Within the span of a single meeting Thursday night, county supervisors approved and then changed their minds on a proposal to lease the former Walmart building off Edwards Ferry Road in Leesburg for government office
The county’s option for a 20-year lease-purchase agreement for the building came up with little advance notice, and caused Leesburg Mayor Kelly Burk some concern even though she told supervisors the town “has been grateful to have so much government office space in town.” The county government is the town’s largest employer, and has helped anchor the town’s downtown businesses.
But, Burk said, the town has changed and grown—and asked supervisors to work with the town to maximize the commercial space at the old Walmart. Unlike commercial businesses, the county government doesn’t pay town taxes on buildings it owns.
“Your potential decisions tonight on a lease for the old Walmart building will impact Leesburg for years to come,” she said.
Vice Chairman Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn) said he’s started to hear a shift in the mood in Leesburg about the county government’s dominant presence: “Now, I’m starting to hear, ‘you’re taking up all this space in Leesburg and you’re taking all these properties off our tax rolls.’”
“In the future, we really do need to move to a county government center that can host all of the county employees who need to be working together,” said Supervisor Ron A. Meyer Jr. (R-Broad Run).
The former Walmart, after a renovation, would have hosted some of the county government’s human services agencies.
But although supervisors at first voted to go ahead with that lease—assuring town leaders county leaders intended to work with them—they later changed their minds, worried the move would disrupt longstanding plans to establish a more centralized government office space on Sycolin Road around Philip A. Bolen Memorial Park just south of the town limits. Supervisors approved a rezoning for the Government Support Center, as it is called in county plans, in December 2015.
The new office space would create room for Loudoun’s constantly growing government. Currently, there are no plans to abandon the County Government Center on Harrison Street, although county supervisors and staff members have discussed it.
Leasing the old Walmart was expected to cost $66 million less than existing plans for a new office building off Sycolin Road, and be open by 2022 rather than 2026.
“Just so I got it straight, we’re going to spend $66 million and we’re going to delay this for 3-4 years with this vote, is that right?” said Supervisor Geary M. Higgins (R-Catoctin). Although centralizing will be more expensive and take longer to get done, the majority on the board argued it’s the better investment.
“We are not a county of 100,000 people anymore, and it is not slowing down,” said County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large). “This is pay-me-now or pay-me-more-later. Let’s do it now.”
“We can’t run a government like Loudoun where we’re going to have government spread out everywhere,” Meyer said. “If we make this decision to go down this Walmart path, the Band-Aid isn’t going to last to the point of us having to locate in remote facilities.”
The Government Support Center is already growing. The land around Bolen Park hosts several facilities, including the adult and juvenile detention centers, the Fire-Rescue Training Center, Loudoun County Public Schools fleet and security operations, and internal services like a county fueling station, central kitchen, and mail distribution center. A new animal shelter is also under construction.