Revamped Virginia Square Development Plan Approved

by Katie Pyzyk January 23, 2012 at 10:30 am 8,988 94 Comments

A plan to revamp part of Virginia Square has been approved by the Arlington County Board. The development is planned for the site that houses the old Arlington Funeral Home (3901 Fairfax Dr) building.

BDC Crimson LLC is the developer for the nine story mixed-use commercial building, which will include offices, ground floor retail and a 12,985 square foot black box theater. The theater will cost $3.7 million to build, and will be leased to the County for 30 years, at $1 per year. It will hold 150 people.

“This project brings us closer to realizing the community-crafted sector plan’s vision of Virginia Square as a center for arts, culture and education,” said Arlington County Board Chair Mary Hynes. “The public plaza will enliven Virginia Square, and the Black Box Theater will add a significant cultural destination to this part of the Metro corridor.”

The County will collaborate with groups like the Arlington Commission for the Arts to devise a business plan for operating the theater. They’ll look at cost, use and operational alternatives for review by the County Manager in the preparation of future budgets.

The new plan also includes a 12,325 square foot public plaza along North Quincy Street. The County will hold a workshop so stakeholders and the public can give input on some components of the final plaza design, such as pattern and asphalt color.

The office building will have 250 parking spaces that will be available to the public on nights and weekends. Six additional spaces will be provided for retail customers and 17 for the theater. The developer will provide free four hour parking to theater patrons.

BDC Crimson LLC will seek LEED Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, and will contribute $1 million to the County’s Affordable Housing Investment Fund, plus $1 million to nearby Quincy Park or other open space improvements and park amenities. These contributions let the developer have nearly 70,000 square feet of additional space for the project.

This plan has been in the works in various forms since 2004, with some major revisions in 2007. Previously, the facility was designed to include residences and a new funeral home. The County Board voted unanimously to approve the current plan.

  • Grateful

    The Black Box Theater that is proposed for this development sounds like a variation of the Artisphere-County gets to rent the space for $1 year for 30 years, furniture, fixtures and equipment will be funded by the County and the County will be involved in the development of the “business plan.” Sound familiar?

    Here we go again!

    • drax

      Other than fixtures and furniture, how are the taxpayers on the hook? Artisphere has operating subsidies. In this plan, the county gets a space for free.

      • Grateful

        According to the County’s press release-“The developer will provide the core and shell and fit-out construction.” I assume this means that taxpayers will be responsible for 150 seats, floor covering, theatrical lighting and sound systems, motorized rigging, and the electronics that control all of these systems. I believe this is specialized equipment that is not cheap and requires the services of a design team.

      • Suburban Not Urban

        Services for 70,000 extra feet of dev

    • South Arlington

      If anything, I’d hope this would be reason to end the Artisphere’s operations, and start hosting those events at this new, cheaper to operate theater.

  • novasteve

    Artisphere II – This time, it’s stupider!

  • Jacob

    So the county held a developer ransom for another pointless theater? And people here wonder why rent is so damn high.

    • drax

      I welcome this theatre to the area and look forward to going to it. It will be a big improvement.

      • UnlimitedCustoms

        The area is already a great place to live. I doubt how a “black box theater” is going to make a big improvement.

        • drax

          Really? Va. Square-Ballston can’t improve?

          • JamesE

            A Taco Bell would increase my property value 100%

          • drax

            A Taco Bell would fix Va. Square.

        • MC

          Even if you personally never see something there, you might still benefit. If people outside the neighborhood have a reason to come here (because they like music or comedy or whatever), they may also be looking for a nice place to eat, so good restaurants will be supported.

      • Vin

        Drax, you must love rent increases.

        • OX4

          This is great logic….prevent the area from improving to keep rents low. Urban planning at its finest!

          • Burger

            You actually need to think harder and actually understand math to see his point.

            If developer has to make $100 on the project to make it cost acceptable which is then spread out among the various tenants. Now, the County comes along and says you need to provide $20 to me or you will never get this project. Guess what, developer now needs to make $120 on the project to make it work. Guess where develop gets that money from – the future tenants.

            Works the same way with the affordable housing that people all talk about. All set asides for affordable housing do is increase the overall price which creates more people needing affordable housing.

