Google Plans 2 Loudoun Data Centers

Google today publically announced the acquisition of two Loudoun County properties where it plans to build new data centers.

The company purchased 57 acres in the Stonewall Business Park south of Leesburg on June 2. It also bought two tracts totaling 91 acres at Arcola Center along Rt. 50 on Oct. 4.

It is Google’s first footprint in the county’s expanding data center alley. The company already has offices in Reston.

The land acquisition was completed in secrecy, with the Stonewall land purchased by Hayden Technologies LLC for $31 million and the Arcola Center land going to Wheeler Survey Company LLC for $39 million, according to county land records.

A site plan has been filed for the south Loudoun site and construction is expected to start next year.

Loudoun’s Executive Director for Economic Development Buddy Rizer said his staff has been working with Google for two years on the deals.

“It’s one of the better partnerships we’ve had,” Rizer said. “We worked well together to find the right properties.”

It’s the beginning of what is expected to be a long-term partnership, with Google investing billions of dollars into its facilities here.

Rizer said it was significant to have another worldwide brand “planting its flag in Loudoun,” but the Google investment only affirms the value of the business environment that county government and industry leaders created around the original MAE-East Network Access Point which interconnected long-haul fiber backbones and helped create the modern internet. Loudoun has more than 75 data centers and some 10 million square feet of additional space in development.

“Loudoun really is one of the top economic development stories in the country,” Rizer said.

That success has translated to the county’s bottom line—actually helping to shift the tax burden off homeowners. Last month, county supervisors were told that personal property tax collections were expected to be nearly $21 million higher than was projected in county’s fiscal year 2018 budget. That surplus isn’t coming from folks buying new, more expensive cars, but is driven by the huge investment in equipment made by the data centers.

Rizer noted that when he joined the economic development department a decade ago, the county’s commercial tax base was less than 20 percent of the annual budget, with homeowners picking up most of the rest of the tab. That ratio has changed significantly, with commercial operations now paying about 30 percent overall.

The rapid growth in cloud computing is pushing a land rush of sorts. The two sites purchased by Google probably wouldn’t have been considered as viable locations even two years ago, Rizer said.

Arcola Center, developed by Buchanan Partners, is a mixed-use project on the north side of Rt. 50, south of Evergreen Mill Road and west of Rt. 606. The Google purchase was land designated for flex-industrial uses, including data centers.

The 194-acre Stonewall Business Park, located on the north side of the Dulles Greenway west of Goose Creek, was developed by Andrews Community Investments and was approved in 2011 for construction of 2.9 million square feet of data center space and a hybrid-energy power plant. The Panda Stonewall power plant began operations there in May. The property has another 50 acres also approved for data center development.

Stonewall developer John A. Andrews said the transaction was kept tightly under wraps since the purchase closed in June.   “I couldn’t even tell my kids who it was until last night,” he said after Google’s announcement Nov. 29.

As technology companies look beyond the traditionally recognized boundaries of Data Center Alley in Ashburn for land, the availability of ample electricity is a driving factor.

Both of the Google sites have that. State and county leaders last year signed off on Dominion Energy’s plans to build a new 230 kV transmission line along Rt. 50 and the Arcola Center property. Google’s Stonewall property is adjacent to both a power plant and the county’s largest transmission line corridor.

In addition to moving west and south of Ashburn, data center builders are looking for redevelopment options. One of those is the Christian Fellowship Church, located on 22 acres in the Beaumeade Corporate Park at the heart of Data Center Alley, where land can be sold for $1 million per acre. Parishioners plan to sell the property and build a bigger church elsewhere.

Data center developers are also building higher. Recent construction in Ashburn has largely featured two-story buildings. Some models, including some by Google in other areas of the country, go to four stories, and taller structures could be Loudoun’s future as land becomes increasingly scarce.

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