Lost Dog Cafe staying on the Pike as parking situation improves

Stay. Lost Dog Cafe is going to stay.

With help from the Arlington County Board, Lost Dog Cafe’s parking situation is now nearing a resolution which has prompted the restaurant to renew its lease on Columbia Pike.

Last June, ARLnow reported that confusing and high parking fees in a county-financed Columbia Pike garage, owned by Ballston-based developer AvalonBay, was potentially costing Lost Dog Cafe and fellow tenant Joule Wellness Pharmacy thousands of dollars a year in customer revenue.

Because of this, both businesses were planning on not renewing their leases on the ground floor of the Avalon Columbia Pike apartment building.

But, in January, the County Board revised an unusual 2006 agreement that essentially allows AvalonBay to stop paying back the county for contributing nearly $3 million to the construction of the privately-owned garage.

This has led the developer to agree to lower parking fees inside of the parking garage at the corner of Columbia Pike and S. Walter Reed Drive.

Starting as soon as the end of this month, the developer is changing the fee structure at the parking garage to allow customers to park for free for one hour, AvalonBay spokesperson Kurt Conway confirmed. It’s $2 per hour after that.

Additionally, more employee parking spots will be available to the businesses.

This change has resulted in Lost Dog Cafe signing a six-year lease extension to stay on the Pike. Added to the two years left on its current lease, the neighborhood eatery is planning on staying at its current location until at least 2030.

“We believe that the change in the parking situation will allow us to run our business more successfully,” Lost Dog franchise owner James Barnes tells ARLnow.

Joule Wellness Pharmacy director of marketing Alex Tekie also says that this change will significantly help their business. However, he notes that the pharmacy has actually not yet been informed by AvalonBay of this change.

Most of the parking woes began back in March 2020, when the pandemic hit and, incidentally, higher fees, tickets, and threats of towing began after years of lax enforcement, according to tenants.

At a time when many businesses were struggling and shifting towards more take-out, charging for even just a few minutes of parking made it even more difficult for the local businesses.

“This parking issue has made it so untenable,” Barnes said last June. “We link this to our sales and our sales are not good. There’s a correlation with this parking lot.”

Joule Wellness Pharmacy ownership also told ARLnow at the time they were shelling out nearly $800 for employee parking. This prompted both businesses to threaten to leave the development and Columbia Pike.

This was all coming to a head as the Pike, in general, continues to grapple with redevelopment and questions of how to keep small, local businesses on Arlington’s “main street.”

But, at least in this instance, a change to a 16-year-old agreement appears to have solved at least a couple of tenant renewal issues, for now.

The history of the parking problems is a story of unintended consequences from a county government action that seemingly made sense at the time.

In 2006, the County Board agreed to contribute $2.96 million to the construction of the parking garage in exchange for receiving 45% of parking revenue as a form of payback every month going forward.

It’s a deal that would never happen today, according to County Board Chair Katie Cristol, and restricted how the garage could be managed.

So, earlier this year, the County Board amended the agreement that will “effectively terminate the County’s stake in the ownership, management and operations of the garage.”

This allows AvalonBay more freedom to work with tenants on better parking solutions, Cristol told ARLnow in a statement.

While the 2006 decision to participate in funding the construction of the Avalon garage was motivated by a desire to help Columbia Pike grow and succeed, the consequences of the County’s continuing ownership stake in the garage were clearly having a negative impact on these goals more than fifteen years later. I’ve been involved with Avalon Bay and its retail tenants — most specifically, Lost Dog Cafe — for multiple years trying to resolve these issues, and I appreciated that the County staff could develop a solution for sunsetting that ownership stake.

The County Board’s approval of the amendment now leaves Avalon Bay free to work with their retail tenants — including a number of locally-owned small businesses — to manage the specifics of their parking, just as other commercial property owners do throughout the County. My hope is that this means our valued Pike small businesses who operate in this location can see a future there.

The revision also means that the county will no longer collect on that 45% of parking revenue. However, according to financial documents shared with ARLnow, it appears it wasn’t that much money to begin with.

In 2020, the county collected under $10,000 from the parking garage. A county spokesperson confirmed a payment made in March of this year that covered 2021 revenue also only amounted to about $14,o00.

At that rate, it would have taken a very long time for the county to be paid back on its $3 million investment.

Conway from AvalonBay says the parking rates will officially change once new signage is installed in the garage. He expects that to happen at the end of this month or early June.

It took awhile to get a solution, but Barnes said he is pleased that the parking challenges that have plagued his and other businesses at the Avalon Columbia Pike are now on the verge of being rectified.

“Bottom line, there was an agreement that was made a long time ago that would have not been made today. So, they fixed it,” he said. “I give credit to AvalonBay and the county. It’s an example of government working.”