          • SoMuchForSubtlety

            And you need to think even harder. The developer is contsrained to x amount of development space per zoning. Call it $100. If the developer agrees to do certain extra things, like include the black box theater, contibute to affordable housing, etc., then the developer gets to deveope additional space (bonus density). The developer can now rent the additonal space it would not have been able to develope for an added $30. So the developer can now get $130 for the space. Now the developer puts in the extra’s for the County for $20. Developer nets $110. They charge the same per square foot, but end up ahead even after giving the extras because they can build and rent more space. If the developer did not come out ahead, they wouldn’t do it. It’s called capitalism, and the County is levergaing this to get what it wants. I.e., the County trades something of value (added density) to get something of value in return (the extras from the developer), and the developer ends up ahead (with the added density). Everyone wins.

          • Reason Will Prevail

            You are correct, if the developer was not going to make a sufficient return on developing the property, even with the county’s bounty. However, the bigger point is that since the county can only extract so much value for public benefits from developers in the zoning process, should they use that power to obtain another theater when we already have the Artisphere that is not self sustaining. I would personally rather have the county extract its pound of flesh to obtain more funds for affordable housing, or fund improvements at metro stations (more turnstiles at Clarendon), or maybe to house a year round homeless shelter in the new building (which would be convenient for the homeless population since a large number already spend most days at the Central library). The point is, do we really need another “block box theater” when the one at Artisphere is not nearly at capacity.

          • SoMuchForSubtlety

            @Reason Will Preavil – Agreed

          • CW

            Question – do jurisdictions have the authority to directly fund metro improvements in said jurisdictions? Like say a board member found $100,000 in a suitcase and wanted to use it to upgrade the turnstiles at Clarendon. Are they allowed to do that? Or is it all the money goes in, the metro board argues, and all projects are funded out of a common pool?

          • Burger

            Actually, the county essentially holds developers hostage because there is very little the county board can do with respect to development.

            But, they can slow the process down which is why you see these type of deals. Again, my point stands – the money associated with affordable housing and carve outs to the county in the long run just raise rates for everyone. So, I see it as capitalism with a strong sent of cronyism.

            You can argue whether that is something you want but don’t miss the point the such silliness raises costs for everyone else.

          • ArlRes

            “Question – do jurisdictions have the authority to directly fund metro improvements in said jurisdictions? Like say a board member found $100,000 in a suitcase and wanted to use it to upgrade the turnstiles at Clarendon. Are they allowed to do that? Or is it all the money goes in, the metro board argues, and all projects are funded out of a common pool?”

            Yes, a jurisdiction can directly request a station improvement. The improvements currently being done at Rosslyn are funded directly by Arlington County, not WMATA.

          • Green Gnome

            Development has chased great mom and pop shops out of Clarendon for chain stores. Restaurant prices have jumped tremendously. Arlington every year keeps raising property taxes. The County Board has is one-party rule; all it knows how to do is to spend. Where do you think this is heading?

          • drax

            It’s lead to a 92% satisfaction rating.

  • Yay

    I look forward to the pile drivers constructing this building and the one a few blocks away that will involve the constructing the Dittmar apartment monstrosity.

  • Jus’ saying

    It would be nice (and humane) if the folks who approve these glass high rises going up all over Ballston would think about how they might mitigate their “impact” on the migratory and other birds. The thuding of those little bodies smacking into office glass windows is a little sickening.
    County are you listening??

    • UnlimitedCustoms

      Which buildings have you witnessed this with?

      • drax
        • bobco85

          from the FWS fact sheet: “Building window strikes may account for 97 to 976 million bird deaths each year. Communication towers conservatively kill 4 to 5 million birds annually (possibly closer to 40 to 50 million; a nationwide cumulative impacts study should help resolve this question).”

          from Wikipedia (bird migration): “most bird migration is in the range of 150 m (500 ft) to 600 m (2000 ft).”

          Seeing as a 9 story building (giving an extreme 15 feet per story) would be 135 ft, far below the 500 ft threshold for most migration, I would estimate a low risk to the local bird population.

          • Rosslyniene

            The birds should be smarter and live here rather than insisting on living so far away from where they have to migrate to. I’m sick of these birds clogging our airspace and flying through here because they chose to live so far away. If our smart density growth is a problem for them, so what.

          • Josh S

            Actually, “smart density growth” is far better for birds and other members of the ecosphere than sprawl.

          • Rosslyniene

            I think my post just migrated over your head.

          • drax

            No, your post hit Josh’s glass wall.

            Now all the analogies have been used up.

