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Arlington County is applying for regional funding to run buses every six minutes between Fairfax County and Amazon’s second headquarters in Pentagon City during peak hours.

The Arlington County Board on Saturday authorized staff to apply for up to $8 million in Northern Virginia Transportation Commission funding. Funding would offset the operating costs associated with running 10 buses per hour during peak times for two years along a new Metrobus route dubbed the 16M, connecting the Skyline complex in the Bailey’s Crossroads area of Fairfax County down Columbia Pike, to Pentagon City and Crystal City.

The report suggests that the county is preparing for an increase in ridership after the opening of the first phase of Amazon’s HQ2, despite work from home trends.

“The 16M service will provide a direct connection to Amazon HQ2 with its first phase of construction (2.1 million square feet of commercial space) coming on-line in Summer/Fall 2023,” per a county report. “This service will also take advantage of the recently built portions of Columbia Pike and [eight] new transit stations located on Columbia Pike.”

But recommendations to increase frequency along this route date back well beyond Amazon’s decision to move into Arlington, says Dept. of Environmental Services spokeswoman Claudia Pors.

She says the request acts on a 2016 study, which “recommended creating a route connecting Skyline with Crystal City through Columbia Pike in anticipation of growth in Crystal City.” That followed the cancellation of the Columbia Pike streetcar project, which would have followed largely the same route.

“The study evaluated ridership forecasting, current service patterns, like bus and seat availability, and travel patterns, like trip lengths, ridership rates and traffic volume in the area to make the recommendation to increase frequency,” Pors said.

Sometime this spring, the new 16M route will begin revenue service with a base frequency of buses every 12 minutes during the service day.  The new route will replace existing 16G/H service.

Pors said the average weekday ridership for the last four-and-a-half years along the 16G/H line peaked at a little over 4,500 average weekday riders before Covid, and is now about 60% recovered compared to pre-pandemic levels.

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Amazon announced yesterday (Wednesday) that it is shutting down its charitable e-commerce platform AmazonSmile, which lets customers support their favorite nonprofits while shopping.

Instead, the tech company says it will focus on areas of more “meaningful change,” chiefly, investments in affordable housing. One of the first examples it highlighted was its contributions in Arlington County, the home of its forthcoming second headquarters.

“In one year alone, our investments have been able to increase the affordable housing stock in communities like Bellevue, Washington and Arlington, Virginia by at least 20%,” it said.

That’s a fair statement, according to Arlington County.

Per a 2022 annual report on affordable housing, Arlington County had 8,650 total committed affordable units (CAFs) in the 2020 fiscal year.

“With Amazon’s support, we added 619 CAFs via Crystal House in FY21 and 1,334 CAFs via [Barcroft Apartments] in FY22, which is 1,953 total CAFs added between those two projects and a more than 20% increase over the FY20 CAF total,” says Erika Moore, a spokeswoman for the Dept. of Community Planning, Housing and Development.

In December 2021, Amazon loaned $160 million — on top of a $150 million from Arlington County — to real estate developer Jair Lynch to  facilitate the purchase of the Barcroft Apartments on the condition that Jair Lynch preserve 1,334 units for affordable housing.

In January 2021, Amazon issued another loan to help the Washington Housing Conservancy purchase the Crystal House apartment complex (1900 S. Eads St) and stabilize rent at the complex, one block from Amazon’s future HQ2.

Arlington County has selected a developer to oversee the construction of 655 CAFs of infill development within the site, which would further increase the number of affordable units with ties to Amazon donations.

“We’re investing $2 billion to build and preserve affordable housing in our hometown communities,” the company said. “In just two years, we’ve provided funding to create more than 14,000 affordable homes — and we expect to build at least 6,000 more in the coming months. These units will host more than 18,000 moderate- to low-income families, many of them with children.”

The end of AmazonSmile, which the company says has not created “the impact we had originally hoped,” comes just a few days after the tech company announced it will lay off 18,000 employees. The company maintains it will still bring 25,000 jobs to its second headquarters, despite slowing growth.

