The last two decades in Arlington have been defined by massive, rapid growth in both the residential and business sectors, and leaders in the community are predicting more of the same over the next 10 years.
At Tuesday’s ARLive event, ARLnow.com asked several members of the Arlington community, from residents to business leaders to politicians, what they thought the future would hold. No one believes Arlington will take any steps back from its recent growth — despite a commercial vacancy rate of about 20 percent – and no one mentioned controversial projects like the Columbia Pike streetcar or the planned Long Bridge Park aquatics center.
County Board candidates John Vihstadt, a Republican- and Green-endorsed independent, and Democrat Alan Howze, were in attendance and professed their optimism for the county they hope to lead.
“I think it has unlimited potential,” Vihstadt said. “I hope it’s going to continue to be a diverse community. At the same time I hope we’re able to preserve the small-town feel of Arlington. I really think it’s almost unique among jurisdictions in the D.C. area in terms of its attractiveness and potential, but it needs to redouble its efforts to remain innovative and competitive.”
“In the next ten years we will see a revitalized Crystal City, a growing Columbia Pike corridor, and a community that continues to value Arlington’s vibrant mix of urban and suburban,” he said. “We will also see more students in our schools than we have seen in decades as neighborhoods continue to turn over, new families move into Arlington and younger residents stay in Arlington after starting families.”
Crystal City’s potential was also on the mind of Aurora Highlands Civic Association President Cheryl Mendonsa, who noted that when she moved into her neighborhood, Crystal City and Pentagon City were fractions of what they are now.
“As Crystal City develops it’s going to be an interesting dynamic,” she said. “It’s going to be the place to be. We’re so close to everything — I think it’s going to be a major city.”
Brian Zupan, the regional sales director for Urban Igloo, also agrees with Howze on the appeal of Arlington’s mix of suburban neighborhoods and urban centers.
“People want the urban-suburban feel in areas they live,” he said. “People want to have things where they’re living. People don’t want to drive to the strip mall and get food, they want to walk. We’re going to see a continued infill and increased density with proximity to the District.”
Work to Begin Soon on Bergmann’s Development — Developer McCaffery Interests is planning to begin demolition work soon on the former Bergmann’s dry cleaning plant, at the corner of Lee Highway and N. Vietch Street. Workers could be seen surveying the building last week. On the site, McCaffrey will build a mixed-use development now called “Verde Pointe.” The project, which was approved in 2012, includes 177 apartments, 23 townhomes and a 14,000 square foot MOM’s Organic Market grocery store. [Washington Business Journal]
Opower Files for IPO — Courthouse-based energy efficiency company Opower has filed for an initial public stock offering. The company has nearly 500 employees across 5 offices worldwide. It was founded in 2007. President Obama visited the company’s Courthouse headquarters in 2010. [Wall Street Journal]
Bar to Host ‘Condoms and Candy Necklace Party’ — In honor of Valentine’s Day, Wilson Tavern in Courthouse (2403 Wilson Blvd) will be hosting a “Condoms & Candy Necklace Party” tomorrow (Friday) from 8:00 p.m. to close. [Clarendon Nights]
High Demand for Affordable Housing — The Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing received more than 3,000 applications for 122 apartments at its new Arlington Mill Residences building on Columbia Pike. Demand for affordable housing is high. Arlington lost about 6,000 residents earning between $50-75k per year from 2000 to 2012, while gaining about 25,000 households that earn more than $200k. [Washington Post]
Remembering Classic Arlington Businesses — Local writer and historian Charlie Clark recently held a talk to recall the former mom-and-pop businesses and restaurants that have closed as a result of Arlington’s “creative destruction.” Among the restaurants remembered were the Buckaroo Steakhouse on Lee Highway, Speedy Gonzales Tex-Mex restaurant in Ballston, and Major Bo’s Chicken Delight. [Sun Gazette]
Charlotte Eyes Crystal City As Development Model – The city of Charlotte, N.C. is hoping to boost development around its airport. One developer has eyed Crystal City as a possible model, considering a “complex similar to Crystal City, a collection of apartment buildings, hotels, offices and shops next to Reagan National Airport.” [Charlotte Observer]
Flickr pool photo by J. Sonder
There’s little relief in sight for drivers and bus riders traveling down some rough portions of Columbia Pike.
