It’s a debate that’s happening in the District and across the country — how can free-wheeling food trucks peacefully co-exist with brick-and-mortar restaurants? That debate is now coming to Arlington.
The Rosslyn Business Improvement District (BID) is in the process of forming a set of recommendations for the Arlington County Board regarding the regulation of food trucks, according to an internal document obtained by ARLnow.com. The BID, which is funded by the property owners who rent space to the neighborhood’s 59 restaurants, delis and cafes, says in the document that “the number, location and type of operation” of food trucks and carts is “inadequately regulated by Arlington County.”
Even during the “off season” winter months, between 3 and 9 food trucks flock to N. Lynn Street alone to serve hungry Rosslyn lunch-goers, according to the BID. But while residents and workers may appreciate the variety and convenience of food trucks, the restaurants that pay rent in Rosslyn have been complaining.
“Food truck operators… park at the busiest and best locations for retail business without paying rent, investing in the community, or ‘playing by the rules,’” the document suggests. “Existing ‘bricks and mortar retail tenants, who have made large investments, are feeling significant impacts [from food trucks]… Revenue is siphoned from retailers.”
“Business owners who have made investments in Arlington County need to be protected,” the document concludes. “The County needs to create a level playing field for both street level retailers and food carts-food trucks.”
To help do so — and to help cure other ills allegedly brought on by food trucks and carts — the Rosslyn BID has formed a number of preliminary recommendations. Some of the recommendations are new, while some are based on existing regulations. Though the document is described as a “work in progress,” the recommendations so far include:
- “Develop a mechanism to address the number and schedule of food trucks during lunch hours. This would provide a consistent approach for both food truck operators and bricks and mortar retailers.”
- “Dedicate a location for food trucks that is not along the main retail areas.”
- “Limit the number of food trucks-food carts per block to no more than two (2) and ensure adequate sidewalk clearance for safe passage of pedestrians.”
- “Restrict the proximity of food trucks to not less than 65 feet away from the front of restaurants.”
- “Require that food truck/food cart employees must have restroom access within 200 feet of the food truck-food cart.”
- “Enhance inspections and impose serious fines for health/safety violations.”
- “Require food trucks/food carts to provide their own trash cans or take away the garbage that they generate.”
- “Ensure County business registration and tax laws continue to be enforced.”
Rosslyn BID Executive Director Cecilia Cassidy says that while food trucks can “enhance the streetscape,” the well-being of retailers must be considered.
(Updated at 10:20 a.m.) The good news for Artisphere, the county’s struggling cultural center in Rosslyn, is that it just had a certified hit in the form of its month-long Frida Kahlo photo exhibit. The bad news is that it’s still falling short of meeting a number of financial goals laid out in a new business plan last year.
The Frida Kahlo exhibit, held from Feb. 23 to March 25, drew 13,119 visitors to Artisphere, according to a recently-released quarterly report. That’s well over three times the audience of Artisphere’s next most popular exhibit to date, a collection of Mongolian clothing, artifacts and art that drew 3,831 visitors over the course of a month and a half in the spring of 2011.
Though the Kahlo exhibit helped bring in visitors, Artisphere failed to capitalize in terms of catering and concession revenue. Artisphere has yet to find a “resident caterer” to pick up the slack left by the closing of the venue’s in-house bar/restaurant last year. As a result catering and concession income for the first three quarters of the financial year was only $24,170, compared to the prorated business plan goal of $63,188.
Artisphere is also falling short of meeting its goal for facility rental income — a key component of the new business plan. Rental income has brought in $214,752 through the third quarter, compared to the goal of $273,600. In a letter to County Manager Barbara Donnellan, the Arlington Economic Development (AED) officials now in charge of overseeing Artisphere predict that rental income will pick up in the fourth quarter and put Artisphere “only slightly under its projections” for the year.
Another disappointment is income from education programs — $17,540 compared to a Q3 goal of $46,800 — but Artisphere managers expect to make up some ground through revenue from summer camps.
Admission and ticket income, meanwhile, is only just short of its goal. Artisphere has collected $147,156 in visitor income compared to the Q3 goal of $149,987. When it first launched in 2010, however, Artisphere was expected to bring in $789,912 per year in admission and ticket income.
