I spent a day in Crystal City, Virginia — and it’s easy to see why Amazon picked it for its new HQ2 headquarters

Image
  • Amazon is moving 25,000 employees into a new campus in Northern Virginia.
  • The ecommerce giant chose Arlington’s Crystal City neighbourhood (along with Queens, New York) as one of two locations for its “HQ2” expansion.
  • We recently visited the area to find out what employees can expect from their new neighbourhood.
  • Here’s what it looks like at street level.

It’s official – Amazon is moving into Northern Virginia.

It already had a lot of offices and data centres in the region, but the ecommerce giant chose Arlington’s Crystal City neighbourhood (along with Queens, New York) as one of two locations for its “HQ2” expansion.

Crystal City isn’t one of Arlington County’s most trafficked areas. It’s a sleepy, mostly office-and-hotel neighbourhood, separated from the more residential and livable parts of the area by a giant, eight-lane highway.

Crystal City is also very close to the Pentagon, the U.S. military headquarters.

Many Northern Virginians have never really explored the Crystal City area, unless they work in the area or serve in the military. For most locals, it’s a place you drive through on the way to Reagan National Airport.

So one day last week, I spent a day checking out the properties that Amazon has committed to either lease or buy, and imagined what life could be like for the 25,000 employees Amazon plans to hire over the next decade.

Here’s what I learned:


Amazon has locked down two large plots of land in Pentagon City and three existing buildings in the Crystal City and Pentagon City area in Arlington, Virginia. The orange dots are where Amazon will build offices.

Image

It’s tucked between Interstate 395, Reagan National Airport, and the Pentagon. Here’s the view of DC from Crystal City across a lot of lanes of traffic.


The entire neighbourhood is organised around Route 1, which is regrettably named “Jefferson Davis Highway,” after the Confederate president.

Image

A lot of the area is administered and leased by JBG Smith, a big Washington, DC, real estate investment trust.

Image

Three of Amazon’s office locations are clustered near the Crystal City Metro station.

Image

One building, at 241 18th Street, is mostly occupied, but has 76,000 square feet available.

Image

Source: Washington Business Journal


When we visited, its first floor had been transformed into a showcase and co-working center of sorts.

Image

Here’s a look at that building from a distance.

Image

There was heavy revitalization branding all over the neighbourhood.

Image

In fact, the whole neighbourhood seems to be buzzing about Amazon.

Image

Across the street from the metro stop, at 1800 Bell Street, there is an entire vacant building, except for the first few floors. JBG has filed permits for interior demolition.

Image

Source: Washington Business Journal


This building also happened to have a lot of Crystal City branding — “Good Things Coming” seemed to be the slogan.

Image

Eventually, the entire building will be demolished, JBG told the Washington Business Journal. Here’s what the new building could look like.

Image

Amazon also leased an entire building about five minutes away from the Metro stop, at 1750 Crystal Drive.

Image

There’s a public park across the street from that location with chairs, chess, and even a ping-pong table. There’s also an entrance to some trails for biking or running.

Image

There are built-in ping-pong tables surrounding the area as well.

Image

Amazon has also purchased two big plots of land in an adjacent neighbourhood called Pentagon City.

Image

The 10-acre site, named “Pen Place,” can have 2.1 million square feet built on it, including residential properties. Here’s what it looks like right now.

Image

Here’s what the developer thinks it could look like one day.

Image

Of course, there’s a Whole Foods across the street.

Image

There are deals for Prime members at the relatively new Whole Foods.

Image

When the development is finished, people on the upper floors will probably be able to see the Pentagon’s Air Force memorial from their windows.

Image

The site is also within walking distance from the Pentagon — although you have to walk under a busy highway.

Image
The Pentagon is on the other side of this highway. Kif Leswing

Amazon also bought two undeveloped parcels a block or so south of Pen Place, in part of a development called Metropolitan Park.

Image

The development already includes several large apartment buildings, including the largest apartment buildings in Arlington County, Virginia.

Image

But right now, here’s what the sites look like. It’s assumed that Amazon will build offices here.

Image

Amazon could ask the county to allow it to replace planned residential space with office space, limiting the housing stock and potentially causing prices to go up.

Image

There are a number of apartment buildings in the area.

