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Business Matters

Blinded by Science

Two Alexandria landlords are vying for their properties to become the new home of the National Science Foundation, a prize the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership has identified as valuable goal for the city. But AEDP president Val Hawkins acknowledges it will be difficult battle.

“I don’t want to say it’s a long shot,” said Hawkins. “But Arlington considers retaining the National Science Foundation as their highest economic development priority.”

The foundation’s lease runs out in 2016, opening the door to a potential move if the foundation can find a better deal. Hawkins says eight potential landlords are making offers to the foundation, which is seen as a major win for any jurisdiction because of the hotel stays related to the foundation — 60,000 room nights a year. And the foundation’s highly education workforce earns top dollar, which could be spread around Alexandria and increase the tax base.

“I expect to see a lot of sharpened pencils all over the region,” said Alexandria Deputy City Manager Mark Jinks.

The two Alexandria locations vying for the National Science Center are the Hoffman at Eisenhower and Carlyle Plaza II, which is owned by J.M. Zell Partners. Both of these locations had development special-use permits finalized in 2012, and both of them meet the specifications of the request-for-lease proposals.

“Basically it comes down to whether or not Alexandria can offer a better deal,” said Hawkins.

Transient Money

Every year, City Hall collects about $12 million from the transient lodging tax. That’s a 6.5 percent charge levied on hotel and motel rooms, a rate that was increased from 5.5 percent in 2008. This week, city officials issued a report showing a 6.2 percent increase in the three-month trailing average of the transient lodging tax.

“This increase seems to reflect a modest rebound from the significant year-over-year decreases experienced this spring due to the drop in the federal government per diem, which lowered the average daily rate and revenue per available room collected by city hotels,” wrote City Manager Rashad Young in his month financial report. “City staff currently anticipates that collections in this category will remain relatively flat throughout the remainder of the year.”

Regardless of what happens with the fiscal cliff, President Barack Obama is expected to deliver an important boost to the transient lodging tax next year.

“Staff is anticipating a brief spike in collections early next year due to the January inauguration and inauguration-related events,” Young explained. “The city experienced a similar inauguration-related spike in transient lodging tax and meals sales tax collections in 2009.”

Attracting a Tenant

Councilman David Speck was not leaving City Hall without making a case for the city doing something to help attract a tenant to the abandoned food court, which is on a prime spot of waterfront real estate. During his last meeting as an interim councilman, Speck said the city could be doing more to help the landlord attract a tenant.

“There are three or four things that I think will make this space more attractive for potential significant users,” said Speck. “There are people nosing around about it, but they are raising issues.”

For one thing, Speck said that the area could use more signs to let people know the building is there. He says many people pass by King Street without even knowing about the area where the food court and Chart House are located. Then there’s lighting, which Speck said could be improved. Adding visibility and attracting tourists could go a long way to landing a top-notch tenant for the location.

“People struggle to know what’s back there,” said Speck.