Arlington, VA

The University of Maryland is expected to open a research and event space in Crystal City next fall in an effort to cozy up to Amazon.

Called the “Discovery Center,” the campus will occupy a 8,000-square-foot space in a building Amazon has leased from JBG Smith and plans to begin temporarily occupying this year. University officials say that the center is designed to connect students and staff with companies like Amazon for research and job recruitment, as first reported by the Washington Business Journal.

“This new space will help connect our flagship researchers and students with this emerging technology hub, fostering innovation in our growing Cyber Valley,” UMD President Wallace Loh said in a statement.

UMD described the purpose of the space in a press release:

The Discovery Center will provide spaces for academics, local businesses and community residents to interact and exchange ideas, as well as seminar rooms, a strategic planning and creative problem-solving center, spaces for students to work with industry partners, and career development interview rooms to facilitate internships and employment opportunities. The center will also function as an event space for researchers, industry leaders and alumni to meet, network and discuss industry trends.

Both Prince George’s County, where UMD is located, and Montgomery County were hopefuls for the 25,000 jobs Amazon promises to bring. Now that the tech and retail giant has inked its HQ2 deal in Arlington and is beginning to hire employees, the university appears to be trying to locate itself closer to the action.

“Although we wanted Amazon to choose Maryland, the fact is they chose, of all the places in the country that they could have chosen, they chose 11 miles from the flagship campus of the flagship university of the state of Maryland,” UMD’s chief strategy officer Ken Ulman, told the college newspaper Diamondback.

Although the space is not a formal college campus per se, the university says it will host “learning events” on topics likely to interest the company, including supply chain management, machine learning, and cybersecurity.

JBG Smith is using the ground floor of the building, at 241 18th Street S., as a pitch room to convince other office tenants to locate to Crystal City.

Earlier this summer, Virginia Tech finalized the details of its Potomac Yard campus, also strategically planned near Amazon. The Alexandria campus, which joins the university’s other locations in Ballston and West Falls Church, was a feature of Virginia’s pitch to Amazon. Last week VT announced that it had launched a search process to find a new leader for the planned “Innovation Campus.”

UMD is expected to benefit from Metro’s decision to start extending Yellow Line rail service all the way to Greenbelt for the first time since 2017, which will connect the university’s flagship location in College Park to Crystal City.

“With Metro’s Yellow Line extension, folks can go from campus to the Discovery Center in 30 minutes without changing trains,” Ulman said in a statement. “You’ll walk out of the Crystal City station, turn and literally see the University of Maryland sign in front of you.”

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Morning Notes

Arlington: Most Competitive Housing Market in U.S. — “The most competitive U.S. housing markets are the two that are closest to Crystal City, home of Amazon’s upcoming second headquarters (HQ2) in Virginia: Alexandria and Arlington. This is according to the latest ranking of cities by Redfin Compete Score.” [Redfin]

County Hits Record Low Tax Delinquency — “Treasurer Carla de la Pava announced that the delinquency rate for real estate and personal property had fallen to 0.177 percent, down from 0.21 percent a year before and the lowest not just in county history, but perhaps the lowest ever among any jurisdiction in Virginia history.” [InsideNova]

AWLA Hosts Successful Adoption Event — “40 cats and 14 dogs found their forever homes at [Saturday’s] Clear The Shelters event! Thank you to everyone who found space in their hearts and homes for our animals today.” [Facebook]

Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley

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Morning Notes

Now Might Be the Time to Sell Your Home — “‘Some sellers are thinking ‘gosh, why don’t I just wait until Amazon gets into full bloom before I sell my house, because maybe values will go up even higher,” Christine Richardson, president of the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors, told WTOP. ‘But I’m not sure that is necessarily the right way to think about it, because often that initial exuberance is actually higher than reality turns out to be.'” [WTOP]

Local CVS Sold Millions of Opioids — “The largest recipient of pain pills in Arlington, according to the database, is a CVS Pharmacy located at 3133 Lee Highway. A total of 1,465,700 pills were shipped to this pharmacy between 2006 and 2012, which would be enough for one pill per year for each of the 106,612 people who live within five miles of the pharmacy.” [Patch]

Lots of Booze Sales in Arlington — “The eight Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) stores in Arlington accounted for 2.8 percent of total ABC purchases Virginia-wide during the state government’s last fiscal year, which saw a new statewide record set in total sales volume. A total of $29,052,507 in sales (excluding tax) were made at Arlington’s ABC stores from July 2018 to June 2019.” [InsideNova]

