Arlington, VA

Ragtime in Courthouse may be getting a huge break on rent thanks to the Arlington County Board.

On Saturday (May 15), the Board is expected to vote to amend the county’s lease with the long-time local restaurant that would reduce Ragtime’s rent during the on-going pandemic “to a level that it can afford to pay.”

Ragtime is located at 1345 N. Courthouse Road, on the ground floor of an office building purchased by the county in 2012. It leases the 5,000 square-foot space, now owned by the county but previously owned by a private landlord.

Ragtime first opened in 2001 and is owned by Vintage Restaurants, which also runs Rhodeside Grill on Wilson Blvd and William Jeffrey’s Tavern on Columbia Pike.

Ragtime’s business has declined “precipitously” during the pandemic, the county staff report details. In April 2020, sales were less than 10% of normal. Although business has increased in recent months, it remains 50% below normal, the report says.

Due to the drop in sales, Ragtime is unable to pay rent at the rate called for in the current lease, which was signed in 2013 and expires in 2026, according to the county.

“When sales decline substantially below normal, inflexible overhead like employee salaries and utility charges does not decline to the same degree, and accordingly absorbs a greater percentage of sales,” says the report. “This leaves a smaller percentage of sales that can be applied to rent.”

As a result, an agreement was struck that would reduce Ragtime’s rent to the equivalent of 9.5% of its gross sales (as long it doesn’t exceed its base rent rate, which is approximately $19,000 a month).

“As a rule of thumb, restaurants can afford to devote roughly 10% of sales to the payment of rent,” the report notes.

That rate would remain in effect until the restaurant has two consecutive months in which 9.5% of gross sales exceeds its base rent, or for one year after the lease amendment is signed, whichever happens first.

The reduced rate is being backdated to April 2020, and Ragtime is being allowed to hold off on paying back rent.

“Ragtime will begin paying the discounted back rent (based on 9.5% of gross sales) when their sales return to normal,” the staff report says. “This discounted back rent will be payable monthly over a one-year period. The actual revenue impact to the County in FY 2021 and FY 2022 is dependent upon Ragtime’s gross sales as well as the timing of when their sales return to normal.”

“The total estimated revenue shortfall compared to budgeted amounts in FY 2021 and FY 2022 is approximately $100,000,” the report adds.

ARLnow has reached out to Vintage Restaurants for comment, but has yet to hear back as of publication.

There’s also another tenant in the 2020 14th Street N. building that the county owns: Courthouse Deli.

When asked if the county is working on a similar arrangement with that business, a county spokesperson declined to comment specifically due to confidentiality.

“We have worked with all County tenants that have requested relief due to pandemic-related hardship,” wrote a county spokesperson.

Photo via Ragtime/Facebook

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If you see some fresh red paint on the pavement in Arlington, that’s a lane that has been designated for use by buses only.

County crews could be seen painting the new lane markers in Courthouse last week.

The new “bus only priority lanes and stops” are intended “to help improve transit safety, service and reliability,” Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services spokeswoman Kathryn O’Brien tells ARLnow.

Seven red-painted portions of roadway are planned throughout the county, O’Brien said, including:

  • 27th Street S. and Potomac Avenue in Crystal City
  • 33rd Street S. and Crystal Drive in Crystal City
    S. Hayes Street and 12th Street S. in Pentagon City
  • Crystal Drive and 26th Street S. in Crystal City
  • 15th Street N. and N. Uhle Street in Courthouse
  • Clarendon Blvd and N. Uhle Street in Courthouse
  • Wilson Blvd and N. Uhle Street in Courthouse

“They should all be completed within the next week,” O’Brien said of the painting effort.

Photo courtesy Lisa C.

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Lorton-based and women-owned Rāko Coffee is opening in the Courthouse area later this spring or summer.

This is the coffee roaster’s first official bricks-and-mortar location, according to the Washington Business Journal, after focusing on wholesale roasting operations since opening in Lorton in 2019.

The plan, initially, was to open a retail location in 2020, but that was delayed to the pandemic and they shifted their business online.

The coffee roaster currently operates a pop-up during the day at plant-centric restaurant Oyster Oyster near the Mount Vernon neighborhood in D.C.

The new cafe is set to be located in the Courthouse neighborhood at 2016 Wilson Blvd, the former location of The Olive Oil Boom, according to a recently filed permit application. The shop is also looking to serve beer and wine as well, the application suggests.

Rāko’s Instagram account also recently touted an opening “in less than a couple of months” as well as recently becoming a member of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce. ARLnow was unable to reach the owners via phone or email for additional information.

