National Science Foundation Mulls Move to New HQ

by ARLnow.com May 31, 2011 at 2:29 pm 8,811 39 Comments

A major Arlington employer is thinking about packing up and moving to a new building.

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.

National Science Foundation officials say that the agency has not made any decision regarding its lease at this time.

“The lease will be fully and openly competed and an offeror selected that represents best value to the government and taxpayers,” said NSF spokeswoman Maria Zacharias.

Arlington Economic Development officials say they’re working with NSF to keep the agency in Ballston or, at the very least, in Arlington.

“AED is working closely on this issue as we believe their current location (or alternatively another location in Arlington) would be the best scenario,” said spokeswoman Karen Vasquez. “Science is the foundation of Ballston and the NSF plays an integral role in that mix.”

New pressure on the agency may help push it to cheaper environs, however. A scathing report on NSF’s spending, released earlier this year by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), criticized the tens of millions of dollars NSF spends each year renting its Ballston offices . The report also blasted the agency’s request for $45 million to help cover the cost of customizing a new headquarters.

  • Cmom

    Sweet, maybe now I can finally move up on the daycare wait list.

    • jablau

      The daycare, sponsored by NSF, would close.

      • Delayna

        The daycare, sponsored by NSF, can easily move in wherever NSF goes.

  • Patrick

    Didn’t NSF have some serious issues with employees watching pornographic material on their work computers?

    • Aaron
    • jablau

      less than a dozen people out of 2100, not too shabby. They fired/forced to resign those people. Many “offensive” Websites are blocked. Hope they stay in Ballston, especially since DARPA, ONR and VA Tech are here. The scientists from each agency often collaborate on science projects.

  • Evan

    A vacant office building in Alexandria (5001 Eisenhower Ave) is publicly lobbying for the NSF to consider it their new home with a banner across its lobby facade. The building has been vacant for at least three years, possibly since it was built in the mid 2000s. It’s less than a mile to the Van Dorn metro.

    • Max

      I know people who used to work in that building and they had nothing but bad things to say – about the owners, the facilities, etc. etc. A lot of them swear it’s a sick building and they had several coworkers die of leukemia.

      All that aside it’s in a crappy location. No better way to give a giant “F YOU” to your employees than by putting it in the middle of nowhere. It’s close to Van Dorn, but not “close” so most people will end up driving. Money is theoretically saved but the good employees may go elsewhere, along with a whole host of payment associated with moving to less accessible locations.

    • Max

      Also it wasn’t built in the 2000s. The Army had been there for a long time but left to go to other places. It was heavily remodeled.

    • charlie

      the building was completely stripped down to it s metal structure and rebuilt. the old owners were very very very cheap and are now dead the new owners are just stupid. they recently sued GSA over another lease transaction. that won’t make GSA want to come back anytime soon.

      • RJ

        Victory Center was stripped down and was in competition for the BRAC 133. It lost because it was too close to railroad or some other BS line like that. Now we have Mark Center. However, Victory Center is a high security building, I bet they would love a NSF, but it is really built for national security functions.

    • Arlwhenever

      The Eisenhower Avenue building (called Victory Center or something like that) is the equivalent of two or three blocks up from the Van Dorn Metro station. It’s a very doable auto commute for a lot of folks living inside or south of the Beltway and not so bad for people crossing over the Wilson Bridge from Maryland. There are places to eat here and there, and likely many more would open if a tenant were secured. There are hundreds of ground level parking spaces; the building has been completely renovated inside and out. What probably scares prospective tenants away more than anything else is the building is a stone’s throw distant from the Convant incinerator that burns ArlCo/AlexCty trash.

      • Max

        There were never any dining facilities close to there when it was full, why would there be now? Driving is possibly, but keep in mind the NSF is filled to the brim with former hippies with Ph.D’s in Environmental Science. Those are a long set of blocks you’re talking about in a remote part of the Metro system (Van Dorn is the most isolated Metro Station – approx 2 miles to the next station).

        • Arlwhenever

          The two or three blocks I mentioned are city block equivalents. If I was going by blocks as they are actually laid out along Eisenhower Avenue the Van Dorn Metro Station would be only one block distant. If two or three blocks are too much the employees can hop onto a DASH bus.

          Hippies hanging in a stream valley doing whatever it is that hippies do, but still conveniently located inside the Beltway? It can’t get any better than this location. They can step outside to commune, wander out back to bask in the glow of the energy efficient wonder of freight rail and inter-city passenger rail.

          As for the new eateries, there is a wholesale restaurant food supply store just up the street, and plenty of vacant properties within a block or two. Move it and the restaurants will come, along with plenty of food carts.

  • Thes

    So, class A office rents in Ballston are higher than government-allowable rents for NoVa. That means that there’s enough demand from non-federal tenants to support the office market by themselves. In turn, that means that our economy is likely to become more diversified than just government tenants, making us less susceptible to sudden federal budget cuts. This is good news for Arlington.

    • Clarendude

      A lot, perhaps the majority of those non-federal tenants are contractors supporting the federal tenants.

      • Thes

        Doubtless, many of them are. But going from 100% federal tenants to, say, 65% federally-supported tenants still makes us more diverse and resilient to weird federal budget changes.

    • brendan

      eh… i think private industry tenants are significantly less stable than fed tenants, which is one of the reasons Arlington has faired so well in the recent recession. Though, I’d bet a majority of Class-A tenants here either live directly off the federal teet or rely on the success of companies that do.

    • charlie

      the whole Virginia Square office market exists solely to support federal agencies that are in Virginia Square. They are gone, then all the businesses are gone.
      Similar in Ballston, but not as severe.
      Stick to pandering to the Board, it is more your skill set than economic theory.