Cristol on Kojo — Arlington County Board member Katie Cristol went on WAMU’s Kojo Nnamdi Show on Friday. Among the topics she discussed: the federal government’s search for a new shelter for detained, unaccompanied immigrant children in Northern Virginia. [Kojo Nnamdi Show, Twitter]

Local Restaurants Coming to Memphis — A pair of local restaurants — Matchbox American Kitchen and Arlington-based Big Buns Best Damn Burger Co. — are opening new locations in Memphis, Tennessee. [Washington Business Journal]

Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf

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Morning Notes

Home Prices Around HQ2 Soar — “The median sale prices for all home types in the 22202 ZIP code, where Amazon is building and staffing up HQ2, was $995,000 in July — the highest for any month in a decade — according to data provided by MarketStats by ShowingTime based on listing activity from Bright MLS. It’s a 72% jump from June, when median sales were at $615,000, and a 25% year-over-year increase.” [Washington Business Journal, InsideNova]

ACPD Launches Anti-DUI Campaign — “The high-visibility national enforcement campaign, Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over, runs from August 14 through September 2, 2019. During this period, police will conduct nightly saturation patrols with the goal of drastically reducing incidents of drunk driving on our roadways.” [Arlington County]

Courthouse Market Back On Next Weekend — After initially being set to skip next weekend due to scheduled parking lot paving, the Courthouse farmers market is back on for Saturday, Aug. 24. [Arlington County]

Amazon Truck Blocks GW Parkway — The southbound GW Parkway was temporarily blocked at the Memorial Bridge yesterday afternoon due to a too-tall Amazon tractor trailer. [Twitter]

Betting at Local Bars — “Locally, prosecutors haven’t paid much attention to the games. Arlington County Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos said she wasn’t even aware that any machines were in the county until informed by the WBJ that bars in both Clarendon and Ballston operate them. An Arlington police spokeswoman said the department hasn’t noticed “any issues or concerns related to” the machines.” [Washington Business Journal]

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Advocates want Amazon to help build a protected bike lane in Pentagon City as part of the development of its second headquarters.

Advocacy group Sustainable Mobility for Arlington County wants Amazon pay for the new protected bike lane in exchange for added density for the two office towers the company is planning for the Metropolitan Park site along S. Eads Street. The group is asking the county to consider the request as part of the site plan process for this first phase of HQ2.

“The thought is that we expect major development to mitigate its impacts to the extent possible,” said the organization’s founder and Arlington Transportation Commission chair Chris Slatt.

“They are going to be doing construction there anyway, and doing additional construction is much cheaper than mobilizing a contractor from scratch,” he said. “As long as they are pouring concrete and moving dirt and making changes to the streetscape anyway, we think part of it should be upgrading that bike lane to a protected bike lane.”

Currently, the stretch of 15th Street S. bordering the future headquarters features an unprotected bike lane, meaning there are no buffers between vehicles and bikes except the line of paint demarking the lane. Slatt said this is especially dangerous on 15th Street considering Virginia Department of Transportation estimates that an average of 16,000 cars drive along the street every weekday.

Sustainable Mobility is also calling for upgrades to the existing protected bike lane on S. Eads Street, and for the county to install floating bus stop “islands” on 15th Street to prevent buses from pulling into the bike lane to pick up riders.

“What we mean by protected is something that will slow down or stop a car… and eliminate bus-bike conflict,” said Slatt.

Last month, the Arlington County Board approved a street safety resolution to end bicycle and pedestrian deaths — although some criticized the measure for lacking a specific plan.

Eric Balliet, a spokesman for the Department of Environmental Services, declined to comment on the bike lane proposal, citing the ongoing review of the site plan. A spokeswoman for Amazon also declined to comment.

“Members of the community who are interested in the Met Park proposal should continue to provide comments as part of the upcoming Site Plan Review Committee meetings on Sept. 23 and Oct. 14, or submit them to Mr. Schulz,” Balliet said, referring to county planner Peter Schulz.

Amazon is expected to eventually hire some 25,000 employees for HQ2, prompting some fears of Arlington experiencing Seattle’s traffic woes. Virginia and Arlington wooed Amazon with the promise of millions in nearby transportation updates, but Slatt says a protected bike lane outside HQ2 could also encourage bike commuting, thus reducing the number of car trips and helping to ease traffic.

“It will help,” he said. “The tough thing about building a network is the impact of each little piece is often small, but without each little piece the overall [bike] network isn’t enticing.”

