News

Amazon’s Coming: Beyer & F.C. Leaders See Big Boon to Region

While Amazon has chosen a location on the Virginia side of the Potomac River, the HQ2’s upper floors will enjoy prime views of Washington, D.C.’s tallest landmarks and its expanding waterfront. (Viewshed simulations by www.AirPhotosLIVE.com)

“Amazon’s announcement that it will bring half of its HQ2 to Arlington is a validation of a generation’s worth of work to make Northern Virginia an economic engine of the nation,” U.S. Rep. Don Beyer said in a statement Tuesday. “The Northern Virginia of my youth was a bedroom suburb of the nation’s capital. The Northern Virginia of today is an economic and cultural dynamo, on the leading edge of the technology revolution that is bettering lives around the world. This transformation involved leadership by all sectors — business, higher education, government, and community.”

Beyer, whose Beyer Automotive business run with his brother, Mike, has been centered in the City of Falls Church since its founding by their late father, spoke about the promise of the news with the News-Press Tuesday night after playing a major role in the day’s announcement, in conjunction with the Amazon development, that Virginia Tech will pour $1 billion into a 300,000 square foot “Innovation Campus” adjacent the Amazon site in Crystal City, now also known as “National Landing.”

Beyer quipped in the Virginia Tech press conference that the location should be called “Hokie Landing,” instead, after the school’s nickname.

The new campus plans will not change the Virginia Tech Grad Center operation in the City of Falls Church, City Manager Wyatt Shields told the News-Press Tuesday. The City has hopes that the Grad Center site (which the University of Virginia will vacate soon, leaving it entirely in Tech’s control) will be folded into a wider expansion of the 10 acres the City is planning to develop on the current campus of its George Mason High School.

In fact, Amazon’s announcement Tuesday that it will add 25,000 high paying jobs, $2.5 billion in capital investments and $3.2 billion in net tax revenue over 20 years to the region will have only a positive impact on Falls Church, Shields told the F.C. City Council at its meeting Tuesday, because the City has not been asked to ante up any of the money or resources for the incentives package that led to Amazon’s decision to put half of its secondary headquarters just down the road.

Shields was at the gigantic Alexandria warehouse press conference where Gov. Ralph Northam announced the big news, along with F.C.’s Mayor David Tarter and Chief of Economic Development Jim Snyder and leaders from other area jurisdictions. “The mood was buoyant,” he said, “because we’re all regional partners who stand to benefit enormously from this.”

Shields said the announcement reverses the impact that happened a decade ago in the same Crystal City area when the U.S. Defense Department’s base realignment and closures (BRAC) decisions were made to move 20,000 jobs out of that area and leave a lot of empty office spaces in their wake. It came on top of the Great Recession to hit the region with a double-whammy, and Shields said that with the reimagining of the area, and Virginia Tech’s role there, a lot will happen that will play into Falls Church’s strategic objectives.

“There will be a lot of indirect benefits of Amazon in Falls Church,” noted Council member Ross Litkenhous. “It will add to the technology and innovation focus of the region, and contribute to the City’s emphasis on education and inclusiveness. It will bring new startup and incubator companies in the wake of Amazon’s momentum, and bottom line benefits for the City will arise from its uniqueness,” he said. “We’re in a good spot.”

Councilman Phil Duncan added that Falls Church had to contribute nothing to the Amazon deal, no local tax dollars. Shields added that it has been only indirectly in the form of state money invested into transportation and other infrastructure improvements, but that on balance, the City “will be a beneficiary” of the developments.

Beyer noted that the bonus of the Virginia Tech plans will bring the region into the realm of major combined higher education and technology centers like those around the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cal Tech, Rice, Carnegie-Mellon and Silicon Valley.

He said it is an environment in which non-profits will also prosper and grow, along with progressive social conscience, and that Amazon itself will have a major incentive to invest in affordable housing, adding that at Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle, only one in seven employees there drive to work. All the rest take other modes of transportation, from walking to biking to mass transit.

This is a hopeful sign, he said, that the new project will not contribute as much to traffic congestion as some might fear, and incentives from Arlington and Alexandria totalling $570 million, along with $195 million from the state, will go into new and existing transportation projects, that include a pedestrian bridge from Reagan National Airport to Crystal City and an expansion of the Route 1 bus rapid transit line. The prospect of millions of new rides from thousands of new riders on the Metro is welcome news to the ailing Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

Arlington is already “the most pro-transit, pro-smart growth jurisdiction in the country,” noted Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smart Growth, making the Amazon choice of location a very smart one.