Arlington County could absolve rent for Signature Theatre for the last two years as the company struggles to move past Covid-era hits to sustainability.
This comes a decade after the county bailed out the Tony Award-winning nonprofit theater company twice in two years: a $250,000 grant in 2013 to help it pay off its real estate and business taxes and a $5 million loan, at a 1% interest rate, in 2014.
Tomorrow (Tuesday) the Arlington County Board is slated to discuss a trio of loan and lease agreements with Signature that could set the stage for the local nonprofit’s long-term plans.
The Board could agree to forgive $414,725 in delinquent payments from April 2020 through June 2022, when production halted due to Covid and when its long-time leader stepped down following allegations of sexual harassment.
In addition, it could agree to renew leases through 2057 for its main stage at 4200 Campbell Ave in Shirlington and a nearby storage facility at 3806 S. Four Mile Run Drive. If approved, the theater would not pay rent on the main building until 2041. It would continue using the storage facility rent-free for the duration of the lease on 4200 Campbell Ave.
The loan forgiveness would provide relief as Signature continues to build back after Covid.
“The theatre temporarily ceased productions at the beginning on the pandemic, and upon reopening remained under limited capacity in adherence with state and local policies in place,” a county report said. “To date, Signature Theatre has continued to experience financial hardship and ticket subscriptions have yet to recover to pre-pandemic levels.”
Signature would still owe nearly $3.3 million on the loan that it inked with Arlington County back in 2014. The county struck the deal with the theater, which was struggling to make payments on a $10 million loan it took out to outfit the interior of its venue on Campbell Avenue.
At the time, the county also forgave Signature for $411,000 in unpaid lease and utility payments and agreed not to collect rent for the term of the loan.
The Sun Gazette reported in 2014 that theater leaders pledged these issues would not happen again. The Washington Post quoted then-County Manager Barbara Donnellan as saying the loan made good financial sense, while arguing again those who characterized the loan as a bailout.
The new loan terms include a new repayment method based on ticket sales. Signature would pay $5,000 a month until it sells 20,000 subscription tickets and $10,000 a month until it reaches 30,000 tickets sold.
Despite these economic hurdles, Signature has plans to upgrade the storage facility on Four Mile Run Drive, where the theater company put on shows in the 1990s and early 2000s, but is now a storage building dubbed “The Garage.”
The Board is set to review a new lease that permits Signature to turn the building into a prop, scene and costume production facility and rename it for a donor who has committed $3 million to fund the upgrades.
“We’re very hopeful that, if approved, the long-term commitment from the county and Signature will mean that we can move forward with raising the funds to conduct the renovation,” Maggie Boland, signature’s managing director, told ARLnow.
Right now, costumes, props and scenes are made in a 900-square-foot space adjacent to the Shirlington theater. It is a tight squeeze and not ideal for design work being done, she says.
“This will be really transformative for our production team and what they’re able to do,” she said. “It’s exciting for us because it’s such an important part of Signature’s history. The space lends itself to this work because it’s a big open space that will be perfect for our needs in the long term.”
In a report, county staff said they may return to the Board with plans to expand that facility. If Signature fails to operate the property continuously or to maintain its main building on Campbell Avenue, the county will be able to end the lease early.
(Updated 4:45 p.m. on 3/14/23) Builders and entrepreneurs tell ARLnow they are waiting up to twice as long as they used to for Arlington County to issue permits, costing them thousands — if not hundreds of thousands — of dollars.
Permits that used to be issued the same day now take 1-3 weeks while those that took 2-3 months take double that time, they say. Meanwhile, the Arlington Permit Office’s limited hours of operation compound the delays and the high permitting fees exacerbate the costs incurred from waiting.
The apparent degradation of the county’s permit operation — corroborated by a number of sources, some of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals — follows the years-long development of a new online permitting system dubbed Permit Arlington.
The online system was touted by the county as a solution for long-standing problems with the former, more antiquated paper system.