Earlier this year, the county called for 75 miles of bike infrastructure to be added to Arlington over the next 20 years, however only 2.5 miles of that is currently slated to become protected bike lanes.

“I think the new bike plan is very clear that our goal for every part of our bike network is that it be low stress and for all ages and abilities,” Slatt said, “and that the new bike plan is very clear that we look for an opportunity to make that happen with every new development.”

Images via Google Maps

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Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders, plus other local technology happenings. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

Most people using Amazon won’t browse past the first page of listings for any given search or category. That’s where newly-Arlington-based startup Amify comes in.

Amify doesn’t sell products. Rather, the company works with other brands to help them drive sales and maximize their revenue on Amazon.

“Much like a brand might outsource PR to a PR firm, brands can outsource their Amazon presence to Amify,” Amify CEO and founder Ethan McAfee said in an email. “We can usually do it a lot better and a lot cheaper than a brand can do it internally. A few brands we work with include Fender Guitars and Pacers Running.”

Now with Amazon setting up its new HQ2 in Arlington, Amify has uprooted from its Alexandria headquarters and relocated closer to the company it is intrinsically tied to.

McAfee said Crystal City has historically been viewed as a “boring concrete jungle filled with government agencies and contractors,” but that Amazon’s move will help to change that.

“We moved there to be ahead of the curve,” McAfee said. “In a few short years, the number of fun and modern restaurants and bars will increase and make National Landing” — the name for the combined Crystal City, Pentagon City and Potomac Yard neighborhoods along the Blue and Yellow lines — “a much more attractive place to have an office.”

McAfee said the two Metro lines, airport, VRE and highway access also make Crystal City an attractive spot for Amify. It doesn’t hurt that McAfee said the largest pool of talent for people with Amazon knowledge will be centered around the new headquarters. Like a remora fish swimming alongside a shark, it’s a symbiotic relationship that can hopefully keep Amify well-fed on business in Amazon’s waters.

“Wherever Amazon goes, it’s going to generate some sort of regional brain trust or community that somehow relates to its business,” said McAfee. “We want to be a part of that brain trust. We want to be around smart people who work or who have worked for Amazon, and are passionate about selling online and advancing the experience of sellers on the platform. It’s an excellent environment to be in if you’re a business like ours.”

Things have been going well recently. McAfee said Amazon’s reported decision to retire a large number of its first-party seller relationships — ditching some small brands that sell their own products to Amazon via purchase order, in favor of third-party marketplace sellers that stock and sell goods via Amazon’s platform — has left some of those brands reeling and trying to reclaim their Amazon presence.

But like the remora fish, McAfee said sometimes Amify can very much be at the whims of the larger beast.

“Much like Walmart, Amazon is a very large retailer and can throw around its weight,” McAfee said. “It certainly makes sellers’ lives more difficult, but at the same time, no other platform is going to provide sellers with the same exposure or access to consumers as Amazon.”

“Given control of the largest online marketplace in the world, it’s conceivable one might tip the scales in their favor,” McAfee continued. “This is not to give Amazon a pass, it’s just to say that this is something we’ve anticipated and therefore can respond to in the context of how it impacts our customers.”

Despite that uncertainty, McAfee said relocating closer to HQ2 should help put the company on more stable ground.

“Being closer to Amazon will be an opportunity for us to grow our company by solidifying our place as Amazon’s top brand partner and attract new talent by being one of the first companies on the ground of this growing tech hub,” he said.

Photos via Amify/Facebook

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(Updated 12:45 p.m.) The landscape of Crystal City is being reshaped as office buildings are built or renovated ahead of Amazon’s arrival.

Over the stretch of a few blocks in Crystal City, several buildings either currently built or to-be-constructed have been highlighted by real estate company JBG Smith as temporary Amazon workspaces. For the past few months, the area has been ringing with the sounds of demolition and construction, which picked up since Amazon announced it had selected “National Landing” — the combined area of Crystal City, Pentagon City and Potomac Yard — for its HQ2.

Where new offices will be built, demolition work is wrapping up on the existing buildings. Most of them are currently dirt plots shielded behind screened fences.

According to a JBG Smith spokeswoman:

  • 1800 S. Bell Street – No demolition as Amazon will be occupying short-term space
  • 1770 Crystal Drive — Demolition is underway and project is on schedule
  • 241 18th Street S. — No demolition as Amazon will be occupying short-term space
  • Central District Retail – Demolition is nearly complete and project is on schedule

The building at 1900 Crystal Drive has since been removed. Demolition is completed and the new building will be a mixed-use residential and retail structure, according to County plans.