Arlington County is planning to finish repaving the section of the Pike from S. Wakefield Street to Four Mile Run Drive by April, but so far the county has no plans to repave the increasingly pockmarked eastern portion of the Pike, including the “Pike Town Center” business district, within the next six months. Potholes are expected to be filled by this spring, but a full repaving could be several years away.
“Over the next several years, Arlington County will continue with utility undergrounding and street improvement projects, which will include roadway paving in three areas on Columbia Pike: Four Mile Run Bridge to County Line, South Oakland Street to South Wakefield Street, and South Garfield Street to South Rolfe Street,” Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services spokeswoman Robyn Mincher tells ARLnow.com. As of last year, the streetscape improvement project was expected to run through 2018.
Apart from the Columbia Pike streetcar, which is a separate project, planned street improvements for the Pike include a repaved roadway, better pedestrian facilities, more street trees and planted medians. But for some Pike residents and business owners, those improvements are too slow in coming.
“I do believe that the delays they are having with the transportation issues will eventually halt all momentum the Pike has had with growth,” said Sybil Robinson, who owns Twisted Vines Wine Bar and Bottleshop (2803 Columbia Pike). ”Businesses that opened here with the promise of increased foot traffic and customer base may have to close since they’ve been just getting by for years now. We’re all trying to share the same small customer base that lives in the area. Once places start to close, you can forget new businesses coming here.”
Takis Karantonis, executive director of the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization, says he appreciates the improvements but is worried about the “glacial pace” of some projects.
“While the driver’s experience on the Pike… is very challenging, it is the pedestrian realm what concerns us the most,” he said. ”Utility undergrounding and streetscape improvements have been taking more time than anybody would have had anticipated. This is a challenge for everybody, but especially for businesses along our corridor… reliable timelines are of essence.”
Robinson said she’s heard complaints specifically about the rough roadway, but doesn’t actually think that particular problemn has has much of a direct impact on her business.
“We’ve definitely had customers complain about the road conditions, but as soon as they fix one problem spot, another pops up,” said Sybil Robinson, who owns Twisted Vines Wine Bar and Bottleshop (2803 Columbia Pike). “In terms of business impact, I don’t think it has hurt us too much. Most of our customers live on or near the Pike and the road conditions impact them on a daily basis going to and from work — so they know what to expect.”
Arlington County took responsibility for the maintenance of Columbia Pike from VDOT in 2010. John Antonelli, a Pike resident and an outspoken streetcar critic, says the county is shirking a neighborly duty by leaving the Pike in a state of disrepair.
“Arlington County has to understand that part of being a gateway community is to be a gateway,” he said. “Columbia Pike is a commuter road to the Pentagon and it behooves us as a good neighbor to ensure that our businesses and their employees and customers can get to and from as quickly as possible.”
“It’s a mess,” Antonelli added, about the Pike. “But it is more driveable now then it will be if they put the trolley in.”
One bit of good news for drivers is that VDOT is planning to repave Columbia Pike from S. Quinn Street to S. Orme Street next, as part of its Columbia Pike/Washington Blvd interchange project, according to VDOT spokeswoman Jennifer McCord.
(Updated at 2:15) The U.S. Air Force is planning to move the Air Force Office of Scientific Research from Arlington to Ohio, and Arlington’s representatives in Congress are fighting to keep it here.
The office employs 170 people at 875 N. Randolph Street in Ballston and focuses on improving the Air Force’s technological capabilities. If the move were to become official, the AFOSR would follow the National Science Foundation and federal Fish and Wildlife Service as another federal entity leaving Ballston for more affordable space. In this case, the Air Force would move the AFOSR to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio.
“There are major advantages to being located in Arlington’s hub of innovation,” Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) told ARLnow.com. “Much of this human and technological infrastructure would be forfeited in a move to Ohio. I hope the Air Force realizes what it could lose if they decide to relocate the Office of Scientific Research.”
Moran joined with Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine in sending a letter to Air Force Commander Janet C. Wolfenbarger asking the military branch to reconsider its plans.