“They have completely destroyed the system. They are slowing progress. The new system still doesn’t work nearly two years later,” a local custom home builder said. “Builders’ and developers’ holding costs are staggering.”
The Arlington Chamber of Commerce concurs.
“Some of our members may accept paying more for a quality permit service, but the timeframe and process must improve in order to justify the costs,” spokesman John Musso said. “We encourage the County to continue to recognize businesses as customers seeking a service, in this case permits.”
The complaints come as Arlington County continues transferring all permitting processes to its online system. The county has tied delays to the migration of permits into the system but has maintained that the overall wait time has not changed.
“With the phased launches of Permit Arlington, we are moving from a system with 1990 technology to a modern system,” said Dept. of Community Housing, Planning and Development spokeswoman Erika Moore. “This type of technological transition is complex and presents a learning curve for both staff and customers as all users adjust to using a new system.”
As part of the migration process, which started in 2019, Certificate of Occupancy permits moved online last week and last summer, nearly 10,000 active applications for building, trade and land disturbing activity permits moved online.
In response to customer inquiries, Moore said the Permit Arlington team is actively working through issues, has increased the size of the help desk team, has added numerous “how-to” documents and is making permanent fixes to prevent issues that caused earlier delays.
“The team will continue to work through these fixes until all the issues are resolved,” she said.
She says the Permit Arlington team applied lessons learned from the launch last summer to improve the implementation process for Certificates of Occupancy, “which launched smoothly two weeks ago.”
Musso counters there were still some issues.
“We have had several members note pain points with the transition of Certificates of Occupancy to Permit Arlington, resulting in confusion and uncertainty,” he said.
Concurrently, the county is requesting feedback about the permit process from recent applicants.
“We have heard from 250 people, but we want to provide enough time for people to respond,” Moore said. “Once it is closed, we will analyze the feedback and identify any potential action items.”
Meanwhile, the feedback was rolling into ARLnow.
Another home designer and builder was frustrated with office hours, which are from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday. Every third Thursday, the office closes at noon. The Permit Office re-opened for in-person service in September after being completely virtual due to the pandemic.
“I would be willing to say that the eight hours a week are just not enough and that the threat of Covid is no longer there,” said home designer and builder Leonard Matthews. “How odd it is that Arlington County Schools are [fully] open but the permit office is not?”
A vacant, county-owned building in Glencarlyn could start coming down this fall, pending approval from the Arlington County Board this weekend.
This Saturday, the Board is slated to consider awarding a contract to tear down the old Virginia Hospital Center urgent care facility at 601 S. Carlin Springs Road.
“If approved, the contractor will begin mobilizing in the fall,” according to the project’s page on the county website. “Expected completion of the demolition is summer 2023.”
Arlington County acquired the old VHC Urgent Care in a land swap with the hospital. VHC received county-owned land at N. Edison Street for its expansion project, interior work on which is ongoing until this December.
While a private medical office building continues to operate next door at 611 S. Carlin Springs Road, the VHC building has sat vacant since the acquisition. Come winter, thrill-seekers take to the hill on the grounds for a sledding spot.
In order to use the land, the county needs to tear the VHC building down, as it “is not fit for further use due to mold and other issues,” according to a county presentation to neighbors of the building last September.
To do so, while continuing operations at the medical office building, the county had to separate the shared water, power and gas utility lines.
“This work began in February 2022 and is close to completion,” county spokeswoman Jessica Baxter told ARLnow in an email. “Throughout this project, we have been working closely with the adjacent medical office building to allow ample time for them to accommodate their patient/client schedules with the start of the demolition.”
Later this month, the county will install install solar-powered lights in the parking lot as “a temporary solution” once power to the site is disconnected in the fall, she said yesterday (Tuesday).
Boarded up windows and signs forbidding entry are visible from the perimeter of the site. These are in place and county staff check the perimeter of the site daily “to deter intruders,” according to the county’s 2021 project update to the neighborhood.
