Ballston BID Faces Up to ‘First Real Challenge’ of NSF Departure

Ballston is prepared to cope with the imminent departure of the National Science Foundation, a major local employer, says Ballston Business Improvement District CEO Tina Leone.

The NSF is set to finish moving from Stafford Place on Wilson Blvd to Alexandria later this year, and began to move employees earlier this month.

But with a number of new construction projects ongoing in Ballston, and the upcoming opening of the renovated Ballston Quarter mall, Leone said the neighborhood is going to be just fine without a federal tenant and its more than 2,000 employees, even though she said it will add about 1 percent to Arlington’s office vacancy rate.

“This is our first real challenge, I believe,” she said. “Ballston has been very much growing and sustaining organically, it’s always been a place where people can live and work very easily. And now this is probably our first big challenge, I believe.”

Leone said the reason for her optimism lies in the major development projects underway, especially the redeveloping Ballston Common Mall, rebranded as Ballston Quarter.

Demolition of the mall to make way for a new apartment tower and retail space has been ongoing for just over a year, and Leone said once that project is done in 2018 it can anchor the rest of the neighborhood.

Leone also pointed to the likes of Marymount University’s “Newside” building, construction of new mixed-use developments at 750 N. Glebe Road and the former Carpool building, as well as developer Jamestown LP’s revamp of the NSF’s current home for new tenants, as other examples of the neighborhood’s continued growth.

Ballston will also be home to a revamped Central United Methodist Church that will include affordable housing, as well as several other new apartment buildings.

“The Ballston Quarter development has helped spur on these other developments,” Leone said. “Once developers knew that this project was a go, they said, ‘okay, now we can push the button on our projects too.’ Who doesn’t want to live next to a beautiful new open air retail, restaurants, 360,000 square feet of fun? That’s what really pulled the trigger on many of these other developments, for sure.”

The county’s office vacancy rate remains an ongoing concern as it hovers between 18 and 20 percent, but Leone said she is hopeful that new tenants and businesses can be wooed to Ballston. Uncertainty about attracting new office tenants temporarily halted construction of the final building in the eight-building Liberty Center project in 2015.

Given its optimal location between Dulles International Airport and downtown D.C., Leone said the BID is looking to help attract companies from overseas that wish to expand their operations into the United States.

Leone said the BID also remains focused on building a sense of community among Ballston’s residents and those who work in the neighborhood. That effort began in March with the introduction of free Wi-Fi throughout the BID’s area, which Leone said will soon integrate seamlessly with the county’s first responders to allow them to use the fast network whenever they are in Ballston.

That sense of community also comes from a string of events the BID hosts throughout the year, including yoga classes, the farmers market and Taste of Arlington.

“We want to connect people and make people really love Ballston,” Leone said. “Part of that is having all these amenities and everything and great transportation and location and all that. But the other part of it is having a sense of community, which is what we’re really focused on…You’ve heard about being a Smart City. We are being a smart neighborhood in the region. That’s our goal.”

And in the coming decades, Leone said, Ballston will continue to prosper and evolve — to a point.

“I think Ballston is going to become a much better place to be,” Leone said. “I don’t think the landscape of it is going to change much. Arlington is really good about keeping density around the Metro, so I don’t think you’re going to see an expansion of these huge buildings going throughout. But what you’re going to see is better. Everything’s going to be better.”

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