          • CrystalMikey


          • CW

            So install some netting on the new building above the sidewalk and open a KFC. Problem solved.

          • CW

            If this was Greater Greater Washington, commenters would start railing on about how communication towers can’t kill anything (because they are not sentient beings).

    • Ugh

      Seriously??? It’s come to worrying about the impact of migratory birds?
      I propose a protest where we all DEMAND concrete only buildings with no windows!

      • drax

        Wow, lowball the problem, then throw in a strawman. The usual.

    • Suburban Not Urban

      I actually think this building looks a little better than the average Arlington block and brick throwback

  • bobco85

    I like that the theater will be right across the street from the library. The design of the building is unique enough to stand out from the other buildings around it without looking too lifeless (at least from Fairfax Drive). I like how the building seems to lean over the street. I await the proposed design, but am interested.

    However, I question how traffic will be handled. Will a light be installed at Pollard/Fairfax? It’s not in the mock-up, but since the 250 spaces will be public use at night, a light might be necessary.

    On a side note, the photo is WAY oversaturated! I’d be very worried if the sky turned electric blue!

    • UnlimitedCustoms

      Why can’t the existing light at Quincy/Fairfax handle the volume? That is where the building is located.

      However, I would not be surprised if the county requires the developer to pay for the installation of another light.

      • CW

        Because that is a terrible light and Quincy backs up as it is.

    • VSQ

      The only time I really like these modernist, reflective glass buildings is when they are reflecting some beautiful, elegant building (usually built before WWII) across the street. In this case the building will be reflecting one of the most giagantic, oppressively boring building built in the last 10 years – made by Dittmar, of course.

    • billj

      re: side note, the illustrator really has a thing for Mercedes R-class minivans!

  • Rick

    $1 per year, plus power, fixtures, cleaning, furniture, marketing to get acts to come, marketing to get patrons to come etc… sounds like a money pit. As long as we’re forcing them to give us $2 million I guess it’s okay.

  • BC

    I know the bitching constantly is what this board is all about, but as long as the “retail” doesn’t entail more mattress stores, this is a good move. Having is as commercial rather than residential increases the tax base and attracts restaurants that generate revenue from two meals rather than one. I live very close to Virginia Square and see this as positive.

    • AD

      As long as it was a local mom ‘n pop matress store and not some big chain, that would be OK.

      • TG3oA

        Surprised the board doesn’t make the mattress stores ante up mattresses for the homeless

  • TJLinBallston

    How long have we lived with that huge, broken asphalt parking lot? The slanted, wedge-of-glass facade works well at 800 Glebe and the Kettler rink. Ballston’s got it goin’ on! Not sure about the Cyclops mega-window, as seen down Fairfax at GMU. One more thing, this corner is Ballston in spirit, if not appellation.

    • ArtDude

      The slanted wedge evokes the guillotine and suggests the slicing of pedestrians intrepidly traversing beneath. This is a metaphor for the divisiveness that pervades modernity.

      • TJLinBallston

        Angled glass walls look sleek and are a nice break from acres of rust-hued brick and other forms of sensible, dignified architecture that tries so hard to not decaptiate passers-by.

  • TGEoA

    Ditmar is indeed dull

  • JimPB

    Will ARlCo also pay for the heating and cooling and care and cleaning of the theater space? Insurance?

    It’s the Don Quixote spirit in full force.

  • LuvDusty

    So the county held a developer ransom for another pointless theater? And people here wonder why rent is so damn high.

    As a theatre professional who lives in Arlington County (and pays lots of taxes) I welcome an addition of a much needed theatre/performance space in Arlington County.

    There are several Theatre Companies in Arlington that have struggled for years without a performance space and have had to borrow or work in make-shift spaces for far too long.

    If the county was smart, they could lease out the theatre for much more than $1/month to any of the many theatre groups desperate for performance space. I don’t think it’s a bad use of space at all, if managed properly. And therein is the kicker–but that’s not the fault of theatre/performance companies that could use the space.

    Also, the space could be rented for corporate functions and social functions as well if smartly built–especially if it’s a black-box space, which means it could be configured in many set-ups to allow maximum flexibility of use.

    • Man Hands

      What? You have Signature, the other one that used to be in Crystal City, the Artisphere, Rosslyn Spectrum–is that not enough?

      • mick way

        In a word. No.