Should it hit that mark, the tech and retail giant will be able to claim $550 million in state grants through 2042, and another $200 million should it hire 37,850 full-time HQ2 employees by 2035. Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin has proposed setting aside $78 million in the new two-year state budget to help fund the grants, the Washington Business Journal reports.

The full AmazonSmile announcement is below.

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Three years ago this month, Amazon started setting the stage for construction of the first phase of its second headquarters.

Since then, construction work has continued on-pace, with banners across the Pentagon City site, located at the corner of 13th Street S. and S. Eads Street, heralding a 2023 arrival.

Now that 2023 is here, an Amazon spokeswoman says work on the Metropolitan Park or “Met Park” phase of HQ2 — comprised of two office towers and a $14 million public park renovation — will wrap up in time to open this summer.

“Construction is well underway and nearing completion at Met Park,” says Hayley Richard. “We’re excited to open Met Park and start welcoming employees, neighbors, and visitors to our offices and public park spaces this summer. We will share a formal date and more updates in the coming months.”

In this phase, a block of warehouses were torn down and two LEED Platinum towers totalling 2.1 million square feet are being built in its place.

“Inside both towers, crews are working their way up the building installing signage, furniture, and floor paint,” Clark Construction said in an email last week.

Several local businesses will be moving into the 65,000 square feet of street-level retail: a daycare and a spa, Arlington’s second Conte’s Bike Shop, a slew of restaurants and cafés, and District Dogs. It’s unclear if RĀKO Coffee will still be moving in after the company’s first location closed and its goods were auctioned off.

Nearby, Amazon is also turning a large patch of grass south of 12th Street S. into a park with lush, meandering paths, dog areas and public art. The art installation — “Queen City” by Nekisha Durrett — pays tribute to the former Black community by the same name, which was located nearby before it was razed by the federal government to make way for the Pentagon. The structure’s reclaimed brick façade will highlight the area’s past as a hub for brick production.

“We have started placing exterior brick on the Nekisha art sculpture, and have added fencing and lighting around the daycare center, and begun laying stone pathways,” said Clark Construction, which also filmed a tour of the under-construction park.

 

The number of current HQ2 employees working from home or from leased office space in Crystal City remains somewhere above the 5,000 mark. In September this year, the tech company told ARLnow that it had assigned more than 5,000 employees to HQ2, after it was first announced in April that it had hired its 5,000th HQ2 employee. Some 28 jobs are currently posted on its job board for Arlington.

That puts Amazon one-fifth of its way toward its promise to bring 25,000 jobs to its second headquarters, in divisions ranging from web services to retail to Alexa.

Amazon and other tech companies such as ride-sharing platform Lyft are seeing their upward trajectory falter after years of accelerated growth during the pandemic. Like other companies, Amazon intends to lay off workers and pare back on spending. Some 18,000 employees could be let go in a cost-cutting effort targeting its corporate ranks, human resources, Alexa and retail.

When asked if these economic conditions were impacting hiring at HQ2, Richard demurred.

“Regarding your other questions, while I don’t have anything to share on that story, what I can tell you is that our long-term intention and commitment to the communities where we have a presence, like HQ2, remains unchanged,” she said.

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Crystal House (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Arlington County has selected two developers — Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing and D.C.-area developer EYA — to oversee the construction of affordable housing within an apartment complex in Crystal City.

They’re committing to provide 844 units, of which 655 will be committed affordable units and the remaining will be market-rate, in the Crystal House Apartments at 1900 S. Eads Street, near Amazon’s second headquarters.

After a site plan for the project was approved in 2019, Amazon put up $381.9 million so that the nonprofit Washington Housing Conservancy could purchase the 16-acre site in late 2020, stabilize rent for the 828 existing units and build more than 500 new units. The purchase was part of its commitment to create and preserve affordable housing as rents rise amid its growing HQ2 presence. Amazon later donated the land and development rights to the county.

APAH and EYA are committing to provide 100-plus more committed affordable units than for which the county planned.