At one, a broker told me that monthly prices start at $US1,600 for a “junior” one-bedroom with 628 square feet of living space – but she expects that prices will go up as Amazon moves in.

“With the news that Amazon is coming, get in now!” she said.


The neighbourhood seems like it could certainly support 25,000 office workers, but housing may be a problem. One of the original architects of the neighbourhood told the Washington Post that there was “intense pressure to emphasise office use at the expense of apartments or commercial use.”

Image

Source: Washington Post


The neighbourhood started to be developed in the early 1960s.

Image

In the years since, Crystal City has traditionally been known as a mostly commercial neighbourhood near the Pentagon.

Image

There is a heavy defence contractor and military service member presence around the area – Booz Allen, General Dynamics, and Boeing all have nearby offices.

There are also a ton of obscure government agencies and offices around the neighbourhood.


The neighbourhood’s defining feature is the Crystal City Shops, an underground mall and set of passages connecting pretty much every building in the area.

Image

Little entrances to the underground mall are tucked away everywhere.

Image

In fact, there’s a direct entrance to the underground passages directly from the Metro, so future Amazon employees might not even need to go above ground to get to work.

Image

Here’s a map of the underground mall.

Image

Still, it is very easy to get lost in the labyrinth.

Image

The tunnels are filled with lunch spots, convenience stores, and places to sit down.

Image

There’s a nice little food court area near one of Amazon’s future offices called “The Landing.”

Image

But there are also a ton of empty storefronts …

Image

… a lot of empty storefronts.

Image

Many stores had signs posted that they had moved out earlier this year, in July.

Image

Aside from the underground mall, a top draw for the neighbourhood is how accessible it is.

Image

If you’re arriving by car from south of DC, you can take I-95 or I-395. If you’re coming from the west, you’re on route 66. If you’re coming from Montgomery County, or Bethesda though, your route will take you through Washington, DC.

National Airport is also nearby.


There’s some street parking, but not a ton. There’s plenty of underground parking, but you’ll have to pay.

Image

If you’re an Amazon worker and you don’t want to drive, you’re going to be on the Blue or Yellow Metro lines, baby!

Image

Here is the escalator down to your likely Metro stop. There’s also a Pentagon City stop not too far away.

Image

So if you live in Fairfax County (Orange Line) or Bethesda (Red Line), you’ll probably have to transfer.

Image

All of Amazon’s sites are within walking distance from this stop — some are even across the street. But if you need a ride, there are scooters nearby.

Image

There’s also a bikeshare on the corner …

Image

… and a ton of bus stops.

Image

It’s easy to see why Amazon picked Crystal City.

Image

It’s urban, but very accessible for car-oriented older people who might want to live in the Virginia or Maryland suburbs around DC.

But younger people who want to live close to work may be disappointed – it’s not really a trendy neighbourhood.


It’s also close to what some have called the “bullseye of America’s internet.”

Image

Further out into the Virginia suburbs are some of Amazon’s biggest data centres. Some estimates have said 70% of the world’s internet traffic flows through these data centres in Fairfax and Loudon counties. Northern Virginia has deep tech roots.

Internet Alley” is a great read if you’re interested in the history of how defence technology birthed internet infrastructure that’s still in use in Arlington and Fairfax county.


Amazon has 30 data centres in the area — and so do Equinix, Google, Microsoft, Oracle, and other big companies. They’re all within a 15-minute drive of Northern Virginia. Well, if there’s traffic, it might take longer.

Image

Source: Business Insider


The CIA, an Amazon client, has its Langley, Virginia, headquarters nearby.

Image

But there are some potential issues — namely, housing and traffic.

Image
Good luck crossing the Theodor Roosevelt Bridge! Getty

Housing in Northern Virginia is expensive. For example, I was quoted $US1,850 per month for a one-bedroom apartment.

Plus, Washington, DC has the 18th-worst traffic in the entire world, according to one study.

Source: WTOP


And traffic and housing costs could get way worse if Amazon starts adding thousands of jobs per year, as it’s expected to.

Image

Amazon is also participating in a rebrand of the area from “Crystal City” to “National Landing.” That might be difficult, considering how much around the area is labelled.

Image

Amazon won’t fully move in for many years. So it remains to be seen whether the influx of high-paid workers can change the area across the Potomac River from DC.

Image