Artisphere has “seen many recent successes in its programming, bringing in very popular performers and events that have attracted significantly higher levels of ticket sales,” according to AED officials. That momentum may be difficult to maintain, though, following the sudden resignation of Artisphere’s Programming Director last month.
Startup Virginia, part of the privately-funded Startup America Partnership that President Obama helped to launch last year, promises to “support entrepreneurs and help startups drive job creation” in the Commonwealth. Organizers say Northern Virginia in particular is fertile ground for startups, with the numerous corporate headquarters in the area and with the area’s focus on science and technology.
“It’s about time this region got the recognition it deserves,” said a panelist at this morning’s launch event, which was attended by several hundred business leaders, academics and other attendees. Another panelist suggested that entrepreneurs can help pick up some of the economic slack that will be caused by expected cuts in defense spending.
Among the speakers at the event were Aneesh Chopra, the outgoing Chief Technology Officer for the White House, and Steve Case, co-founder of America Online, Chairman of the Startup America Partnership and a prominent local investor. Chopra cited Courthouse-based Opower as an example of a Virginia startup that’s making it big.
“Right down the street here in Arlington, Opower didn’t exist five years ago,” Chopra said. “[It has] over 300 employees to help compete to bring down your energy bills.”
Chopra made some news at the event when he hinted at a new bipartisan legislative package that’s expected to be announced by the White House later today. According to Chopra, the legislation would cut taxes for small businesses and entrepreneurs, would reduce barriers to accessing capital markets for high-growth companies, and would seek to reduce administrative backlogs for high-skill immigration.
Case said entrepreneurs helped to build the United States into the world power it is today.
“We didn’t become the leading economy by accident,” Case said. “It was the work of entrepreneurs creating companies, and really creating entire industries, that in the last two centuries has propelled us to the position we now have globally.”
Case cautioned, however, that other countries are trying to catch up with America in the realm of entrepreneurship. The U.S. must focus on “winning the global battle on talent,” he said.
The National Science Foundation currently employs about 2,100 people at its Ballston headquarters, according to a spokeswoman, but the government agency has indicated that it is potentially interested in moving to a new building when its lease expires in 2013. NSF would like the new space to be about 25 percent larger than its current location at 4201 Wilson Boulevard, and about 12.5 percent cheaper per square foot than the current comparable office rent in Ballston, according to the Washington Business Journal.
The federal government’s office rent cap in Northern Virginia is $38 per square foot, compared to the average Ballston Class A office rent of $43.47, according to WSJ. That has led to speculation that NSF might leave Ballston altogether.
“We’re going to pursue them and we’re going to pursue them aggressively,” Alexandria Vice Mayor Kerry Donley said of the agency’s impending lease expiration, to the Alexandria Times. Donley was instrumental in persuading the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to move its headquarters from Crystal City to Alexandria in the early-to-mid 2000s.
The area’s congressional delegation, however, has asked the General Services Administration — which helps manage government properties — to strongly consider keeping NSF in Arlington.
“We urge you to take into account recent developments that we believe continue to make Arlington the ideal location for NSF Headquarters,” said a letter to the GSA’s top official, signed by Sen. Jim Webb, Sen. Mark Warner and Rep. Jim Moran.
The letter, dated February 23, 2010, argues that NSF benefits from its proximity to Ballston institutions like the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Office of Naval Research and Virginia Tech’s new Advanced Research Institute.
“Arlington County is a national epicenter for scientific research, particularly in the areas of defense and homeland security,” the letter stated. “Not only does [Ballston] provide these agencies with access to one of the most highly educated and highly trained workforces in the nation, it also provides them with immediate access to a large pool of technical experts in the contracting community as well.”
“We believe a relocation of NSF Headquarters away from Arlington would [have a] detrimental effect on the ability of each of these research organizations to achieve their agency objectives,” the letter concluded.
In January, the National Mastitis Council brought its annual meeting to Arlington. Approximately 400 people from around the country and around the world gathered for four days and three nights at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City to discuss the latest advances in improving milk quality and maintaining the health of cow udders.
The total estimated economic impact for local businesses: $400,000. Total estimated hotel tax revenue: $11,250.
