Loudoun’s Data Center Alley, according to the county Department of Economic Development, is the world’s largest concentration of data centers—and it has been one of the department’s greatest success stories. But outgoing Supervisor Ron A. Meyer Jr. (R-Broad Run) says it’s time to make a change.
At the current board’s final meeting on Dec. 17, supervisors passed an initiative proposed by Meyer to look into rebranding Data Center Alley and put up signs with the new brand.
“A lot of folks who first come here either as residents or as visitors have no idea what the large, block-looking buildings are and what they do,” Meyer said. “So basically, what this does is create some signage and some branding around them. They are here to stay.”
Loudoun’s data center industry has grown at an increasing rate since the area in Ashburn was first branded Data Center Alley in 2008. Data center developers have spent more than $1 million per acre on land for data centers, and according to the Department of Economic Development, there are nearly 13.5 million square feet of data centers in operation and another 4.5 million square feet planned. The industry also brings in hundreds of millions in local tax revenue every year, last year topping $200 million in computer equipment taxes alone. A data center company, Digital Realty, also recently passed the Dulles Greenway for largest single real estate taxpayer in the county, with property valued at nearly $440 million.
The county has worked to encourage those by clearing the way for necessary infrastructure for the industry, as well as providing a fast-track program for permits and approvals for new data center developments. Local institutions such as Northern Virginia Community College have also partnered with data centers to train more people to work in the industry.
But data centers historically have also seen opposition when they have been placed near residential areas. More recently, some have been subject to more stringent design standards, but data centers have been notoriously noisy and unattractive buildings, with roofs covered in HVAC equipment to cool the server racks inside and surrounded by backup generators to keep the buildings operational during power outages.
“What this does is say, hey, you’re entering the data center corridor, and that’s typically been called ‘Data Center Alley,’ but what this says is, maybe residents don’t necessarily want to be living in an alley,” Meyer said.
Supervisors voted 8-0-1, with Supervisor Geary M. Higgins (R-Catoctin) absent, to direct the Department of Economic Development to review the branding of Loudoun’s data center corridor and explore other options. That will come back to the Board of Supervisors at an unspecified date.