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Dormant industrial site in Frederick to become first-of-its-kind data center

‘Today, exactly what we’re doing, there is no competition,’ says Quantum Loophole CEO Josh Snowhorn. ‘We’re that innovative.’ (Submitted Photo)

‘Today, exactly what we’re doing, there is no competition,’ says Quantum Loophole CEO Josh Snowhorn. ‘We’re that innovative.’ (Submitted Photo)

Quantum Loophole, a company dedicated to building first-of-their-kind, sustainable and master-planned data center campuses, has announced it will be building the first of these developments in Frederick County.

The Austin, Texas-based company, in partnership with TPG Real Estate Partners, recently finalized the purchase of the Alcoa Eastalco Works property in Frederick County for $100 million. The approximately 2,100-acre property was the site of a former aluminum smelting plant that closed over a decade ago.

Quantum Loophole, which launched in January of 2020, chose the site largely due to its proximity to an Internet exchange point in Ashburn, a town in Loudoun County, Virginia. Called Data Center Valley, it is said that 70% of the world’s internet passes through Ashburn, making it a popular — but expensive — location for data centers to set up shop.

Recently passed tax exemption incentives for data centers in Maryland, as well as significantly lower property taxes, encouraged CEO Josh Snowhorn to select the site in Frederick County rather than other nearby sites in Virginia or West Virginia.

“From a tax perspective, it is dramatic to be able to locate in Maryland and I don’t think there’s any other county that can compare,” he said.

The gigawatt-scale campus is distinct from the traditional data center model, which usually includes a single building constructed on a parcel of land between 10 and 20 acres. The Quantum Loophole site will instead take a master-planned approached, providing a campus for a cluster of companies, instead of just one at a time, creating a uniform campus.

Additionally, traditional data centers can impinge upon nearby neighborhoods and their utilities, Snowhorn said, whereas the data centers on Quantum Loophole’s site will be set apart from the larger community by buffer zones of 20 acres or more and won’t impact the community’s utilities.

“When you drive down the main entry road or drive along a perimeter, you really will have a hard time seeing the data centers that actually sit within it,” he said.

Another distinct element of the campus will be its mass-scale fiber optic backbone, which will have over 500 times as many fibers as a typical fiber backbone, connecting to the local major market in Northern Virginia.

Quantum Loophole plans to include a wide variety of sustainability features, including using graywater to cool buildings and using more sustainable backup power sources than traditional data centers, such as solar power.

The company will also incorporate greenery, pathways and new trees into the campus; another reason Frederick County was chosen is because its beautiful scenery will allow the company to create a campus that was natural and green, rather than overly industrial, Snowhorn said.

Helen Propheter, Frederick County’s executive director of economic development, sees the project as a major asset to the county. The massive property Quantum Loophole purchased — the largest contiguous commercial property in the county — has laid dormant for a long time, and concerns have arisen about who would purchase it, as its previous owners had hoped to sell the whole property to a single business.

It could have become a housing development, but that may have overburdened the schools in that part of the county. And because the property is in a rural area, officials were concerned about the site being purchased by a business that would have heavily increased traffic in the area.

When Quantum Loophole approached the county, though, “it just felt so right,” she said.

“(We’d) been working with Quantum Loophole for about a year, crossing our fingers that everything would go well with the purchase of Eastalco,” she said.

Propheter is also excited at the prospect of increasing the presence of high-technology industries in the region, which is currently a hub for biotechnology and life sciences companies.

“I hope that with the data centers and with having that level of fiber coming in, that we grow our IT industry and perhaps robotics or other industries in the future,” she said. The relatively remote location of the development may also require some retail businesses, such as a place for workers to grab coffee or lunch, to crop up on or around the campus.

Once the company has acquired the necessary permits, the project is slated to be completed in around 18 months, which is about the amount of time it will take to set up the fiber backbone, as well as systems like sewage, water and power. The company’s clients will be able to construct their buildings on the campus concurrently.

Snowhorn sees Quantum Loophole’s campuses as the future of data centers. As veteran of the industry, one thing he’s learned in his 20-plus-year career is that innovation is key — and not just short-term innovation. He anticipates that Quantum Loophole’s model is 10 to 15 years ahead of trends in the industry.

“Our goal … is that we will be the standard that everybody lives by globally, and you’ll start seeing these large, consolidated master-planned communities. Hopefully it’s only our large, consolidated master-planned communities, because we want to be the leader in this,” Snowhorn said. “Today, exactly what we’re doing, there is no competition. We’re that innovative.”

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