“While this is a large development for APAH, the scope and phasing are consistent with our capacity and the need for more affordable housing in the region,” APAH Director of Resource Development and Communications Garrett Jackson tells ARLnow. “EYA has successfully completed several similarly-scaled public-private projects with municipalities and housing authorities including the Brownstones at Chevy Chase Lake and the Lindley with the Montgomery County Housing Opportunities Commission, Capital Quarter with the District Housing Authority, and the 45-acre Westside Shady Grove with Montgomery County.”

Jackson said both APAH and EYA have experience developing housing in partnership with localities in the D.C. area.

“Specifically, APAH co-located the Arlington Mill Residences, 122 homes, adjacent to the Arlington Mill Community Center over one shared garage. Presently, APAH is building 150 units of senior housing in Fairfax County on what was previously a Fairfax County stormwater detention facility,” he said. “EYA and APAH are currently working together on a public-private partnership in the Fort Totten neighborhood in the District that shares many of the same characteristics as the Crystal House project.”

“The Crystal Houses development will create a mixed-income community, ranging from people making 30% of the area median income and up. It will be multigenerational, with one 80-unit development set aside for senior housing. There will be 371 units with two bedrooms or more, of which at least 102 will be three bedrooms and “rare 4-bedroom affordable units,” Jackson said.

“We will provide permanent supportive housing units onsite, all affordable units will offer free Wi-Fi, we will offer residents services for affordable units, and we will develop two parks for the approved site plan,” Jackson said. “EYA is also exploring homeownership.”

Services will be provided in partnership with Arlington County Department of Human Services, Arlington Food Assistance Center and Our Stomping Ground, which helps adults with disabilities live independently.

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Items from Rāko Coffee in Courthouse were put up for public auction by Arlington County tax authorities.

ARLnow reported last month that Rāko Coffee at 2016 Wilson Blvd had closed, though a sign claimed the closure was “temporary” and blamed a broken espresso machine.

Several readers had reached out to ARLnow asking if the closure was, in fact, permanent due to how long the sign had been up. A couple of days later, green seizure tags were seen placed on equipment and furniture at the shop, suggesting the coffee shop owed the county money.

Now those items are being sold. The Arlington County Treasurer’s Office announced yesterday a public online auction for equipment and supplies left at the cafe.

“By order of Arlington County Treasurer all equipment, furniture, and fixtures will be liquidated from this location,” reads the auction page. The sale will go towards paying the business’s tax bill to the county.

Items like an espresso machine, food dehydrator, commercial refrigerator, patio tables, and five-pound bags of coffee were on the block. The auction ended this morning, providing would-be commercial fridge owners less than 24 hours to get bids in.

The cafe’s La Marzocco espresso machine sold for $17,350, according to the auction page, which raises the question of whether it was ever actually broken.

Meanwhile, Rāko Coffee’s opening of a planned location at Amazon HQ2 is in doubt. Just over a year ago, Amazon trumpeted that Rāko Coffee and several other local businesses had signed leases to move into the retail space at its second headquarters in Pentagon City.

ARLnow has reached out to Rāko Coffee representatives via email and phone but has yet to hear back as of publication. Amazon also has not responded to several inquiries about what this could mean for Rāko’s planned location.

Rāko Coffee, which started as a Lorton-based coffee roaster, opened the Courthouse cafe — its first brick-and-mortar shop — in August 2021.

The company was founded by sisters Lisa and Melissa Gerben. Their LinkedIn profiles note that they ended their tenures at Rāko this past June and August, respectively.

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4420 Fairfax Drive in Ballston as of June 2021 (via Google Maps)

(Updated 12:40 p.m.) Arlington Community High School is set to take over part of an office building in Ballston next year.

The semi-nomadic school has had many temporary homes over the years, and is currently located in the former Fenwick building (800 S. Walter Reed Drive).

Now, it will move into the fourth and fifth floors, a space totaling 24,288 square feet, of the office building at 4420 Fairfax Drive. The building is also the headquarters of growing catering marketplace Hungry.