“Northern Virginia offers a unique and valuable ‘critical mass’ of military resources, technology infrastructure, world class universities and cutting-edge talent,” Warner said in a press release. “We strongly urge the Air Force to reconsider these compelling benefits before moving the Office of Scientific Research to Ohio.”
The Air Force has issued a Request for Information on moving the office to Ohio, according to a congressional source.
“A move like this requires several levels of decision-making once the RFI is complete,” the source told ARLnow.com. “No decision is expected until FY 2016″
After the jump, the full text of the letter the congressmen sent to Wolfenbarger.
Gen Janet C. Wolfenbarger
Commander, Air Force Materiel Command
Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, OH 45433
Dear Gen Wolfenbarger:
We write to you today to express our concern over the possibility of a relocation of the Air Force Office of Scientific Research from its current site in Arlington to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.
As you know, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) has a long and proud tradition of basic research in collaboration with the world’s leading academic institutions. AFOSR has invested in wide-ranging academic efforts, from radiochemistry and superconductivity in the 1950s to environmental technologies and advancements in the treatment of battlefield injuries in the present day. This organization has funded everything from spacecraft to lasers to flat screen television sets, all in collaboration with academia. Critical to this partnership has been its proximity to the vibrant research community in Arlington and neighboring communities.
The growing research presence in Arlington boasts academic institutions such as Virginia Tech and George Washington University, as well as government agencies such as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Office of Naval Research, and the National Science Foundation. Finally, Northern Virginia and neighboring Maryland are home to some of the world’s leading defense companies. Together these institutions provide fertile ground for the cultivation of collaborative research, the benefits of which AFOSR has been reaping for decades. We believe the research synergies achieved here cannot be replicated at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. We fear the impact that such a move would have on current and future research efforts, not just for the Air Force but for the wider academic and defense communities.
We understand the Air Force’s impulse to seek potential savings by consolidating some of its facilities within the fold of the Air Force Research Laboratory. Such efforts are commendable in the current fiscal environment, with declining defense budgets. However, given the undeniable benefits of maintaining its location in what has become a global hub of science and technology, we ask that the Air Force promptly provide any information regarding current plans to relocate AFOSR to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, to include the projected timeline and costs associated with such a move, expected savings, and the anticipated impact on the current AFOSR workforce.
Thank you for your consideration of this request. We look forward to hearing from the Air Force on this matter.
Graham Holdings Coming to Rosslyn — Graham Holdings, the firm once known as the Washington Post Company, is moving to Rosslyn. Now without the namesake newspaper, Graham Holdings includes education firm Kaplan, a cable television business, Slate.com, Foreign Policy magazine, and social marketing firm SocialCode. The company is moving to a 34,000 square foot space in Arlington Tower, at 1300 17th Street N. The move will help Rosslyn — home to WJLA, NewsChannel 8, Politico and the Washington Business Journal – brand itself as an emerging “media hub.” [Washington Post]
Sickles Enters Congressional Race — Del. Mark Sickles, who represents Fairfax County in the Virginia House of Delegates, is now the fifth Democrat to enter the race to replace Rep. Jim Moran (D) in Congress. [Roll Call]
TJ Prospects May Get Testing Do-Over — Students from Arlington, Fairfax and Loudoun counties who took the entrance exam for Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, a magnet school, may get a do-over. Technical difficulties prevented some students from saving the essay portion of the computer exam. [Reston Now]
Arlington Group Helps Undocumented Students — The Dream Project, an Arlington-based organization, is helping undocumented students apply and pay for college. The group was co-founded four years ago by Arlington School Board member Emma Violand-Sanchez. [Washington Post]
Pike Road Closures Tonight — VDOT will be removing an overhead sign across Columbia Pike at S. Queen Street tonight. Drivers should expect road closures of “up to 20 minutes at a time,” according to Arlington County. [Twitter]
Flickr pool photo by J. Sonder
Arlington is “still sorting through the mess” of the BRAC closures that have boosted office vacancy rates, an Arlington representative told hundreds of Northern Virginia commercial real estate developers today.
Arlington, like other communities in the D.C. area, is experiencing weakness in the office market. The high office vacancy rate is exacerbated by new office buildings coming on the market and certain large employers (including military offices impacted by BRAC) leaving.
