Penrose Square to Get $2 Million Public Park

by ARLnow.com October 11, 2011 at 12:27 pm 5,463 46 Comments

(Updated at 12:40 p.m.) The small grassy field in front of the new Penrose Square apartments on Columbia Pike will likely be transformed into a considerably less grassy, $2 million public plaza over the next year.

Over the weekend, the Arlington County Board will vote on whether to approve a construction contract and a public art contract for a “Penrose Square Public Plaza” at 2503 Columbia Pike. The 17,360 square foot plaza will be a central focus of the revitalized Columbia Pike “town center,” and will serve “as a meeting and gathering spot in the Corridor’s new urban fabric.”

The construction contract, worth some $1.6 million, will create “a tree-covered terrace with movable tables and chairs; an inner plaza with a water feature… an inscription of historical significance of the site; and a grass mound area shaded with trees for informal seating.” The water feature will be made sustainable “by collecting, treating and then reusing water from the fountain again to minimize daily water consumption.”

Yearly operating costs for the plaza are estimated at just above $100,000 per year, including $68,290 for grounds maintenance, $20,000 for fountain maintenance and $13,000 for utilities like water and electricity.

The plaza will also feature a public art installation. Dubbed “Echo,” the installation by artist Richard Deutsch will consist of two large granite slabs, each with a parabola carved out of one side. The slabs will be arranged so that someone at the end of one parabola will be able to clearly hear someone speaking at the other parabola, 30 feet away.

“The artwork is inspired by the significant role that Arlington’s Three Sisters Radio Towers, formerly located on the nearby Navy Annex property, played in the development of the nation’s trans-Atlantic communication capabilities,” the County Board report says. The sole-source contract to create the installation is worth $425,000.

Echo is expected to be installed in the spring of 2012. Construction on the plaza is expected to wrap up in the fall of 2012. A second construction phase — which will eventually extend the plaza into what is now the adjacent CVS parking lot — is also in the works.

  • brendan

    this will go perfectly with the $700,000 bus stops…

  • TuesdaysChild

    $425,000 for a piece of public art!?

    • Rick

      “Investing in the community”

  • brendan

    and…. Why is this County footing the bill? They didn’t give enough in tax breaks to the developer already?

    The construction/development company should cover the cost as an apology to the neighborhood for making columbia pike a clogged 4wd req’d obstacle course for the last year. Not to mention that this project directly benefits their tenants and probably let’s them charge an extra $50/unit.

    Will be interesting to see if the Alrington Bend Over Board approves another wasteful handout.

    • speonjosh

      This square was discussed from the beginning. I think that’s why the apartment building is called Penrose Square. I can’t see how the project will not be approved. Maybe the vote is just over the details.

      I’m excited about the larger square getting constructed. The existing parking lot is about the drabbest, most depressing and just generally most terrible parts of the neighborhood.

      That being said, I wonder how in the heck all the patrons that currently drive to that CVS will get there? Probably go to the Rite Aid up the street? Or into the Giant and use their pharmacy? But the owners of the CVS must know something or persumably they wouldn’t have just spent all the money to remodel it?

      • Mike

        Correct me if im wrong, but i think the owner of the CVS owns the other buildings on that strip up to walter reed as well as the fillmore garden apts back there.

        • FrenchyB

          You are correct, Filmore Gardens LLC owns the CVS building and both adjacent parking lots (on the east and west sides). Someone else owns the building that Twisted Vines, Frame/Scooter Shop, etc., are in.

      • Erin

        Whatever you do, don’t go to the Rite Aid up the street. They are so so so so so so so slow. There could be 8 people in line, and they will only have one register open, no self check out stations. And there will be two or three other employees just lolly gagging around the store, not caring that there all so many people in line, waiting.. and the pharmacy takes FOREVER! They told me 15 minutes to fill a script for a Zpack and it took over an hour.. and there was no one in front of me. The CVS is ten times better.. and Giant too.

      • Chris Slatt

        The 2nd half of the square will not get built unless the current CVS property redevelops.

    • Chris Slatt

      The developer provided the land.

      • speonjosh

        That was it. Thanks, Chris.

    • brich001

      Developer is floating the bill… the county made them make a donation for the construction of the park during the rezoning process.

  • Chris

    One art please.

  • steve85

    Too many trees. 1 or 2 is fine with a couple of seats underneath it that’s all you need.

    • speonjosh

      In case the people who created a tv show from the “Sh*t My Dad Says” blog is looking for their next idea — may I present steve85. Can we at least get a good book out of these posts?

  • John

    This project looks weird but might be fun for the kids. At least it’s better than most of the public art projects in the R-B corridor. But for $425,000, we should be able to at least get a mini Richard Serra sculpture

    The project I’m looking forward to is the new enclosure for the Virginia Power substation in Clarendon.

