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Art Institute Building in Rosslyn to Be Redeveloped as Residential Towers

(Updated at 2:35 p.m.) A developer is proposing to demolish the Ames Center office building in Rosslyn, at 1820 N. Fort Myer Drive, and replace it with almost 800 housing units and retail space.

Building owner Snell Properties has long planned to replace the aging office building, which formerly housed the Art Institute of Washington, with the two residential towers. Newly-submitted plans indicate Snell plans to build a 31-story tower with 424 units on the south side of the property and a 30-story tower with 364 units in the north side.

Plans indicate that the south tower will have 411,338 square feet of residential space, and the north tower will feature 382,608 square feet of residential space. Together, the two will offer 8,000 square feet of retail space on the ground level.

Currently, more than half of the Ames Center is vacant, with the remaining leases to expire before construction begins, according to a letter filed by an attorney for the developer.

The Ames Center property, which includes a church built over a gas station — once dubbed “Our Lady of Exxon” — was one of the earliest developments of it kind in Arlington, credited with kickstarting the redevelopment of Rosslyn as a commercial center in the 1960s. It was designed by the noted Czech-American architect Vlastimil Koubek.

The proposed project coincides with plans to redesign N. Fort Myer Drive and N. Nash Street, among other parts of Rosslyn, and extend a bicycle and pedestrian corridor from 18th Street N. to  N. Arlington Ridge Road.

This extended 18th Street corridor would bisect the Ames Center property, and Snell is proposing to build a walkable plaza between the two towers to incorporate the path.

Snell and nearby property owner Monday Properties previously clashed over the plan for the 18th Street corridor, with Snell saying Monday’s original plan for the 1812 N. Moore could have moved the corridor northward and disrupted the Ames Center plan. Today, a lawyer representing Snell told ARLnow today (Tuesday) that the firm is happy with the corridor.

In the meantime, Snell’s plans also indicate several “interim” changes to the streetscape surrounding the site, including:

  • Removing one parking lane and one travel lane from N. Nash Street (between 19th Street to Wilson Blvd) and adding 6-foot-wide bike lanes with 3-foot medians on both sides the street. Additionally, the developer is asking to widen the sidewalks from 12 feet to 16 feet wide.
  • Removing one travel lane from Fort Myer Drive and replacing it with a 7-foot-wide parking lane, and a 5-foot bike lane.
  • Removing two travel lanes from N. Fort Myer Drive and replacing them with a parking lane and a bike lane.

Snell also plans to build a four-story parking garage on site, with around 650 spaces for cars — equivalent to 0.81 spaces per residential unit — along with 10 dedicated spaces for retail, and 4 additional spaces. The developer is also planning space for tenants to park 317 bicycles.

“The proposed redevelopment of the Ames Center would improve the existing outdated office building and bring a vibrant mixed-use development to the central core of Rosslyn,” a recent county traffic analysis wrote of the project.

“This development will in particular aid in planning efforts to increase the amount of residential within Rosslyn, lessening the amount of commuters traveling to/from Rosslyn today,” read the report.

Construction is expected to remove almost all the trees on the property, including: four trees currently growing along the N. Fort Myer Drive sidewalk, four trees along the N. Nash Street sidewalk, and two trees at the intersection of the two roads.

The developer will keep one tree growing near the intersection of N. Fort Myer Drive and Wilson Blvd and will install planters, benches, and 10 bike racks, along the N. Nash Street sidewalk. Several oak and maple trees will also be planted in the plaza area between the two towers, and along Nash Street.

“The applicant has been involved with the county since the beginning of the Rosslyn sector plan and has continued to work closely with them since that time,” said Tysons Corner-based attorney Kedrick Whitmore. “The applicant has spent a significant amount of time since the plan action working on the proposal to help advance the vision of the plan, and we’re very excited about the future of the property.”

The project is expected to build over the Arlington Temple United Methodist Church on the property, and the Sunoco Gas station beneath it. Both the church and gas station will remain unchanged, according to the preliminary plans.

The project is one of several currently being planned across Rosslyn.

Photo via Snell Properties

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