To combat that, Arlington is considering options providing certain incentives to attract new businesses and hang on to existing employers.
“We’re aggressively planning for the future,” Alex Iams, a commercial development specialist with Arlington Economic Development, told members of NAIOP, an association for commercial real estate developers.
“[BRAC] is still a four-letter word in Arlington for certain,” he said. “We did an aggressive plan for Crystal City, we’ve done planning along Columbia Pike. We have done planning for BRAC in Rosslyn as well, so we’re not only doing planning for the future, but now we’re aggressively positioning ourselves to hold on to what we have.”
Iams was one-fifth of a panel with the directors of economic development from Alexandria as well as Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties. He told ARLnow.com that Arlington is considering tax incentives and other methods to try to encourage businesses to grow — and, just as importantly, stay — in Arlington.
“We’re trying to structure a policy on how to address office vacancy,” he said. “We haven’t done it yet, but you can expect to see it at the end of the season.”
With the delivery of the 35-story 1812 N. Moore Street last fall, Iams said Arlington’s office vacancy rate is now hovering around 20 percent, the highest it’s been in nearly a decade. Iams said projects like Monday Properties’ skyscraper, which is still unoccupied after being built “on spec” are “suffering the most, because it’s so much space all at once.”
Iams pointed to the success at 1776 Wilson Blvd, a five-story office building at the intersection of N. Quinn Street. It opened in winter of 2012 and is about 85 percent leased, he said.
What Arlington can do to solve its vacancy rate, Iams said, is to follow Vornado’s example in Crystal City when the first wave of BRAC closures saw the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office move to Alexandria.
“Vornado didn’t just sit on their hands,” Iams said. “There was an adaptation with rents and an increase in amenities nearby, and they transformed Crystal Drive into a retail center.”
Iams also cited Kettler Capitals Iceplex, Penrose Square and the Village at Shirlington as examples of “placemaking” the county has partnered with private businesses on to make specific areas more attractive to employees and residents.
The other economic development leaders lamented the lack of demand for office space while demand for residential units all over Northern Virginia is exploding, creating a tricky regulatory line to walk to ensure balance. Iams said Arlington, despite its vacancy rate, still sees demand for office development.
“We’re getting questions from our board and our community about approving more office space,” he said. “The office market also works in cycles, and we want different kinds of products available to be able to deploy when a certain company or tenant may be searching in our market.”
The restaurant at 2413 Columbia Pike opened as Eamonn’s and TNT Bar in August 2012. While the sit-down fried fish restaurant is popular in Alexandria, it never quite attracted the crowds needed to sustain the business on the Pike, we’re told. Instead of closing, over the next month owner EatGoodFood Group will transition from Eamonn’s to a second location of its “Society Fair” bakery, cafe, market and eatery, which is also popular in Alexandria.
Already, couches have replaced some tables and chairs, to give the space a more “warm and comfortable” vibe. More furniture changes are in the works, and curtains will be installed, at least in part to dampen noise. The hope is to become more of a neighborhood hangout, a formula that has worked for nearby William Jeffrey’s Tavern, the biggest success so far on a block of restaurants that are mostly treading water business-wise, thanks to virtually non-existent lunch business.
By mid-February, the restaurant is expected to begin opening at 7:00 a.m. to serve breakfast customers with coffee, espresso drinks and pastries made fresh at the original Alexandria location. At other times of the day the food offerings will be more of the small plates variety, plus paninis, charcuterie, cheese and salads.
TNT Bar will remain and will serve drinks every night of the week, we’re told, but will continue adding more affordable cocktail options. With the exception of perhaps a few lunchtime closures, Eamonn’s will remain open as the space is gradually transformed.
The Washington Post’s Tom Sietsema reports that fish and chips will remain on the menu once the Society Fair transition is complete.
The top 8 retail centers in Arlington, including the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City and Ballston Common Mall, alone house 644 stores. Arlington retailers recorded a total of $3.27 billion worth of taxable sales in 2012.