        Signature will not rent to anyone (with a very very few exceptions). For the most part they are booked all the time with their own productions. The Synetic theater in Crystal City is home to Synetic Theater (also a very busy company) but they do some limited rentals.

        The black box at Artisphere is actually almost always in use by Washington Shakespeare or whatever their name is now. The Spectrum is a total POS. Would not wish that on anyone.

        Despite what you think, all of the available theater space in Arlington is pretty much booked. So demand is there. This is not the boondoggle you want it to be.

        • CW

          Stop it with your logic. What people are upset with is the opportunity cost. They’re saying that by filling that volume with a theater as opposed to luxury condos, SCIFs, or froyo shops, everyone else is having to subsidize the cost of the theater.

          Keep in mind that the only funds that people on this board believe taxes should be used for are widening of 66, MAYBE a fire department, and schools as long as they only take certain kinds of students and don’t use iPads. Everything else is a boondoggle.

          • mick way

            Sorry. What was I thinking.

          • JamesE

            I want a froyo shop inside a SCIF

          • mick way

            Probably will be one inside the new DARPA building.

          • Southeast Jerome

            Dont forget- We also enjoy funding for bike trails and narrowing of neighborhood streets.

    • Andy

      How can a “theater professional” have enough income to pay “lots of taxes”?

      • LuvDusty

        Most “theatre professionals” have to have a “day job” to support themselves in the DC area, because there isn’t enough work to go around and NYC actors take the best jobs cause it’s close.

        So I have a regular 9 to 5 and I’m single and have no kids. So yes, I pay a lot of taxes in proportion to what I make thank you very much.

        And by “theatre professional” I mean I also get paid (not much) when I work in the theatre.

        Any more questions?

  • Justin Russo

    A plan to revamp part of Virginia Square has been approved by the Arlington County Board

    Isn’t this location more Ballston?

    • Hattie McDaniel

      Quincy St. is the dividing line.

    • nope

      It’s exactly in the center between the two but actually closer to Virginia Square metro.

      • Clarenhood

        Balls Square

  • Wayne

    Looks like a great plan!

    If you’ve ever read the development plans for each neighborhood along the Ballston-Clarendon Corridor, you’d know that Virginia Square is supposed to be an educational/arts center. There are a few elements in place (Central Library, GMU, Arts Center), but this will tie it together and also provide a gateway of sorts for Virginia Square as you come from Ballston. Nice!

    As others have pointed out, the builder-county economics work out well for everyone, and there is a need for more theater space in the county. Unfortunately, several vocal people on this board seem to have no clue about such things, or are renters who simply want a bed close to the Metro and work/recreate elsewhere.

    This new project provides a nice anchor: Quincy Park, Central Library, Theater, and “reaches out” to the Arts Center. It helps it to feel like a cohesive neighborhood, and provides a nice visual too.

    • TJLinBallston

      Well said. That is exactly what this new building does.

  • BallstonDweller

    I wish the county would be more concerned about traffic than theaters. Not that I am against theater, but the board always seems so pleased with itself when they allow something to screw up the roads even more but get a pretty park or theater next to it.

    New development increases traffic.

    Have developers pay to improve roads.

    Cause, effect. Very clear.

    • South Arlington

      For all the complaints about traffic on the Orange Line corridor, I don’t really see it. Yes, the Whole Foods backs up 5 or 6 cars while waiting to turn into the lot on Saturdays, but there is certainly not gridlock. From what I can tell, the Trader Joes is not nearly the traffic disaster people on here were harping about.

    • Josh S

      Perhaps, but it’s not a one-to-one ratio. In other words, the Orange Line corridor in Arlington has seen dramatic increases in density and population over the last two decades while the traffic has not increased at nearly the same rate.

      In contrast to sprawl development where the traffic almost always increases at a greater rate than the increased density.

      All that said, I absolutely agree that developers should have to bear some of the cost for any infrastructure upgrades needed to support their development. However, along the Ross-Ballston corridor, I believe the appropriate upgrades would not be roads (not sure how you would do that anyway) but upgrades to transit.

    • LuvDusty

      I drive on Fairfax Drive 2x a week during evening rush hour. It’s really not bad at all and traffic flows well in the area of the proposed development.

      I don’t think traffic is an issue in that area nor will it be made bad by adding just 1 new bldg. There have been at least 3 new buildings added on Glebe in the past year and the traffic has remained pretty consistently ok.

      Do you ever actually drive that route?

