(Updated at 6:20 p.m.) Post-pandemic, the Ballston Business Improvement District says it will do what it takes to entice remote workers back to the office and attract new residents.
Like other business districts across the country, Ballston has had to weather a slow return-to-work environment as well as permanent changes to where, and how, people work. Compared to peer districts, like downtown D.C., the BID says Ballston was buoyed by a influx of young, highly educated and high-earning residents, who choose to live there for its walkability and transit access.
“Ballston continued to grow throughout the pandemic, and we’re still growing,” BID CEO Tina Leone said last Wednesday during the organization’s annual meeting. “New businesses, new developments and more residents have been joining our community.”
The pandemic drove up the office vacancy rate in Ballston to 24% earlier this year, as some employers abandon offices entirely. For other companies signing leases, demand increased for newer office buildings with a host of perks for workers.
Today, there are 942 total businesses in the neighborhood, including 114 retailers, according to the BID. Some 20,000 employees work in Ballston and about 15,000 people call it home, for a 1.4-to-1 employee-resident ratio.
While lauding its success, the BID is charting its course out of the pandemic and the financial uncertainty it caused. Its leaders say they are focused on helping businesses reconnect with their employees, facilitating renovations to aging office buildings and creating a neighborhood where people want to live.
“We want to understand what our employers want and then more importantly what their employees want. We expect to attract both parties to our market and keep them here,” Board President Simon Carney said. “To do this we need to listen, understand and execute in an ordinated manner. We must be looking at the long term.”
One way the BID supports local businesses, Leone says, is through its Ballston Business Appreciation Campaign, which allows workers to attend free in-office events. It is also open to apartment buildings. Interested employers and apartment management companies need only to fill out a general form online.
“Our business appreciation campaign has helped businesses re-engage with their employees through custom events like breakfasts, lunches, a unique happy hour, wellness events or trivia,” Leone said. “We’ll do whatever they need to come back.”
Meanwhile, Arlington Economic Development Director Ryan Touhill emphasized the role of renovation work to existing, vacant office buildings to attract new tenants. Recent examples of this include the Ballston Point building (4300 Wilson Blvd), which netted new occupants, and Three Ballston Plaza (1100 N. Glebe Road), where work is underway.
Touhill says the BID can help more office building owners take on similar improvements.
An event in Rosslyn this week is hoping to help local singles prepare for “cuffing season,” the time of the year when some are looking to settle down with a partner to pass the cold months.
The event will feature a chance to mingle with other singles, an onsite photographer to take that “perfect profile photo,” and advice from online dating coach Erika Ettin.
Registration is required with the event costing $10 in advance and $15 at the door. Attendees will get one drink per admission plus a happy hour menu will be available.
Cuffing season, per Merriam-Webster, “refers to a period of time where single people begin looking for short-term partnerships to pass the colder months of the year.” It starts in October and lasts until after Valentine’s Day.
Due to the pandemic, the last two cuffing seasons have been rough for singles looking to cozy down for the winter. This year’s rendition appears to be approaching normalcy, with other local events looking to encourage the ritual.
Besides mingling and freshening up that online dating photo, Rosslyn BID is bringing in a well-regarded local online dating coach to provide advice. Erika Ettin is the founder of “A Little Nudge,” a service that helps singles manage online profile creation and date planning as well as coaching.
Ettin will be at the event “to give you the best tips on how to improve your dating profile to help you find the perfect match,” reads the event page.
A private secondary school in Ballston is looking to move to Rosslyn.
The Sycamore School, which has operated at 4600 Fairfax Drive since it began in 2017, will soon lose its home to a residential redevelopment. So it is asking Arlington County for permission to relocate to 1550 Wilson Blvd, near Fire Station 10, offices, apartments and an Arlington Public Schools building
The Sycamore School proposes operating a private school for up to 140 students grades five through 12, along with 40 staff members and teachers, according to a county report. Its campus would comprise 14,000 square feet on the third floor, divided into seven classrooms, a canteen, an art studio, an exercise room and other administrative rooms and amenities.
“The Applicant provides a valuable educational service to the County’s residents by serving a diverse cross-section of students,” writes land use attorney Andrew Painter. “As part of its personalized learning approach, The Sycamore School offers small class sizes at a ratio of one teacher to six students, and provides individualized instruction with self-paced learning and a focus on student choice.”
The Sycamore School’s proposed opening hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., with classes occurring Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Occasional school-related and community-based events may occur in the evenings, and are required to conclude by 11 p.m.
Meanwhile, the County Board approved a new childcare tenant in a nearby office building last month. The Gardner School will set up in the ground-floor retail space of an office building at the corner of Clarendon Blvd and N. Quinn Street (1776 Wilson Blvd).
