Arlington, VA

Morning Notes

Chamber Rallying Members to Support Amazon — “The Arlington Chamber of Commerce wants to make sure supporters of Amazon’s decision to locate in Crystal City aren’t caught napping. The business organization on March 4 sent out a missive to rally the troops in the days leading up to the County Board’s expected action on an economic-incentive package.” [InsideNova]

Local Bars Helping Women in Unsafe Situations — “Something from the United Kingdom’s bar scene is coming all the way across the pond to Arlington, Virginia — but it isn’t a new beer or liquor. Several bars in Arlington County have implemented the ‘Ask for Angela’ campaign, which aims to help women and anyone in an uncomfortable or threatening situation get help.” [NBC Washington]

Panel Recommends Aquatics Center Fees — “Fees ranging from $9 for a one-day entrance to $630 for an annual pass have been proposed for the future Long Bridge Park aquatics and fitness center. But the fee schedule, developed by a task force set up by county leaders, leaves undetermined, for now, how much of a subsidy taxpayers will need to provide for the Crystal City facility’s operation.” [InsideNova]

Flickr pool photo by Tim Brown

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County Board member John Vihstadt is renewing his push to delay the construction of the Long Bridge Park aquatics center.

Vihstadt is waging a lonely battle against the oft-postponed project as the county’s budget picture grows increasingly grim. He says the $60 million the county’s set to spend on the new pool would be better spent on building new schools or buying additional park land, particularly considering that Arlington is feeling a financial squeeze at the moment.

Between sending more money to Metro and declining commercial tax revenues, the County Board is facing some challenging headwinds as it nears a final decision this weekend on a new, 10-year plan for construction spending. Vihstadt, the Board’s lone independent who is running for re-election this fall, thinks the 72,000-square-foot pool complex can wait a bit longer.

The project’s skyrocketing costs have convinced the Board to repeatedly adjust its plans it over the years, and Vihstadt made an effort to drive down its cost a key plank of his 2014 bid for office. But he still feels that even the facility’s reduced cost is too much for Arlington to take on right now.

“Times change, circumstances change, and I just don’t think it’s right to go forward on that project,” Vihstadt told ARLnow. “Schools have a higher priority. Parks have a higher priority.”

Yet, just as when he cast the lone vote against the project’s construction last December, Vihstadt appears to be in the minority on that position. His four colleagues on the Board all told ARLnow that they wouldn’t support any effort to postpone the Long Bridge project, even with the county’s money troubles in mind.

“Raising these issues when he first ran for election was an important contribution, because it shifted that narrative to value engineering,” said Board Vice Chair Christian Dorsey. “That success is something John ought to feel he positively contributed to. Now, it’s the responsibility of the rest of us to follow through.”

The pro-pool Board members all point out that the project has been in the works for decades, with the community formally signing off on money for the aquatics center as part of a bond referendum back in 2004, and would fill a void for such a facility in the Crystal City area.

But they also stress that the process of unwinding the work the county’s already done would be so costly as to make the effort pointless. County Manager Mark Schwartz believes that cancelling the county’s existing contract to build the facility would prompt extensive litigation, with financial consequences to follow.

“We cannot simply break the contract,” Board member Libby Garvey wrote in an email. “Likely there would be real financial penalties for us if we did, to say nothing of the damage to our reputation among builders. Companies bidding on our projects in the future would likely add extra cost because we could not be trusted to fulfill our contracts.”

The aquatic center’s proponents also see any move to reverse the Long Bridge decision as one that would send the wrong message to the community, or as an effort to “re-litigate the past,” as Board member Erik Gutshall puts it.

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Morning Notes

Fight Over Aquatics Center Operation Costs — Local budget hawks are worried that operating costs of the new Long Bridge Aquatics Center may take a chunk out of the county budget. The current staff estimate is about $1 million per year of net taxpayer support for operating costs, with a caveat that there may be a ramp-up period with less revenue and thus net higher costs. [InsideNova]

Arlington Honors ‘Fast Four’ Companies — Arlington County on Wednesday honored the fastest-growing local companies in four revenue categories. The companies honored were: Courthouse-based Mind Body Health, digital marketing company Knucklepuck, Ballston-based Deep Learning Analytics and another Ballston tech-oriented company, Apogee Research. [Arlington County]

Eastern Foundry Expanding Again — Arlington-based startup incubator Eastern Foundry is working with investors to launch Global Foundry, which will “provide international companies entrée to U.S. commercial and government markets, while exposing potential American customers to the innovation taking place overseas.” [Washington Business Journal]

Flickr pool photo by Eric

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The county soon will let the public see its four design concept finalists for the new Long Bridge Park Aquatic and Fitness Center and park expansion.