    • Stu Pendus

      Non-federal demand is already taking up 75% of the employment in Arlington. This news is not even needed to show diversity.

  • brendan

    fyi. Your link to the Coburn article is missing a colon.

    I wouldn’t trust someone who is fundamentally opposed to scientific research to prove an honest critique. A lot of the stuff in Coburn’s report displays a shockingly shallow understanding for how federal budgeting and the scientific grant process works, in addition to some flat out exaggerations and intellectually negligent misrepresentations.

    Coburn’s previous brushes with stupidity including attacks on the “rampant lesbianism” in american schools and repeated use of the “hold” to block otherwise popular, bipartisan and common sense legislation to advance his narrow ideological and political agenda. The dude has a corner on crazy. Hopefully, the Drudge/FNC created echo chamber for Coburn’s overstated examples of questionable-sounding minutiae doesn’t impact one of the most important agencies in the federal govt.

    note: i do not in anyway work for NSF.

  • Mickey

    Lower the cost and move them to Charleston, SC, Jacksonville, FL or someplace with cheap rent, better tax incentives, and less traffic.

    • derp.

      if a lot is really zero, that’d make a lot of sense. keep up the derpin.

  • Fred

    1) The lease expiration is the real driver. If not for that, NSF would continue to stay in the Stafford Place buildings, and if they needed more room, would probably just negotiate to grab more of Stafford II if it became available.

    2) While NSF would like more space, GSA doesn’t really agree, and plans are for more telecommuting and office-sharing.

    3) Stafford I has been beset by problems over the last few years, including two major power outages and a flood.

    4) As far as a federal agency goes, I can’t imagine a less secure building. Aside from the recent robbery at Quiznos and the couple of robberies in the past of the Bank of America, there have been other petty thefts inside the building by non-employees, and a suicide of a non-employee in the stairwell next to the building’s fitness facility. Not to mention the problem of having a completely public garage under a building housing a federal agency (I know it isn’t like NSF is DoD/CIA/FBI, but it certainly would qualify as a “soft target”).

    5) The Eisenhower Ave. location in Alexandria doesn’t make any sense for NSF, who brings in tens of thousands of panelists every year. Nearby hotels and an easily walkable Metro stop are necessities.

    6) My guess is that they eventually work something out to stay at the Stafford place buildings, maybe relocating briefly for renovations. 2nd alternative would be if there are any appropriate BRAC-vacated places in Crystal City. 3rd would be out to Wiehle Ave, just like in the early 90s where NSF led the federal move west along the metro line.

    • doodly

      Terrorists hate science.

  • Henry Spencer

    There will be plenty of available inventory in Crystal City soon. At least they’d still be in Arlington.

  • FredA


    Alexandria evidently has 4 sites that are vying for NSF. A few choice snippets from the document:

    “There may be about a dozen candidate sites remaining under consideration, and competition will likely be fierce because NSF is viewed as a prime office user with one of the largest secondary economic and fiscal spin-off benefits of any federal agency.”

    “Arlington County is likely to make a major effort, potentially including significant financial incentives, to keep NSF in place in Ballston, or elsewhere in Arlington.”

    “NSF has about 2,100 employees, many of whom choose to live near NSF as they are on temporary assignment to NSF. NSF employees are highly educated, and NSF salaries reflect that
    education level.”

    “NSF has hundreds of thousands of visitors per year as it brings
    many academics, scientists and researchers to their site throughout the year to serve as members of NSF review panels and to present research results. This activity generates some 60,000 room nights per year (and would likely cause the demand for at least one new hotel), as well as increased restaurant and retail demand.”

  • Stu Pendus

    I wonder if the board is considering an Affordable Leasing Program, where they could fund loans to committed affordable landlords who will buy these buildings, and lock in the affordable rents for 50 years. That seems like the only way to maintain middle class tenants in Arlington’s world class rental market.

  • MC

    It would be a shame to have NSF leave Arlington. I know people who work there for short assignments, and it also drives business travelers, such as academics coming for reviews.

    Previously, I read that NSF had misjudged its space needs from the start by not allotting space for meetings, so they need to rent expensive meeting space. For the speculative office builders, creating offices with meeting spaces would be a draw. Also, seems that NSF may be hoping for space more tony than Congress will willing to fund. I doubt new class A space in Alexandria is that much cheaper. They may need to go to Loudon to find it cheap.

    • MayorOfWestover

      Just a note on speculative office builders, they do not usually build anything more than the building shell. Tenant layouts, and therefore decisions about meeting space etc, is up to the tenants working with their architects.

      I don’t know anybody that builds out office space on spec.

  • nota gain

    Move the Pentagon to Kansas and there will be lots of empty offices in Arlington for NSF and any and all contractors. The Pentagon does not need to be in this area due to progress in transportation, electronics and communication innovations since it was built.
    Hotels could be built in the emptied offices to accommodate any visiting contractors, gentry and the ilk. Condos, apartments and family dwellings could also be designed and possibly a hospital. Just a thought.

    • derp.

      absolutely brilliant…

    • David

      You’re a genius.

    • RJ

      Move the Pentagon and you might as well blow a gigantic hole in the region’s economy. The Pentagon and their contractors are not mutually exclusive to the civilian side of government.

    • doodly

      You could move the NSF to Kansas with that argument.

  • Rick

    If they filled in the building it would hold 3 times as much space. Lots of empty space in that building..

  • Arlingtonian

    There’s a place to eat right across the street from Victory Center – Deli for the Belly. And they make lunch super fast.

  • Fred

    Fortunately there will be no NSF by 2013, I’m counting on a big Republican sweep, NSF will be fully defunded.


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