The Gardner School has locations in seven states, the closest being in Herndon, Virginia.
The child care center will take up about 17,670 square feet, divided into 13 classrooms for preschoolers, toddlers and infants, playrooms and 400 square feet of outdoor play area. There will be up to 28 staff and up to 186 enrolled children.
But with two schools moving into an area with offices, apartment buildings, Arlington Public Schools’ H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Program, and Fire Station 10, the Rosslyn Business Improvement District expressed some concerns about transportation management.
The Rosslyn BID encouraged the county to “take a holistic approach” to evaluating APS’s transportation management plans for its two programs against those of the new daycare and private school.
Doing so, the BID said, could “help mitigate potential logistical and safety impacts, particularly during pick-up/drop-off hours,” per the report.
Since 1980, Glebe Road has been considered the border between central and west Ballston.
But in recent years, the dividing lines drawn in Ballston’s 40-year-old sector plan have become more stark, with businesses thriving in one area and struggling in another.
Today, Ballston contains the densest census tract in the D.C. area. As more apartments and retail are proposed and built, however, some argue that the county needs to address the impact of uneven development on either side of Glebe.
Many of the new business openings orbit the Ballston Quarter mall and the ground floor of Ballston Exchange, both in the central part of the neighborhood. But west of Glebe Road and north of Carlin Springs Road — which is technically part of the Bluemont Civic Association — there have been numerous high-profile closures.
Leaders in planning and business development have different ideas for improving west Ballston, but they do share an interest in making it welcoming, walkable and sustainable without getting into the weeds of a sector plan update. During a joint County Board and Planning Commission meeting this month, Planning Commission Vice-Chair Daniel Weir stressed the importance of re-examining Ballston in the near future.
“Glebe Road continues to become a wall that separates east and west Ballston, which are separate communities,” Weir said. “Pedestrians and people not in cars are unwilling to cross five to seven lanes of traffic to get a very excellent donut or to go to one of the many restaurants that have been circulating through some of the bays there.”
Rather than rewrite the admittedly old sector plan, which county staff don’t have the capacity for, he said they ought to take “a more agile, nimble approach.”
“It doesn’t need to be completed in 2022, but it’s an opportunity we can and should think about, especially since, if done right, it could be a model for more agile sector planning going forward,” he said.
Ballston BID CEO Tina Leone agrees that Glebe Road is a problem. She says no other road elicits the same number of complaints, ranging from excessive vehicle speed to unnerving pedestrian crossings. She suggested extending the sidewalks, turning some parking spaces into parklets and widening the medians.
“We need to come together as a neighborhood and work with county to solve the problem,” Leone tells ARLnow. “There hasn’t been a plan — everyone does their own thing and no one is looking at Glebe Road as an entity.”
In response, Arlington County’s Department of Community, Planning, Housing and Development said it is using and will continue to use opportunities during development, capital improvements and county programs such as Vision Zero to improve Ballston’s walkability.
“Over the past two decades, we’ve worked with partners to make N. Glebe Road in Ballston safer and more attractive for all users and have better integrated the street within Ballston’s overall urban fabric,” CPHD Director Anthony Fusarelli, Jr. said. “The County will continue to make the most of similar opportunities in the future.”
“Enhancements have occurred thanks to the combination of infill development, streetscape improvements, signalized pedestrian crossings, intersection improvements, and curb space management techniques, all of which have collectively and significantly improved the experience of traveling along and across N. Glebe Road in this area,” Fusarelli added.
A stretch of Wilson Blvd in Ballston will be shut down and transformed into an open-air pub and stage next month for a new event: Bands & Brews on the Boulevard.
The Ballston Business Improvement District will turn the thoroughfare between N. Stuart Street and N. Randolph Street, near Ballston Quarter, into an event space serving drinks and featuring live music from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday, July 24.
Bands & Brews on the Boulevard is hosted by BallstonGives, the charitable arm of the BID. The event is free to attend but people will need to buy drink tickets, the proceeds of which will benefit BallstonGives’ Bartenders Relief Fund.
“We want to generate funding to support our local restaurants and their bartenders, who made sacrifices to serve our community in challenging times,” a BID spokeswoman said. “In addition to our efforts throughout the pandemic, this relief fund will allow us to create future programs and events that feature our neighborhood’s restaurants.”
Drink tickets can be purchased in advance at a discount. Discount prices are $7 for one beer or glass of wine, $10 for a craft cocktail and $30 for five beers or glasses of wine. For $5o, people can buy a “bar bundle” with eight beers or glasses of wine and two cocktails, which can be shared.