Each year, dozens of such specialized industry events quietly come to Arlington, spend bundles of money and leave without most residents even knowing they were here. All told — while there’s no official accounting of it — there are likely hundreds of meetings, conventions, tour groups and reunions that stay in Arlington hotels on an annual basis. And there are millions of dollars to be made from those gatherings — by hotels, restaurants, taxi companies and the county government.
The average size of a meeting booked through the Arlington Convention and Visitor’s Service is 175 people, according to Arlington Economic Development spokeswoman Karen Vasquez. The average meeting attendee spends $116 per day in Arlington on things like meals, transportation, shopping and attractions. Meanwhile, the average hotel room in Arlington is just over $165 per night.
Put that together, and you have the average three-day meeting producing about $118,650 worth of spending in Arlington County. Of that spending, the county collects a 4 percent tax on meals and a 5.25 percent tax on the hotel room. Not a bad haul for a random meeting of a group that most people have probably never heard of — like the International Society for Medical Publication Professionals.
(The hotel tax will be going down to 5 percent in 2012 thanks to political wrangling in Richmond. The 0.25 percent that Arlington will lose had been going to fund Arlington’s tourism promotion efforts. In its new budget, the County Board included one-time funding to keep the tourism office open through the middle of 2012.)
After a jump, a list of some of the other meetings that have recently come or will be coming to Arlington.
Construction of a key ramp from I-395 to the Mark Center complex on Seminary Road in Alexandria may be delayed 18 months due to a federal decision that will require an extensive environmental study before the project can get underway. The delay may further hold up the move of military employees from Arlington offices to Mark Center.
On Friday, VDOT announced that the Federal Highway Administration had decided to require the environmental assessment for the ramp. VDOT argued that it should have instead been granted a categorical exclusion for the project, “since the ramp will be built entirely within existing I-395 right of way, will improve air quality by making transit and carpooling more convenient for Mark Center employees and will not have substantial impacts to natural, cultural, recreational, water quality, or historic resources.”
About 6,400 Department of Defense employees are scheduled to be relocated to Mark Center by the end of the year as part of the Base Realignment and Closure Act (BRAC). VDOT says that “near-gridlock conditions will occur on Seminary Road, Beauregard Street and I-395″ unless the ramp and other infrastructure is built to accommodate the extra traffic. With the environmental assessment, it could be 2015 or 2016 before the ramp opens.
Congressman Jim Moran — who has been working “to suspend or delay the move into the Mark Center site until the necessary transportation improvements to prevent a traffic nightmare on I-395 are implemented” — says that Mark Center moves may need to be pushed back even further.
On Thursday night Arlington County held a small business ‘listening session’ at Clarendon Ballroom. More than 50 business owners showed up to tell county staff what they like and don’t like about how the county treats small businesses.
The event was part of County Board Chair Chris Zimmerman’s year-long push to make Arlington more small-business-friendly. Zimmerman gave the opening and closing remarks at the event, but it was county planning and economic development staff who led the group discussions that were the evening’s main substance.
Among the things business owners liked about doing business in Arlington were the friendly personal interactions with county employees, the frequent county programs that teach you how to create a business plan, and the relative ease of running a home-based business. As expected, however, complaints far out-numbered compliments.
There was discussion of the advantages larger businesses have over smaller businesses when trying to navigate the county’s regulations and talk of loosening regulations preventing small businesses from participating in certain citizen-oriented programs. By and large, however, the discussion focused on three areas: clarity and accessibility of information, taxes and fees, and the county’s controversial sign ordinance.
Things are looking pretty good for Arlington, economy-wise — at least according to a presentation this morning by Arlington Economic Development Director Terry Holzheimer.
Unemployment and office vacancies are low. Real estate prices and hotel occupancy rates are on the rise. And a number of new construction projects are underway. Holzheimer said he expects the local unemployment rate to continue declining in 2011 while the impact from BRAC is mitigated by a robust demand for office space.
Holzheimer noted that between 2008 and 2010, Arlington saw a net employment increase while Alexandria and Fairfax saw a net employment decline.
Today’s presentation included a list of the top public and private employers in Arlington. The total number employees in Arlington in 2011 is noted below in parenthesis.
