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Sallie Mae Stays 'Home' in Reston

Reston-based company doesn't join exodus from Dulles Corridor, opts to keep headquarters in Reston.

At a time when large companies like USAA are leaving Reston and the Dulles Corridor, local officials and the commercial real estate community were given some good news for a change. Late last month, Sallie Mae, the education loan behemoth, announced its headquarters would be staying in Reston.

And while bulldozers are already grazing the land, the official groundbreaking presentation has been scheduled for April 29.

"Naturally, I am very pleased that Sallie Mae will be sticking around," said Supervisor Cathy Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill). "Sallie Mae has been a very good community and corporate neighbor."

Last year, the corporation announced its intentions to move out of its headquarters along Sunset Hills Road in Reston where it has been since 1996.

In negotiations since the middle of last year, the deal to keep Sallie Mae in Reston was closed on March 28 for an undisclosed amount. "I was waiting with bated breath during the negotiations," Hudgins said. "Now that they have chosen to stay, it really allows us to present multiple sites with big companies. With Fannie Mae moving in to the Sallie Mae [building], it really is exceptional."

Fannie Mae, the home loan provider, recently announced its intention to move into Sallie Mae's Sunset Hills Road headquarters when it moves up the street.

Once built, the Sallie Mae building and office campus will occupy 238,000 square feet of the 3.5-acre site at the intersection of Town Center Parkway and Bluemont Drive at the southwest corner of Reston Town Center.

Due to changes in the company's structure, many of its "back office operations" have moved to other parts of the country, said Jim Boyle, a spokesperson for Sallie Mae.

"We have tenants in our building here and, while I am sure they are very nice people, we like the camaraderie that comes from having a building that is entirely made up of Sallie Mae employees, and that was the case here for several years — and people enjoyed that."

Closer to 400,000 square feet, the current Sallie Mae building, which the company christened in June 1996, is too big for a staff of between 600 and 700 employees. Boyle said he didn't anticipate much growth at the Reston office in the future. Growth will be in service centers scattered around the country, he said.

"All things being equal, we determined that due to the fact that the nature of our headquarters has changed, we didn’t need as big a building as we have now," Boyle said. "Nevertheless we wanted, if at all possible, to stay in Reston."

While years away, Boyle said the Reston-based employees are looking forward to the move. "I think people are excited about the Town Center site because people will be closer to the W&OD trail," he said. "After all, we will need to burn off the excess weight gained from eating at Rio Grande Café and other Reston Town Center establishments."

“THE SALE of this site to Sallie Mae is a powerful statement — that in the current market Reston Town Center continues to attract top-flight firms,” said Tom Williamson, Terrabrook vice president, in a statement announcing the deal. “Reston’s Town Center core still remains to be a major attractive address for corporate firms in Northern Virginia.”

Terrabrook, a residential and commercial land development company and part owner of Reston Town Center along with Equity Office, sold the land to Sallie Mae. The complex will be built on one of the few remaining plots of land, Section 89A, Block 1C, in Reston Town Center.

"Obviously, the presence of Sallie Mae at the Town Center is positive," said Tracey White, president and CEO of the Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce (GRCC). "It’s also a very positive statement that they chose to stay in Reston because that speaks volumes for the community."

White, who has seen companies leave Dulles Corridor, said the company would have left if it felt it had better opportunities elsewhere. "You would have to believe if their employees weren’t happy in the area or if they weren’t getting positive feedback from the community then they wouldn’t have stayed," White said. "There has been a lot made that certainly there are cheaper places to do business, but I don’t think there are any better places to do business, and Sallie Mae’s staying in Reston attests to that."

Boyle agreed, saying that the company's more than 600 Reston-based employees, a majority of which live in Northern Virginia, had an important voice in determining the future of the company's whereabouts. "Our employee population enjoys being in Reston and since we have been here for over five years many people have made life decisions about where they want to live and where they want their kids to go to school based on the headquarters being here," Boyle said. "Yes, we looked elsewhere in and out of the Washington, D.C. metropolitan region, but in the end it was a decision based on the employees' desire to stay nearby. Reston is home."

White, the GRCC head, saw other benefits to the town center location: traffic decongestion. "I know their design is going to be innovative and make foot traffic easier for those employees and keep them out of their cars which is also a positive statement," said White, who has seen the secret design. "It lends so many positive things to the community."

Jerry Volloy, Reston Association executive vice president and CEO, was also pleased at the announcement. "At a time when the commercial real estate market is suffering in Reston and throughout Northern Virginia, Sallie Mae's move to Reston's Town Center is of significant importance to our community and will have a huge impact on the community's financial health," Volloy said. "Sallie Mae has proven to be an outstanding neighbor in every community where they are headquartered and have a track record of providing support in so many ways to the community in which it resides."