Drink tickets purchased at the event will not be discounted.
Participants will have two stages of live performances to choose from. The main stage will host a DJ as well as bands whose styles range from rock and pop to oldies and funk:
- 11 a.m. — Andrew Savoia and Fordson Labs
- 12:30 p.m. — Turtle Recall
- 2 p.m. — JunkFood
- 3:45 p.m. — Popstar Drive
- 5:45 p.m. — Aztec Sun
- 7 p.m. — Bobby McKey’s Dueling Pianos
Attendees can request songs for Bobby McKey’s Dueling Pianos to play in the last hour by messaging the Ballston BID’s Instagram page.
A smaller stage in Welburn Square — where the Ballston farmers market is held — will host a performance by Arlington-based Avant Bard Theatre from 2-3:30 p.m. and singer-songwriter Lucia Valentine from 4-5:30 p.m.
Photos courtesy of Ballston BID
(Updated at 12:20 p.m.) New renderings from the National Landing Business Improvement District explore what Route 1 would look like if it were surface-level.
These images of protected bike lanes, pedestrian refuges and prominent crosswalks are part of a campaign the BID launched this week touting the benefits of transforming the highway — which is elevated over 12th, 15th and 18th streets — into an at-grade urban boulevard.
“People Before Cars” aims to advocate “for the implementation of best practices in urban street design and highway-to-boulevard conversions,” according to the BID.
The new campaign builds on “Reimagining Route 1,” a report it released last year envisioning the highway as a leafy, vibrant urban boulevard. Meanwhile, the Virginia Department of Transportation is wrapping up a study of how to improve the thoroughfare, which will likely involve making it surface-level.
“The improvement of Route 1 has been a huge priority for the collective community and was even featured in the historic negotiations that brought Amazon’s HQ2 to the area — further cementing its importance in the overall repositioning of National Landing,” said Jay Corbalis, Vice President of Public Affairs for JBG Smith, the largest property owner in the area.
More than half of Arlington residents surveyed by VDOT said Route 1 is not safe, easy or effective to use. About 45% of respondents said cyclists face dangers in the area and 64% want more protected bike lanes.
By 2040, conditions could be worse for drivers, who could experience heavy traffic at snail-like speeds during the morning rush hour, as the National Landing area and the region continues to grow, VDOT projects. Area employment by then is expected to double while the population is expected to grow nearly 50%.
The competing priorities of keeping traffic moving while making the corridor more attractive and safe is a tough balancing act for VDOT, and the BID is pushing a less car-centric approach.
The BID recommends shortening pedestrian crossings, narrowing vehicle travel lanes, dedicating spaces for all modes of transportation and automating traffic enforcement. It also suggests adding lush landscaping, public art and wider sidewalks. Growth does not necessarily equate to more traffic, the BID argues.
“As our area experiences an influx of new residents and workers in the coming years — a population that is anticipated to favor walking and biking as means of transit over cars — we must do all we can to ensure that Route 1 can safely and effectively serve the needs of our growing community,” said Tracy Sayegh Gabriel, President and Executive Director of the National Landing BID.
According to the campaign, traffic fell by 18% between 2000 and 2018, despite 67% population growth during that time. One-quarter of households in National Landing do not have cars, and the number of cars passing through National Landing dropped from 61,000 in 2005 to 47,000 in 2019, the BID says.
Still, JBG Smith and the BID have raised concerns that VDOT still views Route 1 as a highway where drivers are prioritized, the Washington Business Journal reported, after the department previewed a vision of Route 1 that included nine at-grade vehicle lanes at the intersection with 15th Street S.
That worry is shared by some others, who also question whether crossing the road at-grade is safer than the current underpasses.
The trees and vaporware bike lanes are pretty, but this isn't safer than what's at 18th Street S now. It just isn't. Is that #VisionZero plan we passed on Saturday already shelved? pic.twitter.com/mmSs0Kgmfk
— Car-Free HQ2 (@CarFreeHQ2) May 18, 2021
VDOT is slated to issue a new report on possible improvements this summer. A virtual public meeting will be held Wednesday, June 16 at 6:30 p.m.
Those cities are attracting some Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and companies in search of a lower cost of living and doing business. Last year, Austin made deals with 39 companies, and Miami saw an influx of venture capital dollars and firms.
But local cheerleaders of Arlington in general — and National Landing in particular — say the area is on par with these hubs because it has an educated workforce, plenty of office space, Amazon’s HQ2, continuous 5G service, and recruiting opportunities from area universities.