Arlington experienced a few delays getting to this point. Besides having to accommodate the medical offices next door, Baxter previously told ARLnow the project had to repeat its solicitation of bids, after a first round did not net any interested contractors.
A complete demolition is still a ways off, as are plans for how the county will use the site.
“Future uses of the site will be determined at a later time,” Baxter said this week. “After demolition, grass will be planted and maintained.”
Many Glencarlyn residents hope to see an expanded nature area, says neighbor Julie Lee.
“The site borders Glencarlyn Park and the Long Branch Nature Center,” she tells ARLnow. “It would provide additional outdoor recreational opportunities, as well as additional outdoor learning space for Campbell Elementary School which has a nature focus.”
Virginia Hospital Center’s under-construction outpatient center has reached a new milestone.
After installing more than 2,000 steel beams, workers recently put in place the beam that tops the building’s highest point, project manager Skanska announced yesterday (Monday).
The installation “topped out” the 7-story facility adjacent to VHC’s campus at 1701 N. George Mason Drive. Representatives from Skanska, VHC and the construction company commemorated the milestone by signing this steel beam.
The hospital expects the outpatient pavilion to be complete in the fourth quarter of 2023, according to its project webpage.
“The topping-out milestone demonstrates the significant progress we have made on this important project with our final goal of providing a facility that will offer state-of-the-art care for patients in Northern Virginia,” said Dale Kopnitsky, general manager and executive vice president responsible for Skanska’s D.C. area building operations.
In mid- to late-January, Skanska expects to complete the structure of the facility, while the enclosure of the building has begun and will continue through the second quarter of 2022, a company representative said. Next month, work will begin on the interior and that will continue until December 2022.
The project, which includes a recently completed parking garage, was narrowly approved by the Arlington County Board in 2018 amid objections from some nearby residents. The 245,000-square-foot outpatient facility will feature physical and aquatic therapy rooms, an outpatient lab and pharmacy, surgery and endoscopy treatment rooms, and women’s imaging suites. After the move, the hospital will be able to add about 100 beds to its existing building.
The newly finished, 1,600-car parking garage includes three below-grade levels and six above-grade levels, as well as an indoor walkway connecting to the hospital.
A time-lapse video shows progress on the building through early summer.
Earlier this year a handful of families in the area told ARLnow they were dealing with discolored water, which they attributed to ongoing construction at VHC. Community leaders said at the time that the response to the “mini-Flint-like issue” — a reference to the Michigan city’s large-scale water crisis — had been frustratingly slow.
In response, Arlington County and VHC said they were working to resolve the discoloration, which they tied to the installation of a new water main.
Last month, Virginia Hospital Center purchased for $34.5 million a building at 1760 Old Meadow Road in McLean, where it will set up an orthopedic outpatient surgery center, Washington Business Journal reported.
Two Arlington Public Schools programs offering alternatives to traditional high school will soon be housed in the same building.
New Directions Alternative Program, currently located in the Thurgood Marshall Building in Clarendon, will join the Langston High School Continuation Program located in the Langston-Brown Community Center along Lee Highway before the start of the 2021-22 school year.
“We are moving New Directions from the Marshall Building to Langston this summer,” said APS spokesman Frank Bellavia. “This is an efficiency for us since many New Directions staff work at Langston.”
New Directions helps students who have trouble in traditional school settings, need strict monitoring or are under court supervision, according to APS. Students successfully exit the program by graduating, returning to their home high school or transferring to the High School Continuation Program at Langston.
One person who contacted ARLnow questioned whether the new location will be a downgrade for students.
“The program diligently serves justice-involved youth, teaching them to reconnect with the Arlington community while achieving their high school diplomas,” the person wrote. “The location has always been important to their success through partnerships with multiple establishments in Clarendon.”
The building at 2847 Wilson Blvd is privately owned and rented to APS. It also houses the Employee Assistance Program, which provides free, confidential, professional assistance and counseling to APS and county employees and their families.
“EAP will remain in there for a little while longer,” Bellavia said.
