The Washington Post - April 1, 2013, By Marjorie Censer
When the new National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency building in Springfield was being built, Dilly's Deli & Grill, a Korean and American restaurant in a squat strip mall, saw plenty of new business as a steady stream of construction workers stopped in for meals.
But once the building opened and thousands of agency employees moved in, business at the deli slowed to its previous pace, owner In Mun said.
Mun's experience is just one reflection of the mixed effects of the Pentagon's massive base realignment and closure initiative. It's been about a year and a half since the initiative, better known as BRAC, officially ended, bringing big changes locally at Fort Belvoir in Fairfax County, Fort Meade in Anne Arundel and the Mark Center in Alexandria. Yet many businesses and workers are still sorting out its impact.
Local authorities continue to grapple with major traffic improvements, apartment and office complexes are rising around the bases and areas hurt by vacancies are still plotting recoveries.
This round of base realignment — the Pentagon's fifth — was the largest, most complex and most expensive, according to the Government Accountability Office. The process is still expected to save the Pentagon billions in the coming years, just not as much as once was projected.
BRAC in Virginia
In and around Fairfax County, more than 21,000 employees moved to new sites in connection with the relocation process, said Laura Miller, Fairfax County's BRAC coordinator.
Fort Belvoir's main post gained about 3,400 people (even taking into account operations that shifted elsewhere), the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency moved into a new office in Springfield that is now home to about 8,500 and more than 6,000 more employees moved into a new Mark Center building, Miller said.
More than 3,000 employees moved to a new defense health headquarters — built on the site of a former Raytheon building — near the Capital Beltway's intersection with Route 50, she said.
The county did plenty to prepare for the changes, but Miller said traffic improvements have yet to catch up.
Perhaps the most noticeable are improvements at Fort Belvoir in Fairfax. The Federal Highway Administration is preparing to select a contractor to widen Route 1 through Fort Belvoir, moving it from four to six lanes, Miller said. That project is slated for completion in mid-2016.
Under way now is work on a ramp from Interstate 95's high-occupancy vehicle lanes into the NGA site and construction of Mulligan Road, which will serve as a north-south connector through Fort Belvoir.
BRAC in Maryland
On the other side of the river, Fort Meade gained the Defense Information Systems Agency — which brought nearly 4,300 employees and contractors — as well as other defense agencies, swelling the site by about 5,700.
Still, the growth at Fort Meade is not all BRAC-related; the number of people working on the post has soared from about 33,500 in 2005 to more than 52,000 today, after the base became headquarters for the U.S. Cyber Command, according to Fort Meade officials. That's more than double the estimated 20,000 to 25,000 employees who work at the Pentagon.
"BRAC just really slapped us in the face and made us realize what was really going on at Fort Meade quietly under the radar," said Robert C. Leib, special assistant for BRAC and education in Anne Arundel County.
The county is still trying to make road improvements to ease traffic on nearby Route 175; Leib said those are ongoing.
Perhaps the most striking change that BRAC, and Fort Meade more broadly, has brought to the area is booming office and residential development.
The National Business Park, a nearby office complex with a who's who list of contractors from Boeing to Booz Allen Hamilton to General Dynamics, continues to add buildings.
Columbia-based Corporate Office Properties Trust owns about 186 acres at the office complex. About 3.2 million square feet of office space is 98 percent leased; COPT has about 262,000 more square feet under construction in two buildings.
COPT is also developing offices at the nearby Arundel Preserve, a 300-acre mixed-use community. The company already has one building — which is fully leased — in service and could build as much as another 1.15 million square feet of office space at the site.
New apartments have also sprung up in nearby Odenton, including the Flats 170 at Academy Yard.
Based on his conversations with realtors and economic development officials, Leib attributed much of the nearby development to the base. "A good 50 percent of this growth is because of DOD at Fort Meade," he said.
Many expected that employees of the relocated agencies would face the most upheaval. At DISA, which moved from Arlington to Fort Meade, the agency has eased the transition through a telework program, according to Paul Berry, chief of the agency's quality of work life office.
He said about 1,600 DISA employees at Fort Meade take advantage of the agency's telework program, which allows employees to work from home up to three days a week but no more than five days in a two-week pay period.
Berry himself commutes from Hagerstown, a demanding commute that at one point made him consider seeking a new job.
"What keeps me going, and what has invigorated my work life, is being able to be a part of the telework program," he said.
The downside of BRAC
Still, the moves haven't been as rosy for everyone.
Small-business owners nearby, for instance, report that the new employees are not necessarily becoming customers. At the Cleaners at Mark Center, owner Daniel Lee said he originally supported the plan to build the Mark Center, expecting it to bring new business to his nearly three-decade-old establishment.
Instead, he said, he's seen few new customers and his existing customers complain about the traffic generated by Mark Center employees.
Mun, whose Springfield deli has also not seen a boom in business, holds out hope that more customers may be on the way. COPT is building Patriot Ridge, an office complex that could include as much as 1 million square feet, just next door. The first building now has General Dynamics' logo on it — along with a big sign advertising leasing opportunities.
For those hoping for significant cost savings, BRAC is expected to offer a smaller amount than projected but still hit close to $4 billion annually in cost savings, according to a GAO report released last year.
The estimated implementation cost was $21 billion — the previous four BRAC rounds together had cost about $25 billion — but the total expense eventually soared to $35.1 billion, the GAO found.
Military construction costs grew about 86 percent — at the NGA, for instance, construction costs increased by about $726 million.
As a result, the Pentagon's annual recurring savings have decreased nearly 10 percent to about $3.8 billion, according to the GAO.
While much of the focus has been on the communities grappling with more workers and residents, Arlington County is dealing with office vacancy rates that have grown as government facilities departed areas such as Crystal City and Rosslyn.
Arlington estimated it would lose about 4.2 million square feet of office space as a result of BRAC — and still has about 1 million square feet left to go, said Andrea Y. Morris, the county's BRAC director.
Much of the space is unoccupied, but the Pentagon still has leases that will linger through 2017, said Morris. Already, the vacancy rate in Crystal City is over 20 percent, while it's at 17 percent in Rosslyn, she said.
"We're still seeing the impacts of [BRAC], and it's hard to plan ... because we're not certain what the feds are going to do with that space," she said.
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