The designs will be unveiled at an event on Thursday, Oct. 19 from 7-10 p.m. at 2011 Crystal Drive, on the 11th floor.

Visitors can watch presentations, ask questions and give feedback about the concepts. Refreshments will be served and free underground parking is available.

Anyone who can’t attend the unveiling event can give feedback online or at Courthouse Plaza (2100 Clarendon Blvd.) from Oct. 19-27.

Earlier this year, the county announced it would move forward with the $63+ million aquatic center and park expansion project after years of delays, which were largely caused by cost concerns. Phase one of the Long Bridge Park project was completed in 2011.

Disclosure: Arlington County Department of Parks and Recreation is an ARLnow.com advertiser

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Morning Notes

Free Donuts Today — Today, June 2, is National Donut Day. To celebrate, Dunkin’ Donuts and Duck Donuts are offering a free donut with the purchase of any beverage. Sugar Shack is offering a free donut for those who wear a Sugar Shack hat, t-shirt or other article of clothing with the company logo. [Dunkin’ Donuts, Duck Donuts, Facebook]

Stabbing on Columbia Pike — Arlington County Police are investigating a stabbing that occurred near the intersection of Columbia Pike and S. Rolfe Street early this morning. The victim suffered non-life-threatening injuries. [Fox 5, WJLA, ACPD]

Owner Wants Out of Ray’s Hell Burger Lease — Michael Landrum, owner of Ray’s the Steaks and Ray’s Hell Burger, wants out of the Hell Burger lease at 1650 Wilson Blvd in Rosslyn. The restaurant closed and went on “hiatus” last month. Landrum’s company owes the landlord just over $300,000, according to a bankruptcy filing. [Washington Business Journal]

Why Arlington and Alexandria Couldn’t Collaborate on a Pool — Sharing the costs of an indoor aquatics center seemed like a good idea in theory, but ultimately those in Alexandria did not like the idea of using their taxpayer dollars to build a pool in Arlington. Now Arlington’s planned Long Bridge aquatics center is moving forward while Alexandria’s plans to build an indoor pool are on hold. [Washington Post]

New Tenants to the Rescue in Courthouse — “Adding Reston-based VideoBlocks to its tenant roster was a good get for the owners of Courthouse Tower, but as it turns out, the lease was part of a larger plan to avoid letting about three quarters of the building’s office space go dark.” [Washington Business Journal]

Metro ‘Prepares for Life After SafeTrack’ — We’re a day and a half into June and there have been no major Metro service disruptions so far, something the transit agency hopes is the norm. From a press release: “As the yearlong SafeTrack program winds down, Metro is preparing for a new era of less disruptive preventive maintenance and planned capital work to ensure that the rail system remains in a reliable state for years to come.” [WMATA]

Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf

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Morning Notes

Vihstadt Wants Ads Atop Aquatics Center — County government could raise some extra money by placing corporate logos atop the future Long Bridge Park aquatics center, which could be seen by those flying in and out of Reagan National Airport, says County Board member John Vihstadt. He is also pushing the idea of ads on ART buses, transit stops and Capital Bikeshare stations. [InsideNova]

Pupatella Named Best Pizza in Va. — The expanding Pupatella Pizza has been named the best pizza in Virginia again, this time by USA Today. The Bluemont pizzeria will celebrate its seventh anniversary on Saturday. [USA Today]

Plaudits for The Bartlett — The Bartlett, an amenity-filled, 699-unit apartment tower in Pentagon City, has been named the year’s best residential project by the Washington Business Journal. The building, the design of which was “inspired by buildings in New York City,” leased up so quickly that plans for a “pop-up hotel” utilizing vacant units had to be pulled back. [Washington Business Journal]

Pebley Recognized for Civic Leadership — Jim Pebley was honored with a resolution of thanks from the Arlington County Republican Committee this past Wednesday. Pebley, who never ran for office but has a long resume of civic service in Arlington, is retiring to North Carolina this summer. “It is safe to say Jim Pebley is one of the most active citizens in Arlington, and has been for decades,” said one well-wisher. “[He is] extremely well-respected across the political spectrum.” [InsideNova]

Condo Resident Opposes VRE Expansion — In a WaPo op-ed, a condo resident who lives next to the VRE station in Crystal City says he opposes the planned expansion of the station because it will “will mar our precious green space” and “derail the lives of Crystal City residents through more noise and possible destruction of property during station construction.” [Washington Post]

