By M.J. McAteer
The numbers are mind-boggling.
During the next decade, Amazon.com Inc. plans to develop about 6 million square feet of office space in Arlington County’s Crystal City, Pentagon City and Potomac Yard areas to accommodate the mammoth e-tailer’s new HQ2 East Coast headquarters. That’s almost as large as the biggest office building in the world, the Pentagon, roughly the size of 138 football fields.
Yet as massive as it may be, HQ2 is only half of the story, literally, for what lies ahead for the project’s three abutting neighborhoods, which are being rebranded as National Landing. Another 6 million square feet of development eventually could surround the Amazon mothership, an amount way beyond the ripple effect that generally follows major projects. The growth potentially headed for National Landing could better be described as a tsunami.
It will be “transformative,” says Tracy Sayegh Gabriel, president and executive director of the Crystal City Business Improvement District.
Amazon’s decision to locate HQ2 in National Landing “changed the market’s perception of the area,” which had slumped badly in the wake of the base realignment and closures (BRAC) in recent decades, she says.
BRAC drained away thousands of workers, leaving behind hundreds of thousands of square feet of vacant office space, turning Crystal City into something like an urban ghost town. Amazon’s arrival erased that negative perception, Gabriel says.
“We long had great bones,” she adds, referring to the area’s prime location across the Potomac River from the nation’s capital, with immediate access to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, two Metro lines, the VRE train system and the Beltway.
But it took the advent of HQ2 to finally “unlock unprecedented levels of investment,” Gabriel says. To better align with the enormous changes that lie ahead, her public-private nonprofit partnership is rebranding itself as the National Landing Business Improvement District.
Crystal City comeback
By far the most dominant player in the coming transformation of National Landing will be JBG Smith Properties. Amazon chose the Bethesda, Maryland-based real estate investment trust to be its partner in developing HQ2. JBG Smith will act as landlord, property manager and builder, due in part to its ownership of 6.2 million square feet of office space and 2,850 multifamily units in the National Landing area.
JBG Smith also will work with Virginia Tech to build out the area around the site of the university’s planned $1 billion Innovation Campus in Potomac Yard. The university will “build its own buildings on three acres during the next decade,” says Andy Van Horn, JBG Smith’s executive vice president of development. However, he adds, JBG Smith will “build everything around it. We’ll be their partner in every way.”
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