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County Could Buy WETA Property for Jennie Dean Park Expansion

Arlington County is considering buying property owned by local PBS affiliate WETA in the Four Mile Run Valley, as part of a park expansion project and a plan to keep WETA’s headquarters in Shirlington.

Under a deal announced yesterday (Thursday), the county has an option to purchase the WETA studio at 3620 27th Street S., and use the land for the future expansion of Jennie Dean Park. If WETA’s Board of Trustees approves the plan, a sale could happen in the next two years.

Should the sale go through, per a letter of intent signed by both parties, the county would make $500,000 of urban design improvements in the area near WETA’s headquarters (3939 Campbell Ave), including improving pedestrian safety and signs.

The county would also provide WETA with a performance-based Economic Development Incentive grant of up to $150,000 per year based on reaching targets for job creation and square feet used.

WETA will soon “begin design and construction feasibility studies to explore relocating the studio next to the current headquarters located at 3939 Campbell Avenue in Shirlington Village,” according to a county press release. “The planned project would include building a new, state-of-the art studio in space adjacent to their headquarters building.”

“We’ve had a longstanding relationship with WETA, one of our most valuable community partners,” County Manager Mark Schwartz said in a statement. “This agreement allows WETA to move forward with envisioning their ideal television studio and headquarters as we move forward with planning for Jennie Dean Park’s future.”

The property has been identified as a way to expand Jennie Dean Park since 1994, while WETA has been looking throughout the region for new space.

The future of Jennie Dean Park has been a source of controversy among some members of the Four Mile Run Valley Working Group, tasked with making recommendations for the area’s future. An area near the park has been proposed as a possible arts district, a plan that has come in for some criticism from group members and commission chairs.

The full county press release is after the jump.

In a move that will benefit the Arlington community at large and a long-time Arlington institution, Arlington County and local non-profit PBS station Greater Washington Educational Telecommunications Associations, Inc. (WETA) have signed a letter of intent (LOI) regarding an exciting future for the television station’s headquarters and the Shirlington community in which it is based. The agreement is designed to persuade WETA, which produces the national news and public affairs programs PBS NewsHour and Washington Week, to remain at its home in Arlington, where it has been located since 1961, as the station considers the possibility of building a new state-of-the-art production facility.

“We’ve had a longstanding relationship with WETA, one of our most valuable community partners,” Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz said. “This agreement allows WETA to move forward with envisioning their ideal television studio and headquarters as we move forward with planning for Jennie Dean Park’s future.”

WETA’s existing studio may no longer serve the station’s mission. Among other options, WETA has been actively looking throughout the region to find suitable space that would combine the station’s studio with office operations. Arlington County has worked with WETA to identify a viable option to remain in Shirlington and for the County to purchase the desired future parkland.

The sale of the current WETA studio property has been identified since 1994 for park acquisition and would allow the County to expand Jennie Dean Park (located adjacent to WETA at 3630 27th St. S.). A park master plan is currently being developed as part of the Four Mile Run Valley (4MRV) initiative. The park master planning is expected to wrap up in summer 2018 and is then anticipated to be adopted by the County Board.

The first phase of park improvements is expected to begin in 2019 and be completed by 2021. The LOI supports a future phase of the park; the timeframe for implementing this phase is undetermined at this time.

Letter of Intent Details

The LOI lays out the framework for the County purchase of WETA’s current studio at 3620 27th Street South.

WETA will begin design and construction feasibility studies to explore relocating the studio next to the current headquarters located at 3939 Campbell Avenue in Shirlington Village. The planned project would include building a new, state-of-the art studio in space adjacent to their headquarters building. If the feasibility is confirmed and if approved by the WETA Board of Trustees, WETA would move forward with selling the land where the studio currently sits to the County. The purchase could occur sometime in the next two years. The County would use Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) funding for the parcel.

In conjunction with this option, the County would make urban design improvements up to $500,000 in the area near WETA headquarters. Urban design elements would enhance placemaking, improve pedestrian safety and add additional wayfinding features. In addition, Arlington County would provide WETA an Economic Development Incentive (EDI) performance-based grant up to $150,000 annually for the performance period based on achieving annual job and square footage targets. During that period, the County would net approximately $4.3 million in tax revenue.

If the project is found not to be feasible, WETA may still sell the 27th Street South property to the County, but the timing of the purchase would be unclear.

Background 

WETA is a non-profit public television station headquartered in Shirlington for 57 years, employs approximately 290 people, and occupies 89,418 square feet of office space in Shirlington Village and 30,685 square feet of studio space. WETA has been a community partner and a respected organization with a long-standing relationship with Arlington County spanning more than five decades.

The LOI is non-binding and is contingent upon both the WETA Board of Trustees and the County Board approving any necessary formal agreements to encourage WETA to remain in Arlington County.

WETA is working with commercial real estate services company Avison Young, represented by Marty Almquist and Nick Gregorios.

Photo via Google Maps.

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