The holidays are obviously a crucial time for retailers, providing on outsized portion of annual sales and profit. But with retail sales growth sluggish compared to the growth in online sales, and with the large regional malls in Tysons Corner and outlet stores elsewhere continuing to lure shoppers, the holidays could be a struggle for some local stores.
Free House in Arlington — The new owners of a 1926 Sears bungalow kit home in Lyon Park are offering the house for free to a caring owner. The only catch? The home’s recipient will have to have somewhere to move it. “The needs of the homeowner do not meet the constrictions of the current home,” according to the Preservation Arlington blog. “Rather than bulldoze this historic property, the homeowner is interested in giving it away for only the cost of moving the home.” [Preservation Arlington]
Big Year for Opower — Updated at 2:20 p.m. – Courthouse-based Opower doubled the number of people who use its energy-saving software in 2013, going from 10 million users to about 20 million users. The company also increased its workforce by 50 percent, from about 300 to 460 employees. [Washington Post]
New South Arlington Elementary School? — Speaking at last week’s School Board meeting, civic activist Monique O’Grady asked the board when a proposed new elementary school for South Arlington would be built. Without one, she worried that South Arlington schools could turn into a “trailer park,” filled with relocatable classroom trailers. [Sun Gazette]
Bluemont Neighborhood Plan Approved – The Arlington County Board last night accepted an updated Bluemont Neighborhood Conservation Plan, which will ”[allow] the Bluemont Civic Association to pursue funding to transform the neighborhood to a true ‘urban village’ with slower traffic, better sidewalks and revitalized commercial corridors.” The plan also calls for a grocery store to remain at the current Safeway site. [Arlington County]
APS Plans to Use ‘Big Data’ to Reduce Dropout Rate — Arlington Public Schools is launching a competition that will challenge teams of scientists to figure out a way to reduce the school system’s dropout rate by combing through 12 years of student data. The winning team will receive $10,000. [Washington Post]
SuperStop Makes ‘Wastebook’ — The $1 million Walter Reed SuperStop on Columbia Pike has made Republican Sen. Tom Coburn’s annual “Wastebook,” which highlights “100 examples of wasteful and low-priority spending.” The bus stop, which can be found on page 32 of the Wastebook, was partially paid for with federal funds. “This report speaks volumes about why confidence in government is at an all-time low,” Coburn said of his publication. [Wastebook 2013, ARLnow Forums]
Fisette to Serve as Board Chair — County Board Vice Chair Jay Fisette was sworn in to a fifth four-year term on Tuesday. He will serve as County Board chairman in 2014. [Arlington County]
Research Firm Moving to Arlington — Research firm Hanover Research is moving its main office from the District to 4401 Wilson Blvd in Ballston this month. “The company’s extremely skilled staff, 61% of which hold advanced degrees, will help Ballston grow its reputation as a knowledge hub and significantly contribute to the area’s entrepreneurial spirit,” Hanover said in a press release. Arlington Public Schools is one of the company’s clients. [Hanover Research]
Flickr pool photo by jordanhiggins
ARLbiz will be published weekly and will be geared toward local entrepreneurs and business professionals. It will provide concise original reporting on local business matters and links to other outlets’ Arlington-related business articles, all in one place.
There will also be weekly commentary from local business, nonprofit and government leaders.
“Despite the recent slowdown in the commercial real estate market, Arlington remains a thriving business center,” said Scott Brodbeck, publisher of ARLnow.com. “We’re looking forward to launching an editorially-independent business publication that focuses only on Arlington, bringing vital business intelligence to local business owners and professionals.”