Amazon previously told ARLnow the company is on target to reach its goal of bringing aboard 400 new hires by the end of the year. The company is also simultaneously working through the approval process for its permanent HQ2 in Pentagon City.

Airey contributed to this story

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As Amazon continues to hire for its HQ2, the company is also working through plans to include a new daycare facility inside its planned permanent office campus in Pentagon City.

The 12,000 square-foot child care center would be located on the ground floor and face the interior public plaza. A spokesperson for Amazon told ARLnow that the proposed daycare would be operated by a third party company.

Lack of accessible daycare is the center of a fight in Seattle, where a group called “Momazonians” are arguing the company needs to do more to provide accessible child care, though a spokesperson the Amazon noted that the company does have a daycare facility for both Amazon employees and the nearby community in one of their headquarters buildings.

In Arlington, the company is in a tug-of-war with planners over whether the daycare should count towards the headquarters’ total density. The daycare is one of several types of space that the company is requesting not be included in calculations of gross floor area. Because the proposed complex exceeds the allowable density under zoning for the site, excluding certain types of space from the floor area calculation would cut down on the community benefits Amazon would need to provide in exchange for the added density.

Many of these areas, like mechanical shafts and below-grade storage, are excluded by default as they do not contribute to the bulk and height of the building and are not rentable floor space. But child care facilities typically are not considered one of those excluded types of density.

“Staff has not supported exclusions from density for uses such as child care,” the staff report said. “Staff is currently analyzing the applicant’s requests.”

At a meeting last week, the proposed exclusion of the child care facility from the building’s bonus density drew some criticism from Site Plan Review Committee members, who pointed to the example of the formerly Ballston-based National Science Foundation, which they said was granted a density exclusion for a child development center only to later convert the space to another use.

But Arlington has been in the middle of a push to create more daycare options, including consideration of zoning changes aimed at eliminating barriers to child care.

The spokesperson for Amazon said the company is planning to include the daycare at HQ2 regardless of whether the county approves the density exemption.

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Morning Notes

‘Mabel’s Restaurant’ Coming to Arlington Heights — The restaurant coming to the grounds of the Dominion Apartments, at the former Sherwin Williams paint store (3411 5th Street S.), is called “Mabel’s Restaurant.” An outdoor seating area is planned for the restaurant, according to permit filings. [Arlington Economic Development]

Northam Visits Amazon — “In June, we were excited to open our first temporary office space for our Arlington headquarters in Crystal City. Today, we welcomed @GovernorVA to tour our new work space and meet with Amazonians from the Commonwealth.” [Twitter]

Crystal City Conducting Survey — “The area encompassing Crystal City, Pentagon City and Potomac Yard – Arlington is a dynamic mixed-use urban center and Virginia’s largest walkable downtown… we are embarking on a place branding effort to uncover our neighborhood story and create a striking visual identity.” [Crystal City BID]

History of Heidelberg Bakery — “Heidelberg Bakery is a local landmark in Arlington… In this oral history clip, Carla and Wolfgang Buchler, owners of the Heidelberg Pastry Shoppe, discuss the lack of diversity in breads that Wolfgang found in America when he first came to the U.S. in the 1970’s–and how tastes have changed, partly due to Heidelberg Pastry Shoppe’s delicious treats.” [Arlington Public Library]

Glebe Road Bridge Project — “The Virginia Department of Transportation on Tuesday, Aug. 13 will hold a community forum on its plans to rehabilitate the Route 120 (North Glebe Road) bridge over Pimmit Run to improve safety and extend the bridge’s overall lifespan. The event will be held on from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Williamsburg Middle School, 3600 North Harrison St. in Arlington.” [InsideNova]

‘Drunkard’ Ruling Won’t Be Appealed — “Virginia’s attorney general on Friday said he will not appeal a ruling that struck down a state law allowing police to arrest and jail people designated as ‘habitual drunkards.'” [Associated Press]

Oil in Sink Causes ‘Fatbergs’ — “If you pour used cooking grease down the kitchen sink, you’re not alone — according to a new survey, 44 percent of respondents in the D.C. region pour cooking oil, fat, or grease down the sink at least occasionally. In doing so — rather than dumping it in the trash–you may be contributing to the creation of something truly horrifying — a fatberg.” [DCist]

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Metro removed a bus stop, citing Amazon’s planned HQ2 construction, but it’s not clear whether the transit agency told riders first.

