Something old, and new

Good news in Woodbridge this week.

General Dynamics, the defense contractor that found a use for the enormous “Incredible Universe” building near Potomac Mills, announced it is expanding operations to build amphibious assault vehicles for the U.S. Marine Corps.

General Dynamics took over the vacant Incredible Universe building two years ago in order to build the Advanced Amphibious Assault Vehicle (AAAV) —–a new generation of landing craft capable of deploying Marines on beaches from as far as 25 miles offshore.

The expansion announced this week means that General Dynamics Land Systems will bring 40 new jobs and 60 more government workers to the Woodbridge site.

Beyond the good economic development news, the story of General Dynamics’ presence here in Woodbridge deserves greater attention. One of the most overlooked aspects is the firm’s use of an existing building for its operations. Too often in growing places like Prince William, developers and businesses prefer to take the slash and burn method of construction. The General Dynamics example displays a little more creativity in using a building that’s already been built.

Incredible Universe, for those who aren’t familiar with the story, opened during the last decade as an electronics mega-store. It didn’t stay open long and left a shell of a building within the heart of the prosperous Woodbridge/ Potomac Mills area. The building was big and unique making it an awkward sell to prospective buyers. Some speculated it would become a warehouse while others said it would be a great convention center. Nothing panned out until General Dynamics made its announcement in 2000.

Too often, we give up on buildings after the initial enterprise goes out of business. Sprawl is bad enough in Northern Virginia without the shells of bankrupt stores and relocated businesses taking up acres of abandoned real estate. U.S. 1 is mostly associated with these ugly vacancies but other highway corridors are experiencing a similar cycle.

With the General Dynamics building as an example, there needs to be a renewed effort to convince new businesses to settle on properties which have already been developed.