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Second Leaf Collection Pass Starts Today — Crews will begin their second (and final) vacuum leaf collection pass through Arlington’s neighborhoods today. Leaf collection is scheduled to wrap up on Dec. 20. [Arlington County]
Arlington, State Fund Innovation Initiative — Arlington County and the Virginia are jointly funding a $500,000 initiative that will “connect startups with national security agencies, aiming to both foster commercialization of federally-funded technology and open a new market for entrepreneurs.” It will be helmed by Jonathan Aberman, managing director of Amplifier Ventures. [Washington Business Journal]
Human Rights Award Winners Announced — Arlington County has announced its 2013 James B. Hunter Human Rights Award winners. Among them are the Hon. Leslie M. Alden, “a former Fairfax County Circuit judge who has spent her career devoted to gender rights;” Pastor Richard Cobb of Arlington’s Central United Methodist Church, who launched a program to serve meals to the homeless; Thomas Kelley, who “has dedicated his life to ensuring that schools provide equal access to children with disabilities;” and Margaret Patterson, who “has provided opportunities to abused children and their families.” [Arlington County]
Arlington ‘Villages’ To Launch in March — In March, Arlington will be debuting its “Neighborhood Villages” program for helping the elderly age in place. “The Arlington Neighborhood Villages will debut as a nonprofit corporation aimed at helping senior citizens “age in place” – as long as possible in their own homes – by creating neighborhood-based networks made up mostly of volunteers,” reports columnist Charlie Clark. [Falls Church News-Press]
Flickr pool photo by Philliefan99
The lingering questions that surround the planned Columbia Pike streetcar project have given developers pause as they look to build along the corridor, according to one of the Pike’s biggest boosters.
Takis Karantonis, executive director of the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization, says he’s seen a slowdown in development and business interest in recent months, as local politicians and residents have continued to debate the merits of the streetcar project. With Arlington County Board member Chris Zimmerman, a key streetcar supporter, retiring early next year, that debate is likely to continue unabated as candidates vie to fill his seat in a special election.
Despite some uncertainty about how and when the Pike streetcar will be funded, Arlington County is still moving forward with the project. Karantonis is pushing for the streetcar to be built sooner rather than later.
“There isn’t uncertainty around the streetcar, but there are lot of people who want to create uncertainty,” Karantonis told ARLnow.com Monday. “This is concerning the business community because people want to be able to at least make medium-term decisions, and they don’t welcome this kind of prolonged debate about the streetcar itself.”
Karantonis said the ongoing questions about when the streetcar will actually be built has slowed both commercial and residential development. Modern development strives for a mix of uses, Karantonis said, so when one form development is slowed, all forms are.
Small businesses could also be impacted by any delays in the streetcar project, Karantonis said. The thousands of daily passengers the streetcar is projected to carry can’t come soon enough for Columbia Pike merchants. Pockets of retail space along the Pike have been vacant for years, Karantonis said, and the streetcar will help boost businesses in neglected areas.
“It’s not easier for [small businesses] to wait,” he said. “They look at the streetcar as a catalyst and a game-changer. The more challenging the economic times are for us with the government sputtering along, this hardens the demand on local government to deliver the investment goods it has planned for.”
County Board Member Libby Garvey — who was elected last year on an anti-streetcar platform and is currently the lone voice of streetcar dissent on the Board — isn’t so sure about Karantonis’ hypothesis.
“It would surprise me if there were many businesses very concerned about delays in the streetcar,” Garvey wrote in an email. “Remember, we are talking about adding 10 streetcars to 34 buses along the Pike. Hardly a major change in transit, just a major change in expense and disruption of traffic as 10 fixed rail vehicles run in mixed traffic creating headaches for everyone.”
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and FBR, an investment bank, will be moving into new offices in Arlington over the next year and a half. That’s good news for economic development officials in Arlington, who are still reeling from the impending loss of the National Science Foundation and its 2,237 jobs.
FBR will move from a “trophy” office building at 1001 19th Street N. in Rosslyn to a slightly less lofty accommodations, at 1300 17th Street N., also in Rosslyn. FBR’s new lease runs through the end of 2025. First-year rent for the space — on the building’s 2nd, 13th and 14th floors — is $41 per square foot for the lower floor and $51.50 per square foot for the higher floors, according to an SEC filing.
FBR employs approximately 250 people in Arlington. The company hopes to make the move this May.
The FDIC, meanwhile, has signed a lease for 171,000 square feet in the former DARPA building at 3701 N. Fairfax Drive, in Virginia Square. The agency expects to move employees there from an office at 1310 N. Courthouse Road, in Courthouse, in April 2015.
The FDIC has an existing office at 3501 N. Fairfax Drive, and the new accommodations will eliminate the need to shuttle employees back and forth between Courthouse and Virginia Square, the Washington Business Journal reported.