The Arlington School Board signed the lease, from January 2023 to Sept. 30, 2026, earlier this month, says spokesman Frank Bellavia.

The School Board heard and took action on approving the lease in its meeting on Oct. 27. Normally, it hears an item in one meeting and acts on it in a subsequent meeting.

The reason for combining these steps, per a presentation, is that “lease negotiations took longer than expected and staff wishes to begin design work immediately to help mitigate project delays.”

APS will move the school over the summer and students will start in this temporary location in September, Bellavia said.

The school system must seek a Special Use Permit from Arlington County to allow educational use in the office building. That use permit request will go before the Arlington County Board in January.

APS will spend an estimated $1.5 million on building modifications and approximately $80,000 a month on the lease. It estimates the rent will be around $90,000 a month in the final year of the lease.

This will be the last temporary home before moving to a building at Amazon’s second headquarters campus in Pentagon City.

Amazon has pledged to house the school in one of the office buildings it will build at the corner of S. Eads Street and 12th Street S. as part of the approved second phase of its HQ2 project.

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Construction on an upsized home on N. Dinwiddie Street in Halls Hill (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

In Green Valley, resident Portia Clark says she and her neighbors are bombarded with calls and letters from realtors and potential investors about buying their homes.

“We were once a very stable community of homeowners who bought our homes to live here and pay them off,” she said. That increasingly seems to be changing.

There, as in Halls Hill — also known as High View Park — homes are being changing hands as the older generation passes away and their inheritors decide to sell. Some want to buy in more affordable areas, while others cannot afford to make necessary repairs or take over the mortgages, she said.

“At one time, we were the last affordable neighborhood in Arlington to buy a house in,” said Clark, president of the Green Valley Civic Association. “Investors are buying affordable homes, to tear them down and rebuild or have been building townhomes, condos or homes they are renting out.”

Green Valley and Halls Hill — both historically Black communities — are among a handful of Arlington neighborhoods with higher investment rates, according to a home ownership report published by the county in October. The report analyzed home-ownership market trends and barriers to buying.

The county report looked at the number of home loans for investors versus the total loans lent out for every census tract in Arlington. Pentagon City and Aurora Highlands, Radnor-Fort Myer Heights and Halls Hill had investment rates exceeding 12.5%. Investor purchases made up between 10% and 12.5% of financed purchases in Green Valley and Lyon Park, while other neighborhoods had lower rates of investor interest.

Loans issued to investors in 2021 by neighborhood in Arlington (via Arlington County)

Neighborhoods like Clark’s are have lower owner-occupancy rates and higher rates of property purchased for investment purposes, but overall 86% of Arlingtonians in single-family homes are owners, according to Erika Moore, a spokeswoman for the Dept. of Community Planning, Housing and Development.

Reasons for higher investment rates vary by neighborhood, per the report. The county attributes investment in Pentagon City and Aurora Highlands to Amazon’s HQ2, and investment in Radnor-Fort Myer Heights to interest in the River Place co-op, where an expiring ground lease makes properties more attractive to investors than to individual homebuyers.

When asked if staff had any guesses as to why Halls Hill, Green Valley and Lyon Park attracted more investors, Moore said the data staff collected was unclear.

Realtor Eli Tucker says these neighborhoods all have “pockets” of less expensive properties, typically multifamily homes, and many of the investors in Arlington are builders. That tracks with Arlington’s consistent rate of homes torn down, rebuilt and sold at a premium.

Tear-down and rebuild trends since 2012 (via Arlington County)

In Halls Hill, Green Valley and Lyon Park, the less expensive options include apartments and smaller duplex and townhouse properties, which often have no or low HOA fees. These neighborhoods also attract renters.

“[These] are very good rental locations and properties, but tend to be passed over more by principal buyers,” he said. “They can generate higher return-on-investment for investors than many other locations and property types that generate a lot more competition from principal buyers.”