Rāko is owned by sisters Lisa and Melissa Gerben and specializes in sustainability sourced single origin coffee.

The name comes from a trip to Ethiopia to source coffee, when the sisters took notice of a mountain called “Rāko.” This translates in English to “challenge.”

Their Arlington cafe will be 1,360 square feet and feature “high-quality, unique coffee beverages” like baklava latte and lion’s mane mushroom chai iced tea, the Business Journal reported.

It will also have locally-sourced food and will serve wine, cocktails, and beer in the evening.

Rāko is reportedly looking to open other locations in the area in the coming year as well, potentially including a shop in Logan Circle in D.C. The company is also “actively looking” for space in Georgetown, Dupont Circle, Alexandria and Bethesda for more outposts, notes the Washington Business Journal.

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Arlington has long had a childcare shortage problem. During the pandemic, strangely, that helped its programs survive.

Although childcare programs across the nation have shuttered due to the coronavirus, in Arlington, only three licensed programs have closed, said County Board member and childcare advocate Katie Cristol. One is reopening in a new location better equipped for social-distancing, while two others closed permanently (one of those closures was virus-related).

“The good news is, what has been one of the biggest challenges of the landscape of Arlington has been an asset,” she said, adding that demand remained strong locally, buoying Arlington’s centers, “most of which have faired fairly well.”

Amid the three closures, Cristol — who helped launch the county’s Child Care Initiative in 2017 — helped welcome a new addition to Arlington’s stock of early education and childcare options this week. Looking to help address Arlington’s demand for early education options, two sisters, Saniya Dhala and Zahra Isani, opened Primrose School of Arlington in the Courthouse area yesterday (Thursday).

“There continues to be a great need for high-quality early education and child care options in our community and Primrose Schools delivers that in a convenient setting, close to neighborhoods and businesses,” Cristol said.

It is independently owned and operated by Dhala and Isani, who quit their jobs in the finance and food industries to open this Primrose School location, the 450th nationwide. The school at 2107 Wilson Blvd can accommodate up to 185 children.

“The pandemic has been devastating to so many businesses and industries, and the childcare industry is no exception to that,” the sisters tell ARLnow. “Some schools have had to shut their doors, and some have had to reduce hours and capacity. As we start to return to normalcy things are opening back up, many schools are ready to welcome families again and we are excited to be opening a high-quality option in an area where it’s needed.”

This location is one of five Primrose locations scheduled to open in the D.C. area — joining 11 existing outposts — in the middle of a pandemic that has shined a light on deep problems in the industry, such as a shortage of spots, high staff turnover and thin operating margins.

There are some signs of relief, however. President Joe Biden announced that $39 billion of the American Rescue Plan will help sustain these programs, Gov. Ralph Northam announced $203 million to expand eligibility for the Commonwealth’s Child Care Subsidy Program.

While Dhala and Isani said they started the process of opening their franchise location before the pandemic hit, the coronavirus did reinforce their decision to open a school.

“Being in the process of opening during the pandemic allowed us to be agile and adjust our space on the front-end to ensure we met and innovated around all the new safety guidelines,” they said. “Childcare is essential to our workforce and to our nation’s economic recovery, not to mention to prepare our next generation of leaders for the future.”

The pandemic made more people realize the dearth of options available, as waves of women have exited the workforce to take care of their children full-time, Cristol said. The county initiative she helped launch is still working to address the high demand and low supply of options.

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The old Wendy’s lot in Courthouse, demolished in 2016 for an office building that never came, could be the site of a new development.

For almost five years, the triangle lot at the corner of Wilson Blvd and N. Courthouse Road has sat vacant. Construction crews working on 2000 Clarendon, a condo project across the street, have used it as a staging area for the last two years.

But now a project is taking shape. Last week, Greystar Real Estate Partners filed a site plan application with Arlington County proposing a high-rise apartment building with ground-floor retail at 2026 Wilson Blvd.

The proposed building, which is 16 stories tall and has 231 units, 74 residential parking spaces and some bicycle parking, is expected to achieve LEED Gold certification. The developer is also proposing a public plaza where Wilson and Clarendon Blvd meet.

“Recognizing the property’s location, topography and prominence in Courthouse, the applicant proposes … to redevelop the property with a high-rise residential building with ground-floor retail and iconic architectural features,” said Nan Walsh and Andrew Painter, attorneys for the land use law firm Walsh, Colucci, Lubeley & Walsh, in a letter to the county.