Arlington County has a little under four years left on its eight-year lease, said realtor Bill Buck, who has already started marketing the space to potential renters on behalf of Steve Woodell, the owner.
Woodell, who runs a funeral home in Alexandria, has owned the building since 1979, when it was Ives Funeral Home. APS moved in about 21 years ago, he said.
Buck said Langston “is a better facility for the students” and he is happy for the students moving buildings.
“[EAP] will likely also leave before the end of the term,” Buck said. “What’s going to happen in the future, I don’t know. We have had interest from people that wanted to build an office building there, but the county would like to see retail on the first floor.”
Buck said he would like to see the space turned into a 100,000-square foot affordable housing building — not an office or retail space that would contribute to the glut of such amenities in Clarendon.
“I think it’d be great for affordable housing,” Buck said.
A major redevelopment proposal in Rosslyn is facing pushback from those who think it doesn’t do enough for cyclists and pedestrians.
McLean-based Jefferson Apartment Group is proposing a 27-story mixed-use residential complex with 424 units at 1901 N. Moore Street, replacing the 1960s-era RCA building. Two towers will be connected at the top by a penthouse and at the base with ground floor retail.
But as the project moves through the public review process, some have expressed concerns a number of transportation-related issues: the proposed unprotected bike lanes along 19th Street N., the project’s parking ratio, and the pedestrian experience along the block.
These three topics are likely to resurface during a follow-up Site Plan Review Committee meeting on Monday, March 15 — and perhaps later this spring, when the project will go before the Planning Commission and the County Board.
“We’ve been identifying issues, responding to citizen comments, and having very good discussions with surrounding community groups,” said Andrew Painter, an attorney with land use firm Walsh Colucci, during the first SPRC meeting last month.
Staff members are considering some protections for the proposed 19th Street bike lanes in response to public input.
“It may be possible to provide an additional level of protection in one direction” on the block from N. Lynn to N. Moore streets, said Principal Planner Dennis Sellin, adding that staffers “don’t see the capacity to do it in both directions.”
Arlington Transportation Commission Chair Chris Slatt said 19th Street N. has enough traffic to qualify it for protected or buffered bike lanes.
Another hot issue was the parking ratio of .625 spaces per residential unit. Jefferson is proposing 290 total spaces, split among 265 residential spaces, 15 retail and 10 visitor spaces, according to a staff report.
“The goal is to right-size the garage to meet the market demand but not provide extra that incentivizes people to drive,” Painter said.
Although the proposal is within county guidelines, Sellin said “we would certainly accept a lower ratio.” The minimum is .2 spaces per unit but the lowest Sellin said he has seen proposed is .38 spaces per unit.
North Rosslyn Civic Association representative Terri Prell said people, particularly the elderly, still need cars for tasks such as grocery shopping.
“You have to understand this is a residential community, not a business community,” she said.
Lowering the ratio would attract people who want to lead a car-free lifestyle, Slatt said, asking for data on space utilization rates.
The parking needs to be built partially above ground due to “particularly dense rock” and Metro tunnels. To conceal the parking above the retail and below the residential units — and add public art — the architect is exploring adding graphics by local artists, said architect Shalom Baranes.
The Metro tunnels add another complication: a longer expected demolition process.
It'll take about 3 months to dismantle the existing RCA building. Developer says that's because they're over the Metro tunnels.
"They do frown upon explosions over their tunnels."
— Stephen Repetski (@srepetsk) February 12, 2021
As for the pedestrian experience, some members were concerned that the block will be too long and there will be no opportunities for cutting through it. Sellin said the block is comparable to others at 400 feet long.
SPRC Chair Sara Steinberger said knowing the length “may not change the community’s feelings on what feels like a longer stretch of block when you have large buildings covering a greater area.”
In 2017, Weissberg Investment Corp., which developed the RCA building in the 1960s, filed plans to redevelop the RCA site — but those plans were put on hold indefinitely in 2018. Jefferson started filing application materials in May 2020.