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Fairfax, Va.-area economic revival misses site once targeted for FBI HQ

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After decades of effort, a much longed-for economic recovery in the Springfield area of Fairfax County is slowly happening.

Workers at the Transportation Security Administration, which located there in 2021, flow in and out of a sprawling parking lot a short distance from the Franconia-Springfield Metro station and the “Mixing Bowl” interchange of Interstates 495, 395 and 95.

Nearby, restaurants at the recently renovated Springfield Town Center mall offer cheerful outdoor patios, a Target bustles with shoppers and a giant Lego sculpture of a giraffe at the mall’s entrance towers near a Lego Discovery amusement center that has become a weekend draw for families.

Plans for a boutique hotel and a 400-unit multifamily residential complex are also underway at the town center property and, less than a mile away, Amazon Web Services is constructing a new data center. On a separate site, the Inova Hospital System is preparing to build a new campus with a 120-bed hospital and medical offices near its existing Franconia-Springfield Healthplex outpatient facility — scheduled to open in 2028.

But the future remains uncertain for a 58-acre site owned by the General Service Administration, which has long been a local eyesore.

Jeffrey C. McKay (D), chair of Fairfax County’s Board of Supervisors, said he didn’t understand why the GSA would allow the Springfield property to remain a hub of mostly warehouses housing old office equipment and other federal property while the area around it shows signs of a revival. “It’s the epitome of dumb growth,” McKay said. “Everybody looks at it and says, ‘Why is that there?’”

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And while state and local officials had hoped the federal property would be the future location of the FBI’s main offices — bringing with it an infusion of jobs and several billions of dollars in tax revenue — the GSA last month selected Maryland’s Prince George’s County instead, leaving Virginia officials soured and uncertain about the site’s future.

The GSA has not said what it plans to do with the Springfield site.

Last week, the agency’s acting inspector general said his office will review how the selection was made, a response to claims by most of Virginia’s congressional delegation that the outcome was inappropriately influenced by political considerations.

The delegation said in a joint letter that a three-member panel convened by the agency had unanimously recommended the Springfield site — also preferred by FBI officials — before a former official who had been placed in charge of the selection process the following month made changes to how the sites were scored that benefited the Greenbelt site.

Maryland officials — arguing that the decision was based on merit, bringing more equity to an often overlooked county — said the allegations of political meddling by Virginia’s congressional delegation are unwarranted. The GSA said it welcomes a review of its findings.

Fairfax officials said moving the FBI to Springfield would have helped bring the once solidly middle-class area back to prosperity after poverty and crime seeped in. Anchored by the former Springfield Mall, the community was once a destination for shoppers and middle-income professionals in search of starter homes. Princess Diana and then-Prince Charles even visited the mall during their 1985 U.S. tour, bringing glamour to the community of leafy streets and brick bungalow houses.

During the 1990s and early 2000s, the mall fell into disrepair and, in the parking lot, car break-ins and carjackings became a regular worry — part of a slide that accelerated after the 2008 recession led to a wave of home foreclosures in the area.

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Fairfax Supervisor Rodney L. Lusk (D-Franconia) said the county magisterial district that includes Springfield is now a majority-minority community, with nearly 20 percent of its 130,000 residents earning below $50,000 per year and nearly 43 percent earn less than $100,000 per year.

The area has also been medically underserved, factoring into Inova’s decision to expand its presence there. The outpatient center is busy with emergency room cases and often does not have the capacity to treat particular ailments, said H. Thomas McDuffie Jr., president of Inova Realty.

“There’s a tremendous need there for more facilities and to take pressures off of having to move patients to other hospitals,” he said.

Virginia officials highlighted the area’s struggles to the GSA after it changed its selection criteria for the FBI site in July to give more weight to how it reflects the Biden administration’s commitment to economic and racial equity.

Lusk said local residents who have received training in welding, carpentry or electrical wiring through a county workforce development program in the Hybla Valley portion of his district would be great candidates for the hundreds of construction jobs created by an FBI relocation to Springfield.

“I felt like we have a case for equity, too,” Lusk said.

The FBI headquarters was just the latest in a string of other proposed federal agency relocations to the site that never materialized, including the TSA, which found the site unsuitable for its needs and decided on its current home, Fairfax officials said.

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“In every federal relocation that’s happened over the past 10 years, this site had been on the shortlist of opportunities,” said McKay, who keeps in his cellphone a 2013 photograph of him talking at a podium about the potential for the FBI to move to Springfield.

Some of the other elected officials in that picture — including former Reps. Frank Wolfe (R-Va.), Tom Davis (R-Va.) and Jim Moran (D-Va.) — are no longer in public office.

“That’s how old this is,” McKay said about the effort to redevelop the site. “I’ve been working on it for 14 years.”

Source: Washington Post

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