Owner-occupancy rates by neighborhood (via Arlington County)

As for River Place, Tucker says it attracts investors whereas most cooperatives tend to restrict investors looking for rental income. The ground lease set to expire in 2052 creates two investor-friendly conditions.

First, the timeline means fewer mortgage options, which means buyers must pay with cash, which favors investors. Second, it means unit values are going down, instead of up.

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Randolph Elementary School in July 2021 (via Google Maps)

Amazon and the Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation are standing up a new STEM center at Randolph Elementary School (1306 S. Quincy Street).

“The center will provide new state-of-the-art STEM equipment and furniture for students to learn and play,” a spokeswoman for the Baltimore-based Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation said. “Giving elementary and middle school kids access to STEM learning is a priority of the Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation.”

There will be a ribbon-cutting event today (Tuesday) at noon during which students can try out the educational activities.

“Students [will] take part in a hands-on learning activity with the Sphero BOLTs, led by Amazon robotics experts to explore the STEM equipment the new center has to offer,” the spokeswoman said. (The Sphero BOLT is a spherical robot with programmable sensors that kids can control with an app.)

Amazon’s second headquarters is under construction just a few miles from the elementary school. Since it announced its HQ2 plans, the tech giant has donated money and facilities to Arlington Public Schools, with a focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

It has awarded grants to individual schools, funded a new STEM lab at Wakefield High School and announced plans to co-locate Arlington Community High School within HQ2.

Meanwhile, the Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation, founded in 2001. has placed a greater emphasis on STEM education in recent years. Since 2016, it has started 261 operational, turnkey STEM programs in 19 states, the spokeswoman said.

The nonprofit, which honors the legacy of the Baltimore Orioles player and manager — and father of baseball legend Cal Ripken, Jr. — provides programs and parks for at-risk youth.

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Amazon van that struck a pedestrian in Clarendon

An Amazon delivery van driver struck a pedestrian, causing minor injuries, on arguably the most prominent street corner in Arlington.

The collision happened shortly before 4 p.m. at the intersection of Wilson Blvd and N. Highland Street, across from the Clarendon Metro entrance.

“At approximately 3:50 p.m. police were dispatched… for the report of a crash with injuries involving a pedestrian,” Arlington County police spokesperson Alli Shorb told ARLnow. “The pedestrian sustained minor injuries and did not require transport to the hospital. The driver of the striking vehicle remained on scene. Police remain on scene investigating.”

A traffic camera showed the stopped van blocking the intersection’s northern and eastern crosswalks.

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Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow, Startup Monday is a weekly column that highlights Arlington-based startups, founders, and local tech news. Monday Properties is proudly featuring 1515 Wilson Blvd in Rosslyn. 

(Updated 12:40 p.m. on 10/11/22) If you own a local restaurant, grocery co-op or healthcare clinic in an underinvested neighborhood, there’s a good chance that Arlington-based Capital Impact Partners can help find money to assist your business.

Capital Impact Partners (CIP), which has been in Crystal City for 40 years, is a Community Development Financial Institution aimed at helping lower-income and racially diverse communities secure loans as well as capital and financial assistance.

And this summer, CIP joined forces with lender CDC Small Business Finance and lending software company Ventures Lending Technologies to help clients more effectively. They are together known as Momentus Capital. The new group is already heating up the region’s economy, according to the Washington Business Journal, which named it as an honoree of its 2022 Inno on Fire Awards program.

“Small business owners, developers, and other local leaders are the engines of job creation and economic activity in communities across the country. When these leaders have the opportunity to succeed, their communities, their residents — and our country — thrive,” said Ellis Carr, president and CEO of Momentus Capital, in a statement. “We need bold thinking and a holistic approach to unleash solutions for underestimated communities. Momentus Capital was created to meet that challenge.”

Carr, who led CIP, and Kurt Chilcott, at the time the leader of CDC Small Business Finance and now the chair of both organizations’ boards, began developing the idea for Momentus in 2019. Under the new umbrella organization, the companies will still operate as one, although they will be maintained as separate legal entities, providing but their clients will now have access to more resources and products.