“I would love for our government leaders to be talking more aggressively about this,” said Ken Biberaj, a managing director of commercial real estate company Savills, during a recent panel discussion about National Landing, hosted by Arlington Economic Development. “I think they should be on TV every single day talking about why they should be coming here.”
The suggestion is that Arlington needs someone like charismatic Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, who is leading a campaign to attract businesses and support tech entrepreneurs. Suarez is noted for regularly speaking with CEOs who have chosen Miami.
So, does Arlington and National Landing compare to those two buzzy, sunny locales? Aside from the weather, some real estate analysts say yes.
“I think definitely the pieces are there and having Amazon as an asset is a really great thing,” said Eric Maribojoc, the Director of the Center for Real Estate Entrepreneurship at the George Mason University School of Business.
Like Austin, Arlington also has the “urban-like” amenities that could attract companies, he added.
With its talent base and focus on regulatory tech and cybersecurity companies, Northern Virginia as a whole has already achieved parity, said Phil Ryan, the Director of Research at commercial real estate company Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL).
“You need to grow more in the ‘flashier’ tech, for lack of a better word,” he said of the region. “I think National Landing is trying to get [better] at the visibility. People think Austin is techy because they’re louder about it.”
Although Arlington’s key tech sectors — cloud, cybersecurity and artificial intelligence — are not as consumer-facing as a Facebook or a Tesla, those sectors could drive tech growth in the region as JLL predicts they will flourish under President Joe Biden.
Ryan cautioned against seeing the reports of migration to Austin, Miami and elsewhere as proof that Silicon Valley is experiencing a brain drain. Although some tech workers may want a lifestyle change and to avoid higher California income taxes, most are staying in the Bay Area while back-office operations and executive suites are relocated.
Although Northern Virginia checks companies’ boxes for talent, education systems and transit connectivity, it has been “sold short,” Ryan said. Despite being a business-friendly state with relatively moderate taxes , Virginia has to compete with Texas and Florida’s lack of income tax while vying for corporate relocations against — rather than in cooperation with — D.C. and Maryland.
“For years, [it] was considered a big problem that there wasn’t one unified agency to get people into the area,” Ryan said.
Still, Arlington is nabbing and retaining businesses, making 24 deals in 2020, Arlington Economic Development reports.
County Offering New Walk-Up COVID Testing — “Arlington County is launching a mobile, no-cost to patients, walk-up testing service in partnership with Quest Diagnostics. The mobile testing command center will open Tuesday, March 9, at 1429 N. Quincy Street, replacing the current drive-through testing site at that location. It will operate at that location for two weeks, Monday-Friday from 9 A.M – 4 P.M. Then it will move to new locations on a two to three-week rotational basis to offer walk-up COVID-19 testing throughout the County.” [Arlington County]
BID: National Landing is ‘Over-Parked’ — “Right now, we’re over-parked. We [were] originally built during a period that prized the automobile, but we were also fortunate enough to grow into a Metro system, and a number of other modes opened up possibilities for growth and development that are truly sustainable. What we’re seeing with new development is a ticking down of parking requirements. So we are focused on being a transit-oriented community, a multimodal community. The future is not cars.” [Smart Cities Dive]
County to Extend Ground Lease on Its HQ — “Arlington County and JBG Smith (JBGS) have entered into a letter of intent to restructure the ground leases of 2100/2200 and 2300 Clarendon Boulevard and the theater parcel in the Courthouse Plaza complex. The County owns the land under these three properties while JBGS owns the buildings. The LOI agreement states the County will provide JBGS the option to extend the leases from the current expiration in 2062 to 2119. Under the current leases, annual rent paid by JBGS to the County has varied significantly, ranging from $100,000 to $3.9 million. The new agreement would modify the annual lease payments to fixed rates and will include a one-time lump sum of $18 million paid by JBG Smith upon execution of the leases.” [Arlington County]
Programming for the 2021 National Cherry Blossom Festival is crossing the Potomac River into National Landing.
The festival, scheduled to run from March 20 through April 11, is springing back this year after it had to cancel or modify most of its events last year due to the coronavirus.
Dozens of cherry trees will be planted in National Landing this spring and the area will feature two “Art in Bloom” sculptures and pink pop-up installations. Some restaurants in the business district are included in the annual “Cherry Picks” restaurant program while residents and local businesses will participate in the “Porch Parade and Petal Procession” — a new addition to the festival.
The inclusion of Pentagon City, Crystal City and Potomac Yard is made possible through a new partnership among the festival, Amazon, the National Landing Business Improvement District and developer JBG Smith.
In November, Amazon was announced to be the new lead sponsor of the 2021 festival, supplanting Japanese airline ANA, which held the position for four years, Washington Business Journal reported. JBG Smith and the BID will be credited as Sakura Circle supporters.