Given the current talk in Congress of significant federal budget cuts, Arlington’s large number of government employees may be of some concern.
- Deloitte (3,490)
- Lockheed Martin (2,668)
- Virginia Hospital Center (2,042)
- Marriott International (1,600)
- Booz Allen Hamilton (1,370)
- SRA International (1,359)
- CACI (1,251)
- US Airways (1,300)
- SAIC (1,281)
- Corporate Executive Board (986)
Officials from Arlington’s economic development office asked the county board to fund the county’s tourism promotion efforts now that the hotel tax surcharge that funded such efforts is being allowed to expire.
“I think we have a great program,” Arlington Economic Development Director Terry Holzheimer said at a board work session this afternoon. “The program has value.”
“This board has been put in a very difficult position,” said board member Jay Fisette, adding that he hope to “come up with some way to share” the cost of tourism promotion with local hotels to save money from the already-stretched county budget.
Although Arlington has developed “much, much stronger ties to the local hotel industry,” Holzheimer told the board that he did not believe hotel operators could be persuaded to make a voluntary contribution to a tourism fund from their bottom line.
“Even if we got a few to do it, I don’t think the majority would do it,” he said.
With that in mind, Holzheimer asked the board to allocate $450,000 from the county’s budget to fund the Convention and Visitor service between between Jan. 1, 2012, when the current surcharge expires, and June 1, 2012, when the surcharge could be reinstated.
Holzheimer said he believes the Virginia General Assembly, which rejected the renewal of Arlington’s 0.25 percent hotel tax surcharge last month, might be persuaded to to pass it next year.
“I do believe we’ll mount an effort next year and be successful,” Holzheimer said.
Board member Barbara Favola, however, was skeptical of the General Assembly passing an Arlington-friendly tax measure.
“I don’t think that’s a realistic position,” she said.
The board will adopt a final FY 2012 budget in April.
The event, “Food Carts: Regulations and Best Practices 2011,” will be held between 6:00 and 8:30 p.m. on March 9 at the Central Library auditorium (1015 North Quincy Street). Registration is free.
Among the featured speakers will be District Taco owner Osiris Hoil, who “will share his insight on how he used his food cart business to secure a retail lease in Arlington County.” Representatives from the Arlington’s health department, police department and tax office will also be on hand.
“Are you interested in learning the legal aspects of opening this type of business in Arlington County from local regulators?” Arlington Economic Development asked in its email flier for the event. “During these tough economic times, small businesses throughout the United States are launching food carts at record rates as alternatives to leasing commercial retail space.”
The event is sponsored by BizLaunch and the Greater Washington Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
The nominations are in for the ABBIES, Arlington’s annual business awards. Now it’s time to cast your vote in categories like Arlington’s Best “Bargain” Restaurant, Arlington’s Best Happy Hour and Arlington’s Best Community-Based Nonprofit. (Disclaimer: the ABBIES are an ARLnow.com advertiser.)
This year, there’s actually a category that more important than the others, at least as far as we’re concerned. It’s the Best Place to Learn Something New category, featuring a take-no-prisoners competition between Arlington Public Library, Adagio Ballet, Fitness Break, Saffron Dance and yours truly, ARLnow.com.
That’s right, this site is nominated. Thank you to everybody who helped make that happen! Now it’s time to bring it home.
Go to the official voting page and, if you’re so inclined, tick the box next to our name.
The winners will be announced on Nov. 16.
If Thursday’s groundbreaking for the 1812 North Moore Street office tower was anything, it was a vote of confidence in the DC area, and Rosslyn specifically, as a commercial center.
“The fundementals of our market are probably the best in the entire country, if not the world,” said Tim Helmig, the executive who just placed a $30 million bet on Rosslyn. “Investors worldwide have focused on the [Rosslyn-Ballston] corridor.”
Helmig, who heads the DC office New York-based Monday Properties, said he is embarking on the project without a signed tenant and without full financing because he believes that demand for office space in Rosslyn will be there once the building is completed. His company is so sure of Rosslyn’s viability that a full 45 percent of the company’s portfolio, in square feet, is based here.
“You’re seeing that a market like Rosslyn can withstand what is arguably the worst recession in American history, and move forward on a speculative office building,” Helmig said as a group of developers and local leaders gathered for lunch on the empty 30th floor of an existing Monday Properties building on Wilson Boulevard.
