Spring Forward This Weekend — Daylight Saving Time starts this weekend. Clocks should “spring forward” one hour at 2:00 a.m. on Sunday. [Yahoo]
Condo Residents Still Oppose Homeless Shelter – Arlington County has failed to allay the fears of Woodbury Heights Condominium residents, who still oppose the opening of a new year-round homeless shelter on their block in Courthouse. A vocal group of residents spoke out at an Arlington Planning Commission meeting last night. [Patch]
Fiorina to Participate in AED Event — Former Hewlett-Packard CEO and U.S. Senate candidate Carly Fiorina has just been added to a panel discussion of “empathy in business,” organized by Arlington Economic Development and George Mason University. The event is taking place from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m. on Thursday, March 14 at Artisphere (1101 Wilson Blvd). [Arlington Economic Development]
Flickr pool photo by Sunday Money
(Updated at 12:15 p.m.) BRAC and federal cuts are a drag on Arlington’s real estate market, but Tysons Corner will not be as competitive as some in the county fear, according to Arlington Economic Development (AED).
The county agency gave its annual real estate market review and forecast to a group of developers, property owners and local leaders on Monday. This year’s presentation was titled “Silver Line-ings,” after the new Metro line that is expected to open within a year and bring increased economic development to Tysons.
“I’m not freaked by Tysons Corner,” said AED Director Terry Holzheimer, adopting a bit of youth lingo.
“I don’t think we’re going to see a big negative from Tysons,” he continued. “Arlington will continue to be a better place. Arlington will continue to have better product. Arlington will continue to be highly competitive to Tysons Corner.”
Holzheimer said Tysons will “never catch up” with the kind of walkable, high-density, high-amenity urban corridors Arlington enjoys, and will continue to suffer from traffic problems. Plus, Holzheimer pointed out that commercial property taxes in Tysons are higher than Arlington. He said there’s “not a chance” of Tysons becoming the region’s “new downtown” — as proclaimed by some — in the next 20 years.
Still, Arlington is facing challenges.
Office vacancies are up as the federal government makes cuts, plays hardball with office rental rates, and as BRAC continues to pull military offices out of Arlington. While BRAC was supposed to end last year, Holzheimer said Department of Defense office moves are expected to continue for the next three years, on top of the 17,000 employees that have already moved out of Arlington due to BRAC.
“It’s not even close to being done,” he said. Another 65 office leases in 25 Arlington buildings are expected to be impacted by BRAC in the next few years.
As a result of BRAC and federal cuts — “this malaise we’re in” region-wide — Holzheimer said office vacancy in Arlington has increased to 16.1 percent. Whereas Arlington usually has a lower-than-average vacancy rate for large central business districts (we’re between Boston and Houston in terms of office square footage), he described the county’s current vacancy rate as “middle of the pack” for the first time in a long time.
Interestingly, office rent in Arlington has remained high. The average per-square-foot “asking rate” is $41.13 in Arlington, compared to $18.93 in Dallas, $26.10 in Philadelphia, $31.54 in Chicago and $48.52 in the District of Columbia.
Arlington Economic Development (AED) has announced plans for a new program to help out local entrepreneurs with questions regarding the launch of a new business.
AED is launching an “Entrepreneur in Residence” (EIR) program, which will allow Arlington business owners to get advice, specifically tailored to their startups, from fellow entrepreneurs. Each EIR will serve for six months to one year and will provide regular office hours for counseling other startups in exchange for office space at AED.
That this is a county-sponsored program is unique, AED says. EIR programs are more commonly found in universities and large corporations.
“Having entrepreneurs on hand who’ve faced the same issues and succeeded to guide business leaders of tomorrow is just the type of program that has helped Arlington gain its reputation as the place for startups to succeed,” said Jennifer Ives, Director of Business Investment for Arlington Economic Development.
Will Fuentes and Cary Scott, co-founders of Arlington based tech startup Lemur Retail, will serve as the first EIRs.
“We’ll be able to help with non-traditional questions, like pitching to venture capitalists or how to effectively use social media,” Scott said. “We’ve been there.”
In addition to providing office hours to meet with entrepreneurs, Fuentes and Scott will host quarterly workshops and panel discussions on topics relevant to the entrepreneur community. Possible topics include raising money, pitching to investors, pitching to the media, business strategy and branding, among others.
“We’ve learned. We’ve made the mistakes, and we’re looking now to share that with other exciting startup companies,” said Fuentes.