Bringing parts of the festival to National Landing increases visibility for the growing urban center and positions it to be a signature partner of the festival for years to come, said Tracy Sayegh Gabriel, head of the National Landing BID.
“The National Cherry Blossom Festival is a perfect complement to our work to create a vibrant destination for generations to come that celebrates such rich culture, joy and history,” she said in a statement.
Executive Vice President of JBG Smith Andy Van Horn said he particularly looks forward to the installation of an “Art in Bloom” sculpture at the Crystal City Water Park (1601 Crystal Drive), where it can be enjoyed throughout the festival before planned improvements on the park begin. Working with Amazon and the BID to support the festival in 2021 was a natural fit, he added.
“The partnership highlights the hard work and progress underway to transform National Landing into a vibrant, 18-hour neighborhood brimming with culture, excitement, and unmatched potential,” he said. Another sculpture is planned along the Long Bridge Park Esplanade.
Brooke Oberwetter, Head of External Affairs for Amazon in Arlington, said the company — which is in the midst of building its permanent HQ2 in Pentagon City — looks forward to kicking off its partnership with the festival, JBG Smith and the BID this year, and “building on it in years to come.”
“We could not be more pleased to help bring some of the excitement of the National Cherry Blossom Festival to National Landing,” Oberwetter said in a statement.
This year, the National Parks Service is projecting the blossoms to peak in early April.
Due to the coronavirus, some experiences, including the Opening Ceremony, will be virtual or a hybrid of in-person and online.
Big news! We're projecting cherry blossom peak bloom to fall between April 2 – April 5. Peak bloom is the day when 70% of the Yoshino #cherryblossoms are open, creating gorgeous clouds of white & pink flowers floating around the Tidal Basin: https://t.co/Yd0Z1y1FHD #WashingtonDC pic.twitter.com/Twikj5mOs4
— National Mall NPS (@NationalMallNPS) March 1, 2021
A new mushroom-inspired art installation has sprouted up in Crystal City.
Ten large, brightly-colored, inflatable mushrooms are on display at 101 12th Street S., near Long Bridge Park, through Saturday, March 13.
Dubbed “The Shrooms,” the installation is the work of Australian light and design studio Amigo & Amigo. With its contrasting fabrics, the work encourages “our social nature while contrasting with urban environments,” the BID said in a press release.
It was originally created for an art festival in Sydney last year and will be lit up both day and night.
The Shrooms is part of the BID’s winter-long “Turn Up the Love” campaign, which has featured several outdoor pop-up art installations over the last few months.
“In National Landing, we are constantly looking for creative ways to activate our public spaces and create fun, uplifting experiences for those who live in and visit our community,” Tracy Sayegh Gabriel, National Landing BID’s President and Executive Director, told ARLnow. “In many cultures, mushrooms are considered a symbol of luck, so ‘The Shrooms’ felt like a fitting installation as our neighborhood continues its exciting transformation and we work towards a bright future.
Previous “Turn Up the Love” installations include a large boombox adorned with thousands of colorful ornaments for the holidays and three sharable photo frames.
Also part of this campaign and currently on display is a life-size cutout of a pink Volkswagen Beetle outside of Commonwealth Joe’s at 520 12th Street S., about a half-mile walk from the Shrooms. That was installed on Valentine’s Day and will be there until Friday, March 12.
Photo courtesy of National Landing BID
Dubbed “Love Local,” the marketing campaign will distribute almost $100,000 in grants to eligible retail and dining establishments within the boundaries of the BID, through a partnership with Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington.
“While the support of businesses is a consistent function of Arlington County’s business improvement districts, the specific needs of businesses has changed as a result of the global health pandemic,” a county report said. “This initiative aims to provide direct financial support to businesses within the BID boundary in response to the economic conditions created by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The BID does not yet have a comment, a spokeswoman said.
The $100,000 in funding for the program includes an administrative and marketing fee of $10,000 for RAMW, which will administer the grants.
During its regular meeting on Saturday, the County Board approved the BID’s request to change its work plan for the 2021 Fiscal Year to include this grant program. The amendment allows the business district to provide direct assistance to businesses in the form of a grant, “an action that requires approval by the County Board as the governing body of the BID,” the county said.
County Manager Mark Schwartz is able to review the eligibility requirements to participate in the grant program as well as how the money would be used if not for the relief program, the county said.
This is the first fiscal year that the organization is fully operational as the National Landing BID, according to its 2021 Work Plan. The County Board voted in September 2019 to expand the boundaries of the Crystal City BID to include Pentagon City and Potomac Yard.
Image via Google Maps