Wakefield Captures District Championship — On Friday, the Wakefield High School boy’s basketball team defeated Mount Vernon 69-60 to become the National District champions. Wakefield is now competing in the Northern Region regional tournament. Yorktown, which fell 42-82 to Wakefield in the National District tournament, is also competing as a lower seed in the Northern Region tournament. [Northern Virginia Sports]
Neighbors Want Security Guard at New Homeless Shelter — Residents of the Woodbury Heights Condominium in Courthouse are pressing Arlington officials to place a 24-hour security guard at the county’s planned year-round homeless shelter at 2020 14th Street N. Residents say they’re worried about an increase in crime as a result of the shelter moving next to their building. A resident’s Freedom of Information Act request revealed that there have been just under 6 police responses to the existing shelter per year, on average, between 1994 and 2011, mostly for alcohol-related incidents. [Arlington Mercury]
Arlington Tourism Tax Bill Passes General Assembly — A bill that would restore Arlington’s 0.25 percent hotel tax surcharge is destined for the desk of Gov. Bob McDonnell. The state legislature approved the bill, which will restore the tax authority — which is used to fund tourism promotion — for three years. [Sun Gazette]
Conservative Tech Biz Booming in Arlington — Business is booming for a small Arlington-based conservative digital advocacy company. The co-founder of Red Edge, which is based above an antique shop in Lyon Park, says he expects the business to double or triple this year as Republicans look to make up ground lost to Democrats in the online sphere. [New York Times]
Registration Open for Ballston LaunchPad Challenge — Registration is now open for the Ballston LaunchPad Challenge. The contest challenges entrepreneurs to come up with the “next great idea,” for a chance to pitch their innovation to billionaire Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis. [Ballston BID]
Tourists and visitors spent some $2.7 billion in Arlington in 2011, making Arlington the top county in Virginia for visitor spending
But what are those tourists doing in Arlington once they get here? According to Google, they’re largely visiting military monuments and shopping malls.
Google lists the following as the most frequently mentioned Arlington tourist attractions on the web.
- Arlington National Cemetery
- U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial (Iwo Jima)
- Arlington House
- Fashion Centre at Pentagon City
- Tomb of the Unknowns
- United States Air Force Memorial
- Ballston Common Mall
- Netherlands Carillon
The travel website Trip Advisor also maintains a list of Arlington tourist attractions. The following are the ten most traveler-recommended tourist attractions in Arlington.
The surcharge expired on Jan. 1, 2012 after Del. Tim Hugo (R), of Fairfax County, blocked a renewal bill in retaliation for Arlington’s lawsuit against high occupancy toll lanes on I-395. The Hotel General Managers’ Committee of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce has been calling for the Virginia General Assembly to reestablish the taxing authority, which brought in nearly $1 million per year to fund tourism promotion efforts.
A bill proposed by Howell today would allow Arlington County to reinstate the tax surcharge on hotel rooms, and extends the taxing authority in perpetuity. The bill has been referred to the state Senate’s Committee on Finance.
An electronic tourism kiosk, located at 1919 N. Lynn Street in Rosslyn, is set to be removed.
The Arlington County Board must ultimately approve the removal, but the kiosk already has a sign indicating that it’s out of service. In a report to the Board, county staff say the Arlington Convention and Visitors Service kiosk “requires replacement, due to aging, at significant cost.” Staff recommends removing the kiosk and not replacing it.
“With the increased use of smart phone technology and the mobile-optimized version of the Stay Arlington website, the need for the kiosk is substantially reduced,” staff wrote. “ACVS wishes to remove the kiosk and repair the property to its original condition.”
The kiosk was first installed in August 2008. It was paid for by the developer of the adjacent Waterview complex, at a cost of $50,000. In 2010, the county touted the kiosk as one of an “array of innovative new visitor service options” in Arlington, though one local blogger who used it questioned its ultimate utility.
“Unfortunately, the visitor information kiosk in Rosslyn isn’t innovative or particularly useful,” the Ode Street Tribune blog said in early 2010. “It provides information and directions to Rosslyn-area dining, shopping, attractions (Iwo Jima, etc.), accommodations, services (parking, etc.), and events. That might be useful, but now many persons can get better information and directions through their smart phones.”