Nearby: Threats to Falls Church Abortion Clinic — A building housing an abortion clinic in Falls Church was evacuated twice yesterday due to perceived threats. In the first instance, someone set off fireworks in the building’s elevator; in the second, someone stamped the word “bomb” on pieces of paper found near the rear entrance. An Arlington County Police K-9 unit assisted with the investigation “because F.C. police’s own K-9 unit is still in training.” [Falls Church News-Press, DCist]

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Morning Notes

Post-rainstorm summertime sunrise while driving (Flickr pool photo by Dennis Dimick)

Arts Truck, Grants Approved — The Arlington County Board last night approved $215,810 in grants to local arts organizations and nearly $70,000 for the purchase and deployment of a new mobile art studio. [Arlington County]

Snow Plowing Policy Change — Starting this winter, Arlington County will plow residential streets at the outset of snowstorms, reversing its previous policy of only focusing on major arterial routes before moving on to residential streets after the snow stops and major roads are clear. [InsideNova]

Ballston Mall Redevelopment Authority Approved — Arlington County is creating its first Community Development Authority. The CDA will be focused on making infrastructure improvements around the future Ballston Quarter mall — the new identity of Ballston Common Mall, which is being renovated. As part of a public-private partnership, the county plans to spend around $55 million to improve local roads, public plazas and the public Ballston parking garage. [Arlington County]

Chamber Supports Aquatics Center Plan — The Arlington Chamber of Commerce has penned a letter in support of building a scaled-down version of the Long Bridge Park aquatics center. “One of Arlington’s main assets is the employee talent pool we have residing in our county,” wrote the Chamber’s president. “The proposed facility will help attract and retain this talent, as well as the businesses looking to employ them.” [InsideNova]

Flickr pool photo by Dennis Dimick

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Morning Notes

Flyfishing in Four Mile Run (Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley)

Yorktown Neighborhood Profiled — Schools and a sense of community are two of the biggest attraction to the north Arlington neighborhood of Yorktown. Safety is another plus: there were no burglaries or robberies reported in the neighborhood in the past 12 years. [Washington Post]

County Still Seeking Private Money for Aquatics Center — Arlington County is still looking for private partners and sponsorships before moving forward on construction of the Long Bridge Park aquatics center. It’s unclear if additional private money would be used to expand the center or reduce the estimated $40-44 million in taxpayer funding. Even without additional money, park bonds already approved by voters are expected to fully fund construction. [InsideNova]

Rosslyn Metro Express Guy Featured — The Express newspaper distributor who works at the Rosslyn Metro station was featured in a “happy news” video on the Facebook page of Seattle television station KING. [Facebook]

Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley

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The following letter to the editor was submitted by Jef Dolan, an Arlington resident, Marymount University professor and mother of Olympic gold medalist swimmer Tom Dolan

As a long time swimming resident of Arlington, I would like to refute some of the points that Peter made in his March 31 column referring to the proposed aquatics center at Long Bridge Park.

Many early mornings I would have to take my two time Olympic Gold Medalist son Tom to 50 meter pools either in the District, Fairfax or Montgomery County to train or swim in local and regional meets. I resented seeing these facilities getting revenues from food concessions, t-shirts and pool fees.

Why couldn’t Arlington share in this revenue?

The aquatics center at Long Bridge Park gives us this opportunity.

Will Arlington need additional indoor and outdoor recreational facilities in the future?

Existing county recreational facilities are not adequate to meet the full range of current and future community recreational, fitness and aquatics needs of the growing youth, adult and senior populations. A report by the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service Demographic Research Group showed that Arlington County’s population grew by 9.4 percent from the 2010 Census through July 2013 alone. By 2040, Arlington’s overall population is expected to grow by over 65,000 people.

Many of the aquatic classes I try to enroll in as a 55+ citizen in the high school pools through the parks and recreation department are closed due to over enrollment. As much of the Arlington population ages, we seek affordable places to recreate to continue productive lives in the county.

As a mom who has sat in pools all over the country, I have seen the benefits of a multi-purpose training facility.

Existing county recreational facilities are not adequate to meet the full range of current and future community recreational, fitness and aquatics needs of the growing youth, adult and senior populations. We need to have an Oak-Mar Fairfax facility in our community.

Sixty-three percent of our citizens responded favorably to this in a recent survey posted on ARLnow.com.

The money is there. Let’s coalesce as a community to build this facility.

I look forward to seeing many youth teams and swim for safety programs delight in this amenity in Arlington County.

ARLnow.com occasionally publishes thoughtful letters to the editor about issues of local interest. To submit a letter to the editor, please email it to [email protected] Letters may be edited for content and brevity.

