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The Cumulative Implications of BRAC, the Silver Line and the Tysons Corner Plan

It is no secret that the Commonwealth of Virginia is the first choice for business in the Washington-Metro Region (being exceedingly more pro-business than the District of Columbia and Maryland), and for the past several decades, Arlington County and the City of Alexandria, with a few exceptions, have had a virtual monopoly over the Metro in Northern Virginia, access to quite a bit of DOD and other federal bucks (in part because of the access this mass transit provided to federal agencies for businesses and federal employees, etc.)  But let’s be blunt; while good urban planning has played a serious role in the urban expansion across the river from DC in Virginia, good urban planning is basically a symptom of great location, location, location.  Arlington and Alexandria have had the benefit of being immediately adjacent to the federal trough in the most business-friendly state in the region with a monopoly over mass rail transit.  These are the core reasons that they have enjoyed their prosperity and growth.  

Recently, however, quite a lot of changes have occurred in Northern Virginia, which cumulatively will eventually have sweeping impacts on inter-locality competition for businesses and economic development, a lot of which we still haven't really begun to feel the effects of.  Often, many of these changes are dealt with as solitary issues by journalists, self-pronounced experts, the person talking the loudest, etc. and I often wonder whether they can see the forest for the trees. 

Our current sequence of evolutions has been underway for years, the seeds being planted even before Eisenhower picked Burke Lake Park for the location of Dulles Airport and the construction of the Beltway began. Then I-66 was constructed, then the toll road and the Greenway. Now, finally, the Silver Line is being constructed, allowing metro to extend as far out as Dulles, which will effectively make the East Falls Church Metro Station the transfer station to the Orange Line, much like Rosslyn serves as a transfer station today. 

Not only are our western counties now well situated to be connected to the DC federal market more competitively, many of those federal agencies and related businesses, which have subsidized the Arlington and Alexandria economies and helped them weather recessions and unemployment disproportionately well for so long, are relocating to western and southern localities due to the Base Realignment and Closure Commission’s recommendations, taking jobs and federal money with them.

The Tyson’s Corner Plan is also the first really modern, mega-urban plan to be located just a few short metro stops from Arlington County and the District of Columbia on the Silver Line, which, once realized, will offer over 1,200 acres worth of the benefits that good urban planning can provide to businesses and residents, literally on Arlington and Alexandria’s doorstep.  In Virginia, Arlington and Alexandria have never had to deal with this kind of competition and I’m not sure they are prepared for this eventual reality, however distant it may seem.  If there is any doubt, just look at the impacts Arlington and Alexandria have had on the DC market.  They've been able to offer an alternative for businesses not to have to be located in the District of Columbia in business-friendly Virginia, with metro and federal access, for less money, etc.  How are the western counties not going to eventually be in the same position in relation to Arlington and Alexandria?


Collectively, this really is all a lot of large-scale change underway for Northern Virginia.  So what will the cumulative impacts be, when will we start feeling them and what will all this mean for real estate interests in Northern Virginia?  Well, one thing is certain - the cat is out of the box.  I guess all that we can know is that the market will change, and, provided the regional economy continues to grow, it is clear that the western counties have no way to go but up.  It seems to me, though, that Arlington and Alexandria will likely also benefit from being in a central location between all this new density and the District of Columbia, although it will get more competitive to retain and attract new private business interests and federal agencies once things in the western counties start to come into focus, as the western counties find themselves in a better position to aggressively pursue those opportunities which used to be disproportionately available solely to Arlington and Alexandria.