Since the kiosk was a County Board-mandated site plan requirement, the Board must first advertise and then the county must hold a public hearing on the site plan change before the kiosk can be removed.
Arlington County says tourists and visitors spent $2.7 billion in Arlington in 2011, an increase of 7.6 percent over the $2.5 billion spent in 2010.
The $2.7 billion in spending represents 13.1 percent of all tourism dollars in the Commonwealth of Virginia, making Arlington the top county in the state for visitor spending.
The tourism industry is responsible for 24,000 jobs in Arlington and generates nearly $74 million, according to the county, citing data from the U.S. Travel Association. Tourism payroll and employment in Arlington both outpaced the statewide averages, up 3.2 percent and 1.9 percent respectively.
“We’re very pleased with the steady growth of the County’s tourism sector,” Arlington Convention and Visitors Service Director Emily Cassell said in a statement. “While we’re still progressing toward the peak hotel occupancy and revenue levels of 2008 and 2009, the significant growth in visitor spending is a sign of good things to come.”
Virginia lawmakers failed to renew Arlington’s 0.25 percent hotel tax surcharge in 2011. The surcharge expired after Dec. 31, 2011, and is expected to result in the loss of just over $1 million in annual revenue used for tourism promotion by the Arlington Convention and Visitors Service. Although some general county funds were allocated to make up for the shortfall, the Convention and Visitors Service budget for Fiscal Year 2013 is only $500,000, compared to $1.4 million in FY 2011.
Justice Dept. Upholds Va. Voter ID Law — A new Virginia law that expands the types of identification accepted at the polls while disallowing a rule that had allowed voting without an ID has been given a green light by the Justice Department, just in time for Election Day in November. [Washington Post]
Cars for Low-Income Families — The group Vehicles for Change has received a $1 million grant that will allow it to provide a couple dozen used cars to low-income families in Arlington, at low cost to the families. [Arlington Mercury]
Arlington Seeks Urban-Agriculture Feedback – Arlington is asking for the public’s thoughts on urban agriculture — including backyard chickens — in the county, via its Open Arlington website. One statement on the forum implores the county to “bring a Walmart to Arlington.” [Sun Gazette]
Cap City Hosting ‘Summer Farewell Party’ — Capitol City Brewing Company in Shirlington (4001 Campbell Avenue) is hosting a “Summer Farewell Party on the Patio” tonight. From 4:00 to 9:00 p.m., the restaurant will be offering $6 burgers, $6 brats, $5 margaritas and $3.50 beer pints. [Facebook]
Arlington Launches Mobile Tourism Site — Arlington Convention and Visitors Service has launched a mobile-optimized website for tourists. The site, which can be accessed via smartphone at www.StayArlington.com, features tools to discover and get directions to local dining, shopping, sight-seeing and entertainment options. [Arlington County]
Photo courtesy Pam C.
Bomb Threat in Rosslyn — A bomb threat called into Argosy University (1550 Wilson Blvd) around 6:00 last night prompted a large police response. Traffic issues were reported in the Rosslyn area while authorities cordoned off the building and investigated the threat. Eventually, the all-clear was given and the building was reopened.
Arlington’s Top Employers, Past and Present — Arlington County has seen significant turnover in its list of the top local employers over the past decade. Companies like MCI/Worldcom, Qwest and The Hecht Co. made the county’s top 20 employers list in 2002. In 2011, those companies are off the list, while companies like Boeing, The Nature Conservancy and Booz Allen Hamilton are now on the list. [Washington Business Journal]
CivFed Wants Board to Keep Sign Powers — The Arlington Civic Federation wants the County Board to continue exercising discretionary power over signage in the county. A rewrite of the county’s sign ordinance is underway, and is expected to delegate most sign decision-making away from the Board, in favor of more administrative decisions by county staff. [Sun Gazette]
Arlington Wins Tourism Award — Arlington County has won a 2011 Shining Example Award from the Southeast Tourism Society in the “Tourism for Tomorrow” category. The award specifically honored Arlington’s electric Mobile Visitors Center, which serves visitors at six different Metro stations, five days per week. [Arlington County]
Flickr pool photo by Mark C. White
Those recognizable, blue-and-white Tourmobile buses — which used to provide an authorized, narrated tour of the cemetery that included stops at the Kennedy gravesites, the Tomb of the Unknowns and Arlington House — stopped running yesterday. That leaves few options for tourists hoping for a less strenuous tour of the hilly, 624-acre cemetery.
