Loudoun: Tradition vs. Transformation (Part 1)
This is why people like Loudoun County.
These meters are not broken, but gift-wrapped for the holidays. (Your naive and citified publisher drove around for blocks assuming the former and sure he would get a ticket.) Despite our convulsing world, you can feel like you’re in Mayberry.
We drove around Loudoun all day—and while the Toll Road gets crowded during rush hour, there are many big open roads for daily life, like here on the 12 miles of Route 15 between Leesburg and Route 50.
You can stop by a restored 19th Century grain mill and have lunch.
Or do your shopping at a famous grocery mecca with acres of parking…
...and delectable selections. (For us the draw was WiFi in the sprawling café.)
Here’s the guy who started it all in 1757: John Campbell, Fourth Earl of Loudoun, who was Governor-General of Virginia at the time.
And here’s the guy on the job today: Scott York, who’s been Chairman of the Board of Supervisors for 15 years, most recently in a 2011 Republican sweep of all nine Board seats. He grew up with an Air Force dad, living in Idaho, Guam, Alabama, Nebraska, and three places in California (Riverside, Yuba City and San Diego), Fairfax City and Reston before arriving in Loudoun in ’87 and eventually settling with his wife near Cascades Parkway, where they still live. By 1992, he’d been appointed Sterling Planning Commissioner.
Being a careful person, he double-checks that the Loudoun population is 360,000 and the size is 525 square miles. He says there are seven major towns (Hamilton, Hillsboro, Leesburg, Lovettsville, Middleburg, Purcellville and Round Hill), plus many unincorporated areas whose names are familiar to outsiders, like Aldie, Arcola, Ashburn, Brambleton, Broadlands, Dulles, Lansdowne, South Riding, Sterling and Waterford. A month ago they even acquired a small part of Herndon. Biggest employers? MC Dean, Verizon, Orbital, United Airlines and DHS.
Hizzoner and his Honda travel to local IHOP’s to take soundings—he says that stands for “International House of Politics.” Naturally transportation has long been a focus of his, from reducing traffic light congestion over the years on Route 28 to current interchange improvements on Route 7 at Ashburn Village Boulevard and at Route 659, and expanding Route 606 to four lanes around the airport. He’s looking forward to the Silver Line arriving in 2018 and happy about recent approvals for increased Federal financing. He’s not excited about “perimeter expansion” for flights out of National, which diverts traffic from Dulles.
Of course, other things have changed since the Fourth Earl of Loudoun. Ashburn and the Dulles area have become known as “Data Center Alleys” which locals cite proudly for their claim that 70% of the world’s Internet traffic travels through Loudoun. Here’s a new 254k SF facility on 14 acres going up on Nokes Boulevard, built by Washington state’s Pacland engineering firm for Cyrus One of Texas. Other key players like Equinix, Digital Realty, Carpathia, Century Link, DuPont Fabros, Sabey, Latisys and RagingWire also dot the countryside (sometimes without signs, for security reasons).
It was not always thus. Here’s the famous AOL building this week near Waxpool and 28, with its insignia (if you squint) still atop. This is the same former British Aerospace building Steve Case toured for the first time on a heavy snow day in 1996 when he was moving his upstart company from Tysons. Up Waxpool a couple miles was UUNet, about to be acquired by MFS, then Worldcom (today it’s part of Verizon Business). Nearby were other Internet icons of the day: PSI Net and Network Solutions, and telecom darlings Nextel and Teligent. By 1999, the buzz was so deafening about Herndon and Loudoun being an epicenter of the new dot-com era, your publisher, in another life, led 20 US Senators (one-fifth of the US Senate) on two daylong bus trips out there to see it for themselves as a model of what tech could become in their home states.
And GW’s Virginia Science and Technology campus got established on a then-quiet Route 7 near Ashburn with a donation of 50 acres by developer Bob Smith in 1991. This building, also snapped this week, went up a few years later as such an obscure outpost that your publisher, again in a former life, was invited onto its advisory board to help publicize its very existence. Today, due to its years of innovative and influential work, it’s a much bigger and universally respected presence in the culture of Loudoun.
Then there’s what brings in so many visitors and admiring consumers: the wineries and microbreweries for which Loudoun has become increasingly known—“Visit Loudoun” CEO Beth Ericson has scored a major win in helping bring the Fifth Wine Tourism Conference to Landsdowne in November of 2015.
And let’s not forget Loudoun’s renowned hospitality and horse industries—which we’ve long reported on. We took this six years ago on a cold December day as billionaire Sheila Johnson showed us around early construction for her now-built and spectacular Salamander resort (with president Prem Devadas): 168 rooms on 340 rolling acres. In the midst of the Middleburg countryside, it’s got equestrian facilities, and Sheila and her daughters have been long devotees of the sport—one of the reasons she lives out there.
Then there’s Redskins Park, much beloved, except perhaps in a (so far) 3 and 10 season.
Next issue: OK, so those are the cool traditions. Now, what does Loudoun have to do to keep up with the times? Stay tuned, we’ll be talking about challenges and visions of “Transformation” with the likes of developer Bob Buchanan, above, Loudoun economic development chief Buddy Rizer and United Bank Virginia president Kurt Marx.