institutions like the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Office of Naval Research and Virginia Tech’s new Advanced Research Institute.
“Arlington County is a national epicenter for scientific research, particularly in the areas of defense and homeland security,” the letter stated. “Not only does [Ballston] provide these agencies with access to one of the most highly educated and highly trained workforces in the nation, it also provides them with immediate access to a large pool of technical experts in the contracting community as well.”
“We believe a relocation of NSF Headquarters away from Arlington would [have a] detrimental effect on the ability of each of these research organizations to achieve their agency objectives,” the letter concluded.