The National Park Service says they’re hoping to find a replacement for the Tourmobiles.
According to new state tourism figures, visitors spent nearly $2.5 billion in Arlington in 2010, an increase of more than 6 percent compared to 2009. Tourism revenue was still down slightly from its peak in 2008.
Tourism was responsible for 23,164 jobs and a total payroll of $790 million in Arlington in 2010, according to the Virginia Tourism Corporation. The county collected some $72 million in tax receipts as a result of tourism, and the state collected $81 million from Arlington tourists.
Arlington remained the top destination for tourists in Virginia, responsible for 13 percent of overall tourism-related spending in the Commonwealth.
“We’re happy to see such healthy increases in guest spending and tourism payrolls, especially in light of ongoing economic challenges,” said Emily Cassell, director of the Arlington Convention and Visitors Service, in a statement. “Huge credit goes to Arlington’s hospitality businesses — 43 hotels and hundreds of stores, restaurants and service providers committed to offering an excellent visitor experience at every opportunity.”
The four-wheeled, electric-powered tourism information booth will be out in Clarendon Friday night, providing maps, brochures and personal guidance to visitors. The MVC hits six different Arlington neighborhoods — all along Metro corridors — in the course of a week. It typically does not operate on weekends or holidays (including Memorial Day), except for special events like the Marine Corps Marathon.
The MVC won a statewide award for Virginia Visitor Center of the Year earlier this month. In the video above, the county-run Arlington Virginia Network takes a tour of the award-winning vehicle, which is the first of its kind in the United States.
Last week a bill that would have renewed the county’s 0.25 percent tax surcharge on hotel rooms — a tax that had the support of the local hotel industry — failed in the House of Delegates. The defeat was attributed to Republicans retaliating against Arlington’s HOT lanes lawsuit.
The tax surcharge brings in nearly $1 million each year, which is used to promote Arlington’s $1 billion tourism industry. The surcharge will expire at the end of the year.
County board member and possible state Senate candidate Barbara Favola says the board hasn’t decided yet whether it will replace the lost revenue. If it does, the money will have to come from the county’s general budget.
“It doesn’t make much sense to me,” Favola said. “This tax is paid by out-of-state people… If Arlington is going to continue this level of marketing, we’re going to have to raise the tax rate on Virginia residents.”
“It really was extraordinarily irrational,” Favola added, noting that Arlington tourism generates $58 million in annual tax revenue for the state. “I would think that having a dedicated tax… is financially in the state’s best interest.”
The lost tourism revenue will now have to “compete with all other county budget priorities” when Arlington’s FY 2012 budget comes up for adoption in April.
As expected, the renewal of a hotel tax surcharge that is responsible for generating Arlington’s nearly $1 million per year tourism promotion budget was all-but-killed in a House subcommittee this morning. The bill, introduced by Arlington’s Del. Bob Brink (D), was passed by indefinitely — meaning the House version dead unless a member who voted against it changes his or her mind.
An identical bill introduced by Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple passed the Senate last week, however, meaning that the tax renewal will get another shot in House committee. It’s yet to be seen whether the outcome will be any different.
Other bills by Arlington lawmakers have met with mixed results.
Two bills introduced by Del. Brink have managed to pass the Republican-controlled House, however. The bills “address the irregularities discovered during the signature gathering process” for last year’s failed effort to change Arlington’s form of government.
One bill, HB 1646, calls for the name and address of a petition signature gatherer to be present on both sides of the petition form. The other bill, HB 1670, says that “a notary shall not perform any notarial act… that presents a conflict between his personal interest and his official duty.”
One bill passed unanimously, the other passed with only one ‘no’ vote. They will now be taken up by the Democratic-controlled state Senate.