    • Clarendon

      Have you seen the Clarendon substation design ? I think it will be nice and an improvement but in a very subtle way. Basically it will look like a tall wooden fence (supposedly there will be moire pattern due to the design but I’m guessing it will be pretty subtle. I wish it had some interesting low-level lighting effects at night, but it does not have any nighttime lighting feature. If they improve the sidewalk and get rid of the power poles – that would be something to look forward to. I think there is some of that.

      And, before anyone jumps on the County for yet another project – my understanding is that Dominion is paying for the whole thing.

  • Aaron

    What is the historical significance of the site?

  • Public Art Supporter

    scroll down to last entry for information on the Doug Hollis piece.


    and in general, here’s the link to information about the Public Art Program in Arlington:


  • speonjosh

    I guess it’s free, Pam, but your marketing strategy has about as much chance of succeeding as Donaldson Run has staying dry for more than a couple of hours at a time….

    • [This post refers to a comment that has been deleted]

      • Johnny Utah

        I’m interested in what ARLnow.com said.

  • JamesE

    They should spend $425k on freezing the ballston homeless in carbonite to make some lovely statues that can be used across Arlington.

  • Johnny Utah

    Listen “Pam”, quit spamming the comments board. No one gives a Sh*t about your stu pid housing report.

  • Johnny Utah

    I just read the article. Sounds like a pretty nice homeless shelter.

    I hope they do NOT approve this.

    • RosRes

      Get used to disappointment.

  • JimPB

    The cost to the taxpayer for the construction of the Penrose Square Public Plaza seems about that for the new luxury dog and human park in Clarendon/Lyon Village.

    What is a projection of the cost/per user of each?

    Then there’s impact. The Penrose Square Public Plaza seems like bringing an upgrade that could boost that area while the luxury dog and human park seems like an overly lavish affirmation of the income/wealth and self-perceived status of some in the Clarendon/Lyon Village area.

    • jjbug1

      Love the dog park or agree dogs should not be kept within Clarendon. Note that every tree-well on Clarendon’s sidewalks has a variety of attractive short green plants included in the Spring. Watch carefully! Most of these die quickly from dog urine and need replacement.

      Check out the new dog-defying measure due to take over Clarendon. See it on 12th N between Garfield & Fillmore. Instead of these extra plants, 2 foot high planters are placed on either side of the street tree and planted with flowing and flowering vines. Very pretty and denying dogs a place to urinate in the whole block!

      • CW

        This is the first jjbug post I’ve ever 1) been able to understand and 2) agreed with.

    • esmith69


  • John

    My plan to revitalize the pike:

    Rebuild Bobs Big Boy–with the 50s-era angular rooflines and the life-size statue of Bob. It was/can be an iconic work of art/architecture and a popular family restaurant all at the same time. The restaurant chain’s franchise development team is accepting offers for new restaurants. The Pike went downhill after the old Big Boy closed–let’s seize the opportunity. Time-honored classics like chili spaghetti and hot fudge cake will never go out of style.

    • Richard Cranium

      Can we put a KFC with the huge, 3-D bucket sign next to it?

  • I against I

    $2 million public plaza. BloodClot!

  • G Clifford Prout

    Great. They found my bosque!!!

  • Lindsay

    Yes! This sounds awesome! I am very excited for this new addition. As someone who walks and takes the bus all along the Pike, this sounds like a place i would hang out. Especially if i can eat my Pedro & Vinny’s burrito there! Looking forward to this, for sure!

    And I bet all of these negative commenters don’t walk along the Pike or take the bus. You should stop complaining.

  • Joe

    What a complete waster of money. And I live near there so supposedly would benefit. But this is a complete cluster F.

  • mickey644

    “You just can’t make this up”!! This falls into the area of the trolly idea, Artisphere, meeting to discuss not allowing children under 13 into the dog park!! Don’t the people pay for enough? $100,000 a year to maintain? Why not cut the taxes and give the money back to the people who can do something to benefit themselves?

  • JimH

    I guess I have no problem with the park, but it would be nice to give us a break from construction for a full year or two. We’ve had enough along CP for awhile. We don’t need to have the “instant neighborhood”, which is what happened in Clarendon.

  • Niether Pam nor Erin

    After I read that a Zpack was used to treat sexually transmitted diseases, and THAT comment wasn’t deleted; I can’t imagine what Pam wrote.

  • YTK

    “an inscription of historical significance of the site;”: YES here it is: “once upon a time on this plot of land, there was a Giant Food, a Cowboy Cafe, a Dollar Store, other assorted Mom and Pop stores including Le Touche hair salon, and a Giant Pharmacy. You could PARK FOR FREE, and walk over to the store of your choice. The AIRFLOW was great — nothing was damming up the air and there was no rolling pollution , especially during rush hour. My how things have changed”
    PS: I have ONE question — WHERE are the dogs gonna poop, once this wonderful park is completed???

  • Carol_R

    Having a park with no grass is ridiculous. Forget the water feature and just plant a few trees and have some grass and save $1,000,000.

    It’s disgusting that they expect hard working taxpayers to continually pay for boondoggle projects like this.

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