Metro’s website now lists the stop at S. Eads Street and 15th Street S. as being out of service for the 7Y route, as well as the 7A and 7F Lincolnia lines, and the 10N line to Reagan National Airport. However, as of Thursday afternoon, the transit agency’s website still listed arrival times at the stop for buses with the Barcroft-South Fairlington Line (22A.)

The stop was reporting missing last week by rider Scudder Waag, who told ARLnow he rode his usual 7Y route from Alexandria to Pentagon last week with no problems.

“But on Thursday I pulled the cord because we’re going to get off the bus, but the driver just get going and I hollered, and other riders were hollering,” he said.

Ultimately,  the driver was able to drop passengers off on the entrance ramp to the newly renamed Richmond Highway, before the bus continued on into D.C.  Waag he said the new stop is further from his office, and while he can walk longer distances, not everyone has the ability to do so.

The transit agency initially told Waag it would replace the missing sign. Five days later, Metro replied replied that the “bus planning team informed us that the bus stop… has been temporarily abolished due to the construction of a new office building, which is expected to take 6-9 months.”

The Eads Street stop is located right where Amazon is currently constructing the two, 22-story office towers that make up the first phase of its new headquarters in Pentagon City — though the project is still early in the county’s approval process and months away from starting construction.

“As the WMATA RAC’s Virginia Co-Chair, it’s distressing to see this happening in the middle of the BL/YL shutdown in Alexandria,” said WMATA Riders’ Advisory Council (RAC) member Andrew Kierig, referring to the ongoing Metrorail shutdown. “The best solution would be to have temporarily relocate the stop instead of ‘abolishing’ it without warning.”

Waag, a senior associate for a private transit planning firm, has worked with Alexandria’s DASH bus service, as well as Richmond’s GRTC. He told ARLnow that changing schedules and alerts for bus stops is “phenomenally complicated and takes a ridiculous amount of time.”

“Overall my experience riding with WMATA most days is quite nice, and quite good,” said Waag. “That day was certainly strange.”

Making the matter more complicated is Metro’s own confusing communications with riders. The transit agency shared an advisory alert about the project this week that stated the station, “has been permanently closed, effective immediately” — contradicting their earlier tweet about the station only closing temporarily.

It’s also not clear when Metro posted that alert to the website. The alert is listed as being effective from July 15, however an archived copy of Metro’s website from July 17 shows no alerts regarding the staton.

Metro also deleted its Wednesday tweet which shared the advisory alert.

The transit agency did not respond for requests for more information in time for publication.

“As someone who works with APIs and is also personally interested in transit service schedule data APIs like this, I’m concerned that this continues to be an issue that WMATA isn’t making a priority,” said Kierig. “I’ve raised this question at multiple RAC meetings with bus planning staff in regards to the replacement shuttles on the Metrorail shutdown. I’ll continue to do whatever I can to get them to fix this particular thing.”

“Winning back ridership means fixing the service and reliability side but also having the communications infrastructure and quality to make people aware that WMATA is truly #Back2Good,” Kierig added.

Map via Google Maps

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Amazon is on track to meet its hiring goals for 2019, according to a spokesperson.

This spring, the tech and retail giant said it would hire 400 people for its new headquarters in Arlington by the end of the year, and that remains the company’s target. A spokesperson told ARLnow this week that Amazon had hired a “small handful” of people since starting the process in April, but declined to share exactly how many.

The spokesperson did point to Amazon’s public HQ2 job listings, which currently number around 50.

We plan to hire people who live here to reduce the impact on the region,” said the spokesperson. “We will continue to share our growth plans with the County so they can work to ensure inclusive growth within the community.”

So far employees have been hired for roles working with Amazon’s consumer teams, its Amazon Web Services cloud platform, and its Alexa virtual assistant.

County officials previously said Amazon’s hiring process is designed to not overwhelm the county with its eventual goal of ushering 25,000 employees into offices in Crystal City and Pentagon City.

“This is not going to feel like a tsunami of new people on our streets or kids in our schools,” Board member Katie Cristol said at the time.

When asked, the spokesperson said Amazon does not provide recommendations on where new employees can find housing in the D.C. area. The company also does not provide housing recommendations in Seattle.

“Access to housing is a concern in communities throughout the U.S., including Arlington,” said the spokesperson, alluding to the county’s struggle with affordable housing. “One of the things that drew us to this location was the plans the County and the Commonwealth have in place to address this issue.”

Also this week, Amazon unveiled colorful details for its planned 2.1 million-square-foot permanent HQ2 in Pentagon City.

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