Arlington Tourism Declines — Tourism revenues in Arlington County, Virginia’s top tourist destination, declined by $276 million between 2008 and 2009, according to data released in December. Arlington is currently seeking state approval to renew a hotel tax surcharge that funds its tourism promotion efforts, but county officials acknowledge that Arlington’s tourism draw is primarily its proximity to the District. [Washington Examiner]
McDonnell To Propose Transportation Spending Splurge – Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell wants to borrow $3 billion over the next three years to pay for transportation projects in the state. [Washington Post]
Arlington Lawyer Gets Year in Prison — A local lawyer convicted of defrauding the parents of special needs children has been handed a one year sentence by an Arlington County judge. [Washington Post]
Mexican Food Search Reveals Uncle Julio’s — After three years of searching for some decent Mexican food in Arlington, a couple has finally discovered Uncle Julio’s Rio Grande Cafe in Ballston. [Patch]
Flickr pool photo by Paul Derby
(Updated at 10:30 a.m.) Arlington, the top visitor destination in the state of Virginia, spends just under $1 million on tourism promotion each year. But if the county’s state legislative delegation can’t convince fellow lawmakers to renew the law that allows Arlington to collect those funds as a tax surcharge, the relatively meager tourism budget could drop to zero.
Arlington funds its Convention and Visitors Service through a 0.25 percent surcharge on the standard 5 percent hotel tax. Each year, the county collects $21 million in hotel taxes, or about $5,000 per room, the highest rate in Virginia. Suffice to say that given the hoards of tourists who stay at hotels in Arlington as a cheaper alternative to the District, the surcharge isn’t much of a hindrance.
But the extra quarter of a percentage point, despite having the support of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce and the local hotel industry, may be a tough sell in Richmond.
In an anti-tax, Tea Party kind of a year, Arlington’s Democratic lawmakers say that even passing something as simple as a re-authorization for Arlington’s hotel tax surcharge could be difficult.
“It’s going to be extremely challenging to get this bill through this year,” said Del. Bob Brink. “It has the dreaded T-word in it.”
Brink seemed to tacitly acknowledge that the county’s strained relationship with Richmond — caused in part by the county’s HOT lanes lawsuit, the Secure Communities opt-out fiasco and other slights — has also contributed to the degree of difficulty in gaining legislative cooperation.
“We’re in a very challenging environment, both fiscally and otherwise,” Brink said.
At one point board member Chris Zimmerman parted from the board’s stated position and questioned whether it was worth the legislators’ effort for a mere million dollars.
“Should this be one of the things we expend political capital on?” he asked.
In so many words, ‘yes’ seemed to be the response.
“It is going to be a challenge, but I think we can do it,” Brink said.
The current tax authorization expires on Jan. 1, 2012. Arlington will ask that it be extended for another three years. The approval requires a 2/3 vote in each chamber of the state legislature.
Sushi Rock Decision Deferred — The county board deferred its decision on whether to grant Sushi Rock (1900 Clarendon Blvd) a live entertainment permit until November, to allow more time for community input. At yesterday’s board meeting, neighbors complained that the restaurant is already so loud that it keeps them up at night. Sushi Rock management told the board that they’re losing money while waiting for the permit, which would help develop more late night bar business. More from TBD.
ACE Holds “Hallowgreen” Gala Tonight — Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment is holding its cleverly-named Halloween gala tonight on the Pike. There will be a costume contest, a silent auction and a concert by the band Trees on Fire. Tickets are $50. The event is being held from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. at The Salsa Room (2619 Columbia Pike).
Virginia GOP Hammers Moran on Comments — Rep. Jim Moran’s ill-advised critique of his GOP challenger, Patrick Murray, continues to haunt Moran and embolden Republicans. Now the state Republican party has released a web ad entitled “Just a Government Check?” which pairs Moran’s remark regarding Murray’s limited government stance and his military service to photos of Arlington National Cemetery.
New Mobile Visitors Center to Debut at Marathon — Arlington’s new electric-powered Mobile Visitor Center will be making its debut at the Marine Corps Marathon Health and Fitness Expo in the District on Friday. The county says the visitor center is “a fully customized ‘green’ vehicle that will serve visitors in the County’s urban villages and at major tourism events. ” More from Arlington County.