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Renderings of the future Long Bridge Park Aquatics, Health & Fitness Facility(Updated at 10:45 a.m.) Arlington County is considering a new plan to build an aquatics and fitness center at Long Bridge Park.

The updated plan calls for reducing the size of the facility by 37 percent. That will reduce the overall cost of the project — which also includes the development of 10.5 acres of parkland around the facility — by 17 percent. The cost of the smaller facility is estimated at $63-67.5 million.

The goal is to reduce the cost of the project to within the $64 million in financing already obtained, primarily through a bond issue and developer contributions. The project was put on hold after construction bids well exceeded the original $79.2 million budget, as included in the county’s Capital Improvement Plan.

From a county press release:

The revised plan for Long Bridge Park reduces the size of the facility by 37 percent, to about 73,000 square feet. The reductions are achieved by reducing the number of pools from the three proposed in 2012 to two, reducing the number of lobbies, circulation areas and storage space. The smaller building, fewer pools, and a less expensive HVAC system all contribute to lower construction and operating costs. The family pool and teaching pool would be combined into a single pool under the new proposal, and the therapy pool and three dive towers eliminated. Space for a health and fitness center would be retained.

Estimated base construction cost for the recommended down-sized aquatics  health and fitness facility and development of another 10.5-acres of parkland is between $46 million and $50.5 million, Schwartz said, with the possibility of adding options such as advanced energy efficiency, a therapy pool, a 10-meter dive tower and 300 more spectator seats if the budget allowed or a partner or sponsor could be found.

With development of the additional 10.5 acres of parkland, a $5 million contingency and project management, design and other “soft costs,” the total project cost is estimated at between $63 million and $67.5 million – a 17 percent reduction from the $79.2 million Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) Budget estimate for the project. The County currently has $64 million earmarked for the project – primarily funded from a combination of voter-approved bonds and Transfer of Development Rights funding.

The county also notes that a proposal to share the costs of the facility with Alexandria does not seem to be feasible.

The full press release, after the jump.

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peter_rousselot_2014-12-27_for_facebookPeter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Last week’s ARLnow.com story about a recent Arlington County survey has reignited a multi-year debate over the wisdom of building an Aquatics Center at Long Bridge Park.

For reasons I have outlined in multiple prior columns, that particular Aquatics Center — a facility that is likely to cost much more than $80 million to build and at least $4 million a year to operate — is a foolish waste of taxpayer dollars. This is especially true given the:

  • vastly changed economic circumstances since this project was first conceived, and
  • new competing demands over the next ten years.

Background

From January 2015 until today, the supporters of the original Aquatics Center design have pursued one failed attempt after another to find partners who would help pay for part of the cost of this palatial facility. First, they hoped that the D.C. metro area would get the Summer Olympics. D.C. lost out. Then, they tried to interest Alexandria in a partnership at Long Bridge. Instead, Alexandria is focusing on improving its own existing Chinquapin facility. Now, Arlington is rumored to be wooing local colleges and universities — with nothing yet to show for it.

While all these fruitless efforts were underway, Fairfax County has turned to a private development consortium to build Fairfax’s mega sports-fitness-wellness complex in Springfield.

Discussion

Arlington has spent 15 months focused on trying to salvage as much as possible of the original Aquatics Center design.

It’s time to stop trying to do that.

Far too much County staff time and resources already have been spent on this 15-month quest. Instead, the County Board should direct staff to use the valuable information obtained from the responses to portions of the new survey to produce a bottoms-up new design for a sensible community pool and fitness facility at Long Bridge Park — and potentially other South Arlington locations as well. The Board should provide staff with a budget ceiling for these new initiatives.

Looking for appropriate models for the features that might be included in a sensible community pool and fitness center at Long Bridge Park? Why not start by investigating this suggestion from one commenter to last week’s ARLnow.com story:

I think we need something similar to the Lee District Rec Center in Fairfax County. It has a nice, 50m pool, a big gym, exercise rooms, and weight lifting areas. Simple, but it provides a lot of services to the community. I remember seeing that Fairfax has built new rec centers for ~$24M. If we need more pools, build onto rec centers. Some rec centers (e.g. Barcroft) have room for a pool.

More details on the facilities available at the Lee District Rec Center are here.

Conclusion

Anyone can review the inventory of the facilities available at a location like the Lee District Rec Center, complain that those facilities lack features like Olympic diving platforms or a lazy river, and insist that those features must be added at Long Bridge Park because many people want those features. The County Board should provide staff with a construction budget ceiling substantially less than $80 million at Long Bridge Park. The Board should direct staff to provide as many features as possible so long as the final price is within that ceiling.

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