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National Science Foundation Moving to Alexandria

National Science Foundation building in BallstonThe 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.”

NSF memoThe 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.

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