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Level3 Communications, a Colorado-based data communications firm, needs a place to plug Washington into its growing fiber-optic network. “We are looking for a site that can accommodate a half-million-sf facility,” says Robert Schwartz, the Cushman & Wakefield broker representing Level3.

The company is searching the city’s NoMa district, named after a triangular area north of a Massachusetts Avenue. It is also considering a couple of sites in Loudoun County, VA, about 30 miles west, he says, but declined to reveal further details.

The company wants to establish a gateway data center that can serve its business partners in the area, including America Online in Sterling, VA. It hopes to make a decision within four to six weeks.

The city is offering up to $15 million in tax-exempt financing and more in other incentives through the area’s enterprise zone designation to land the facility, notes Michael Hodge, who runs the city’s industrial revenue bond program. That won’t matter a lot when the facility could cost $250 million, he says. Access to fiber-optic cable is the critical factor.

But he acknowledges another problem: NoMa has no amenities. The warehouse district, well east of the city’s commercial business district, lacks many basic retail services, let alone upscale shops and restaurants.

Several telecommunications companies like the neighborhood for railway rights-of-way where they can bury fiber-optic cable, and sturdy warehouses with lots of room to install computer and switching equipment.

Qwest Communications has a 100,000-sf data center at 1500 Eckington Place NE and Enron Broadband Services signed a 10-year lease last April for 45,000 sf at 60 Florida Ave. NE from Douglas Development. In addition, MCI/WorldCom has taken a 162,000-sf warehouse at 1845 Fourth St. NE for a switch station and XM Satellite Radio started moving into 1500 Eckington Place, the new headquarters for its satellite radio network.

Also, the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms will move into a new $250 million headquarters there in 2002. A year later, a new Red Line Metro station is scheduled to open in the area.

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