A small food business that Capital Impact Partners helped fund as part of Nourish DC (courtesy of Capital Impact Partners)

For instance, Momentus is developing new lending and investing products aimed at helping people who have historically been denied access to funding. It provides borrowers with training, mentorship and networking opportunities and also provides technical support to community-based organizations and lenders.

This is the kind of work that CIP has been doing since its founding in 1982. Now a national organization, with offices in Oakland, Detroit, Austin and New York, the company got its start in Crystal City, where its headquarters remain at 1400 Crystal Drive.

“We are always thinking about racial equity, the racial wealth gap, what was our role in that as lenders, and how can we create more access to capital in a more holistic way, deep in communities,” says Alison Powers, director of economic opportunities at Capital Impact Partners. “I like to think we’ve been one of the leaders when it comes to thinking about those questions.”

That might mean helping to secure a loan for a family-owned pharmacy in Green Valley or pinpointing a grant that might assist with staffing at a small, immigrant-owned restaurant on Columbia Pike.

Powers said this work reverses exclusionary systems in the U.S., such as redlining, which prevented communities of color and low-income families from getting home loans because their neighborhoods were deemed too risky for investment.

“How we think about credit and risk and underwriting has really been influenced by the history of the U.S. and who is perceived as being good candidates for access to certain financial products,” she says.

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An art installation in the shadow of the under-construction first phase of Amazon’s HQ2 is getting taller.

Last month, crews began laying the groundwork to build “Queen City” by Nekisha Durrett, per Clark Construction, the group building out the first phase, dubbed “Met Park” and located at the corner of 13th Street S. and S. Eads Street.

The tower, situated in the park south of 12th Street S., will pay tribute to the former Black community by the same name, which was located nearby before it was razed by the federal government to make way for the Pentagon.

“We are excited to give you a closer look at our progress over the last few weeks,” Clark Construction said in an email on Friday. “The structure is starting to take shape. The installation will stand approximately thirty-five feet tall, when complete.”

The structure’s reclaimed brick façade will highlight the area’s past as a hub for brick production, while park-goers will be able to explore its decorative interior.

Construction of “Queen City” is expected to deliver with the rest of Met Park in 2023, Richard said.

When asked about a timeline for completing the first phase of Amazon’s HQ2, Richard said, “We’ll share more information [about the opening] in the coming months.”

The structure will be located in Met Park’s forthcoming green space. There is disagreement, however, over what it should be named.

Survey respondents, area civic associations and the National Landing Business Improvement District voted to name the 2.5-acre green space “Met Park” — the old name for the grassy patch that Amazon is paying $14 million to revamp.

They voted for the name “Pen Place” for the park in the second phase of Amazon’s HQ2, also dubbed Pen Place.

A majority of members of the Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board, however, recommend naming Met Park’s green space Elm Park and Pen Place’s, Fern Park.

The least popular options, both in the survey and in the HALRB meeting in August, were Goldfinch and Chickadee Park.

Meanwhile, Clark Construction reported that crews made “a lot of progress” on the park and surrounding buildings last month. In an update from Sept. 16, the company said crews poured concrete on the “overlook,” which is the highest walkable point inside the park.

“Rubber surfacing is being installed under playground equipment,” the email said. “Additionally, we recently received the first stone shipment for seat walls that will be featured along pathways throughout the park.”

This time last year, workers placed the timber first beam in Met Park’s event center and began pouring the 10th floor of concrete.

This summer, Amazon announced four additional local businesses, including two restaurants, to open at Amazon HQ2. The tech company celebrated the “topping out” of Met Park in March.

The tech giant has, at this point, assigned “more than 5,000 employees” to its HQ2, Amazon spokeswoman Hayley Richard told ARLnow yesterday (Monday). It was first announced in April that Amazon had hired its 5,000th HQ2 employee.

To kick off the new school year, Amazon donated more than $250,000 to Arlington Public Schools and two D.C.-area nonprofits addressing food insecurity, to open food pantries at a handful of public schools in Arlington.

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