Congressman Jim Moran, who joined Arlington officials and Monday Property executives on stage at the ceremonial groundbreaking, said the event will help inspire confidence in the country’s economic recovery.
“This sends a signal to the whole region that the future is going to be brighter than the past,” Moran said. “It has made it clear that [the Washington area] is going to lead the country out of this recession.”
Calling Rosslyn the area’s “second downtown,” Arlington Economic Development Director Terry Holzheimer said that 1812 North Moore Street, and the still-stalled Central Place towers, are big steps in the continuing evolution of Rosslyn.
“This building and Central Place and some others are going to change the market dynamics of Rosslyn,” he said. “It’s going to be competing with some of the best of the District.”
As we’ve reported before, Arlington’s unemployment rate has stayed remarkably low during the course of the recession. But in case you needed further proof of the resilience of the county’s economy, look no further than the way money is being spent in Arlington.
A newsletter from Arlington’s economic development authority reveals that local spending on restaurants and retail goods is up significantly compared to 2009.
The meals taxes payed by Arlington restaurants jumped by 9.2 percent for the first three months of the year, according to Arlington Economic Development. In addition to the booming restaurant receipts, retail sales rose 11.2 percent in March.
Northern Virginia stands to lose $6 to $7 billion dollars through 2012 as a result of cuts in defense contracting announced yesterday, says George Mason University’s Stephen Fuller. But Arlington’s economic authority expects the impact on the county to be minimal.
“I do believe that we are positioned well for the future,” says Arlington Economic Development Director Terry Holzheimer.
Holzheimer admits that predicting the exact impact on Arlington economically is “complex,” and will not be known with a reasonable level of certainty until the Department of Defense comes out with its next budget. But, he says, the diversifying Arlington economy should be able to weather cuts in contracting as it has weathered BRAC.
“Our economy is in somewhat of a transition anyhow,” with more corporate, non-government and non-profit tenants moving in, Holzeimer said. He added that many of the contracting offices in Arlington perform lobbying and administrative functions — which are not likely to be heavily cut.
In terms of federal facilities, Holzheimer says that Arlington is especially well-positioned.
“It has zero impact on the Pentagon itself, and I don’t think it will have any impact on Ft. Myer,” Holzheimer said. He said that the other two big DoD facilities in Arlington — the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Office of Naval Research — probably will not feel much of an impact. In fact, he says, DARPA’s mission may be expanded.
Holzheimer said that Arlington also stands to benefit from a federal directive to put federal facilities in areas that are economically and environmentally-sustainable. Arlington’s transit infrastructure, pedestrian-friendliness and energy management make it an idea location.
“We are probably way ahead of everybody,” in terms of taking advantage of the directive, he said. “We’re fairly confident of our position.”
Arlington is missing out on millions of dollars worth of annual tax revenue because of overly restrictive rules governing how lawyers are admitted to the Virginia Bar, according to a new report by Arlington Economic Development.
AED says that Arlington could be a very attractive location for major law firms. After all, real estate rates in Arlington are significantly lower than K Street and the other prime DC environs currently favored by large firms. Plus, a higher concentration of lawyers live in Arlington than the District, according to AED.
However, a tough written exam is required for admission into the Virginia Bar, even for lawyers already licensed in Florida, California, Maryland and, in many cases, DC. By contrast, the DC Bar only requires a simple application to admit lawyers from states like Florida, California and Maryland. AED says that gives DC firms a big recruiting advantage over Virginia firms, and precludes Arlington from serious consideration as a destination for major law firms.
Membership in the Virginia Bar is required in order to practice law in the Commonwealth.
AED is calling on Virginia’s Board of Bar Examiners to consider ways to adjust the rules, which are set by the Virginia Supreme Court but administered by the Board.
“Both Arlington County and the Commonwealth of Virginia would have a significant positive net fiscal impact from some adjustments to the rules governing admission to membership in the Virginia Bar,” AED said in its report.
The organization estimates that if Arlington could attract one out of every five DC firms with leases expiring over the next ten years, it could bring a tax windfall: nearly $4 million per year for Arlington, and $500,000 per year for the state.