In addition to AED’s efforts, the new Ballston Business Improvement District is also making a push to attract startup firms and entrepreneurs. Last month the BID announced an entrepreneurship contest that will provide mentorship and other resources to budding business owners. Later, at a launch event announcing the contest, billionaire and BID supporter Led Leonsis said that encouraging entrepreneurship can create jobs and stimulate economic activity in the area.
AED believes the Entrepreneur in Residence program will complement its existing services, such as the BizLaunch small business assistance network. It reports helping as many as 4,000 startups and small businesses each year.
More on the Arlington Goat Prank – The Navy has confirmed that Bill the Goat, the U.S. Naval Academy mascot, was the goat that was found tied up in a median at the intersection of Army Navy Drive and S. Eads Street, near the Pentagon, this past weekend. The goat was “recovered Saturday morning in good condition.” The Army-Navy football game is Dec. 8 and a Navy spokeswoman noted: “Bill the Goat has been a part of our 10-game winning streak against Army, so we are glad to have him back before the big game next week.” [Navy Times]
Arlington GOP Counts Accomplishments — Even though Republican candidates did not win a single race in Arlington, members of the Arlington County Republican Committee are tallying some small victories. “We kept Arlington moving toward more common-sense policies,” said Matt Wavro, this year’s GOP County Board candidate. [Sun Gazette]
‘Shark Tank’ Charity Pitch Event — Twenty entrepreneurs from around Virginia will have a chance to pitch their business startup ideas to panel of business leaders and investors in Arlington this morning. The Shark Tank-like pitch competition will help raise money for charity. The event is taking place at the Ballston offices of Arlington Economic Development, but tickets are no longer available. [Eventbrite]
The center recorded $1.22 million in revenue and $3.55 million in expenses for FY 2012. Net taxpayer support was $2,327,016, $3,842 less than originally budgeted. The result is a marked improvement over previous budgets, which contained unrealistic attendance and revenue expectations; Artisphere’s revenue came in nearly 75 percent below budget for its first fiscal year.
While FY 2012 expenses were under budget — thanks in part to “a reduced amount of programming following the departure of Artisphere’s previous programming director,” according to a just-released year end report — revenue figures present more of a mixed bag.
Admissions and ticket income, educational program income, catering income, and concession income were all well under budget. Were it not for unexpected “event sponsorship” income, largely from the Rosslyn Business Improvement District — a major Artisphere patron which had already contributed $475,000 in the form of a donation — Artisphere would have required more tax support than budgeted.
The year end report attributed the lower admission and ticket income — 18 percent below expectations — to the sudden departure of Artisphere programming director Rosanna Ruscetti in April. (A new programming director was hired in August.) Similarly, educational income was low because “Artisphere’s education director only became full time during the latter half of the year.” Catering and concession income was below expectations, the year end report said, because Artisphere has not yet hired a “resident caterer” to replace the shuttered in-house restaurant and offer full bar service during shows.
“[A] resident caterer has not yet been established and currently, only limited bar operations are being run by Artisphere staff,” the report said. Still, the reported noted that staff-run concessions did generate a profit.
Facility rental income, a key component to the plan for making Artisphere less dependent on taxpayer funds, was $362,767, mostly in line with expectations. Officials expect rental income to increase next year.
“As Artisphere continues to overcome a negative perception for rentals that was established in its first year of operation, income has increased,” the report said. “During the first quarter of FY13, rental income has been extremely strong.”
The report touted a number of successful events and exhibits at Artisphere. Most significant among those was an exhibit of 259 personal photos taken by the late Mexican artists Frida Kahlo. Artisphere was “the first and only venue in the United States” to present the exhibit, and it won critical acclaim and attracted 13,119 visitors.
Meanwhile, Digital Capital Week, a week-long festival of technology, entrepreneurship and social innovation, drew more than 2,000 visitors last fall. DCWEEK will return to Artisphere next month. (Artisphere is one of several venues around the region hosting DCWEEK events.)
In all, officials said Artisphere, which is now under the control of Arlington Economic Development, rose to the challenge of maintaining its budget.
“Artisphere’s new business plan challenged the organization to take a good hard look at its fiscal management and provided the Artisphere with realistic revenue and expense goals,” the year end report said. “The organization worked hard to maximize it income and minimize its expense. The end of the year numbers show that Artisphere was successful in managing its budget. Although Artisphere fell short of its revenue goal for the year, key staff hires, a focus on event rentals and improvements in ticket revenue should position Artisphere well for FY13.”
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.