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PRINCE WILLIAM COUNTY, VA—A California development group wants to build an $800-million data center farm near Manassas, VA. San Jose-based US Dataport hopes to buy a 200-acre parcel and begin work on a data-center campus of 10 to 20 buildings with a total of two million sf by the end of the year, according to Lew Shadle, Dataport’s director of business development. He would not confirm the location. Negotiations were expected to close in two to four weeks.

It is the latest, and by far the largest, of a series of data-center deals that have swept through Northern Virginia. An affiliate of Kimball Small Properties, Dataport is also building a super-hub in San Jose and considering six sites in the New York metro area for a third.

Data centers are windowless, high-security, one-story flex or industrial buildings. They house computers and telecommunications equipment that host Web services, house application-service providers and route Internet and data telecommunications. Typically minded by a skeleton staff, they have been known to cost hundreds of dollars per square foot to equip, far more than even the most richly appointed office buildings. One center in Fairfax, VA cost more than $700 per sf.

Technology and telecommunications companies want to build data centers in the area stretching roughly from Reston and Sterling to Manassas because it is near Dulles International Airport, which links to Washington via the Dulles Toll Road. America Online’s headquarters is in Sterling and MCI/WorldCom’s is under construction less than a mile away. Most important, all four major providers are laying the miles of fiber-optic cable needed to carry voice, data and video transmissions. US Dataport’s project would be close to the new facility of Covad Communication and America Online’s $500-million complex.

In yet another new data-center deal, AT&T has leased two buildings totaling 163,880 sf in Ashburn, VA. Data centers are usually constructed to suit or adapted, but some builders are starting to erect them on a speculative basis. This includes structures on the Dataport campus, company officials say. DataCentersNow, a subsidiary of Beco Management, is planning four speculative projects, one of them in Prince William County.

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