  • MC

    This is a great plan, and fulfills a long-existing, though delayed, plan to bring make Virginia Square an arts-focused neighborhood. Don’t whine for the developer, or plead that the taxpayer is somehow getting stiffed. The net operational cost will be minor, or even generate a positive cash flow. A plaza will enhance the street life, and tie the building to the nearby library and park. At the same time, it brings much need cultural life to the Ballston area, where about the only thing available to do right now is drink beer and watch football or basketball on a big screen.

    • TJLinBallston

      Right now, “live performance” consists of a comedy club or a chatty bartender. Ballston needs live theater if it’s going to conduct itself as a City Center or “downtown.”

  • Old Timer

    Does anyone else think that a 9 floor building is necessary on the corner of Quincy and Fairfax Drive? I presume the retail space is not for anyone that needs to drive to get there, just 6 parking spaces. And gosh, the public gets to have input into the color of the asphalt of the “plaza.” I’ll be interested in how many “arts patrons” actually ever go to the arts center.

    • Missing good retail

      I agree; why do building heights keep going up? Do we really need more density and more ensuing traffic? Rush hour is already a mess.

      • Southeast Jerome

        “Rush hour is already a mess.”

        You can move to North Dakota. I hear the rush hour isnt too bad there.

        • I’d like to hear that argument given to you when you while about the eventual widening of I66 and I395. If you don’t like it, move to North Dakota. Great solution.

        • PHD

          Last time I was there, the locals called it a rush minute.

      • Clarendon

        Don’t you just love modern terms ? Rather than people we are first all “consumers” and we have “rush hour” every day. No wonder everybody is stressed out and on antidepressants.

  • Alex

    Sounds like a nice project. How about less complaining. Would you rather it stayed a two stack crematorium and empty parking lot? I don’t like the smell of burning bodies so welcome the change.

  • Nothingeverchanges

    Sounds better than what is there now, but why another black box theatre?

    • LuvDusty

      Please name the other black box theatres within a 10 mile radius? I can’t think of any.

  • Missing good retail

    How about, instead of another empty theater (we went to a wonderful show in Artisphere – an excellent, well known band that told us they’d had several thousand people in New York the previous weekend – whereas there were about 120 people in the Arlington audience – where is the advertising being placed?), asking the developer to spend the $ building an attractive surround on the ground floor retail and trying to create an atmosphere like Shirlington’s? We don’t need a second Artisphere. We could use more walkable retail. In other words, wide brick sidewalks; fewer dry cleaners and chains.

    • Plunkitt of Clarendon Blvd

      “We could use more walkable retail. ”

      And therein lies the rub…the number of items that can be profitably sold through small retail outlets has shrunk to cupcakes, coffee and there is probably something else that I can’t remember.

      I just read this A.M. that Target is complaining about folks checking out products in their stores and then going home and ordering the item over the internet.

      • Lou

        Heck, I have an app on my phone that lets me take a picture of a product and I can have it ordered before I walk out of the store, if the online price turns out to be better.

      • Clarendon

        Yeah, its tough out there. Take Shoefly – a really nice small boutique shop that I think carries well selected shoes and other stuff. And, shoes are one of those things that people want to try on in person so that might advantage a brick and mortar store. But, I’ll bet that may people go in, try the shoes and then buy them at some discount online shoe place. I have no idea what the price difference might be in this case, but by doing this, eventually there won’t be a place to try on the shoes and we’ll have another cupcake place instead.

        • Plunkitt of Clarendon Blvd

          During the brouhaha about the East Falls Church Metro parking lot, a fellow who was in favor of it spoke about how wonderful it would be to have a Reiter’s branch located there.

          My guess was that he hadn’t seen what that once wonderful store’s main location had been reduced to.

    • LuvDusty

      Why is everyone acting like the only thing that will be built in this development is a black box theatre? That is just 1 part of the entire building. Sheesh.

  • Carpool is next on the executioner’s list.

    • Greg

      That would be the end of the line for me. That’s the only place in Ballston I’ll set foot in anymore.

      • LuvDusty

        And I can’t wait for Carpool to go away. Annoying, noisy, ugly and there are already 10 other bars within 5 blocks to watch your game at.

  • Arl1

    Crazy arts centers (Rosslyn and VA Square), dorm rooms for drunks/druggies (Courthouse) and really high taxes for all to share! Anything for the average Jane/Joe? Can we even get properly paved streets?


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