The filing comes four months after the company purchased the lot for $19 million from Carr Properties, according to real estate company Jones Lang LaSalle. Back in 2015, Carr was approved to move forward with plans for a 12-story office building.

Greystar made its intentions known in October 2020, when it filed conceptual plans for 2026 Wilson Blvd.

“The building, which will serve as an iconic architectural feature for the Courthouse neighborhood, will retain many of the same architectural design elements of the previously approved office building, including its glass curtain wall design,” the attorneys’ letter said.

The plaza would surround a possible retail entrance at the tip of the Wendy’s site, facing N. Courthouse Road. The Rosslyn to Courthouse Urban Design Study recommends an “activity-based, pedestrian-oriented urban plaza” at that same location.

According to the Walsh Colucci team, the proposed public pedestrian plaza will be approximately 3,279 square feet with movable tables and chairs and space for temporary vendors.

The urban design study also recommends buildings do not exceed 10 stories — unless they accommodate affordable housing or community benefits. This proposal clocks in at 16 stories and 166 feet tall.

Greystar “is open to the provision of on-site affordable housing to further justify the increase in height,” Walsh and Painter said.

The applications offered no further specifics but Greystar’s legal representation said the company “will work with staff throughout the site plan process to develop an affordable housing plan.”

Greystar proposes, generally, to maintain the existing street, sidewalk and bicycle configuration that the County Board approved with Carr Properties’ office building.

There will be no retail parking as a part of the project but Greystar’s development across the street will provide “ample retail parking to support both projects,” the attorney said, referring to the Landmark Block development, which the County Board approved last month.

Images via Arlington County. Hat tip to @CarFreeHQ2.

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Morning Notes

County Opening Free Testing Site Today — “Arlington County is opening a no-cost, no-appointment, COVID-19 testing kiosk in the parking lot at Courthouse Plaza in partnership with Curative, which operates two additional sites in the County. The kiosk will be open seven days a week from 12-8 p.m., starting Tuesday, April 13.” [Arlington County]

Fmr. Arlington Waiter Now a Real Estate Kingpin — “In 2013, Heider, then 25, was working at an Italian restaurant in Shirlington when his manager became the assistant to a local real-estate agent. When this agent moved to Washington Fine Properties, Heider’s former manager brought him on to help. As the assistant to the assistant, Heider worked without any base pay, making money only when he brought in referrals. At night, he waited tables at the Crystal City Morton’s.” [Washingtonian]

Kitchen Fire at Pike Apartment BuildingUpdated at 9:10 a.m. — Arlington County firefighters responded to a kitchen fire at the Dominion Towers apartments on Columbia Pike last night. No injuries were reported. [Twitter, Twitter]

Marymount Students Volunteering at Vax Clinic — “Since the start of the spring semester, students in Marymount University’s Nursing program have been using their classroom skills to serve as vaccinators in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic… [The students] are often on the team of registered nurses and EMS personnel who are on duty for vaccinations at the Lubber Run Community Center in Arlington.” [Marymount University]

YHS Finishes Football Season on Win Streak — “For the Yorktown Patriots, the shortened seven-game high-school football season was like two campaigns. There was the 0-2 beginning when the Patriots lost badly and struggled in all aspects of the game. Then there was the 5-0 finish, when Yorktown was vastly improved in all areas… Yorktown capped its season with a 24-15 victory over the T.C. Williams Titans.” [Sun Gazette]

Last Call: Vote in the Spring 2021 Arlies — Today is the last day to vote for your favorite local places, people and organizations in the spring edition of ARLnow’s Arlies awards. [SurveyMonkey]

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Morning Notes

Major Courthouse Development Approved — “The Arlington County Board today approved Greystar Real Estate Partners’ plan to redevelop seven parcels that make up the Courthouse Landmark Block with a 423-unit apartment building. The developer has committed to providing extensive community benefits.” [Arlington County]

Zoning Proposal May Face Pushback — “Two potentially conflicting constituencies – advocates of affordable housing and residents of single-family neighborhoods – could end up colliding if Arlington County Board members next month move forward on a recommendation to allow much higher building heights in some transitional areas of the county. The proposal… calls for allowing (though not permitting by right) building heights higher by 60 feet than normally allowed in a number of zoning districts, if the buildings comprise 100-percent affordable housing.” [Sun Gazette]

APS Planning Summer School — “Arlington Public Schools plans to offer in-person and distance learning summer school for students. Summer School will take place from July 6-30 for elementary students and from July 6-Aug. 6 for secondary students.” [Arlington Public Schools]

Man Arrested for Bathroom Peeping — “1700 block of Fort Myer Drive. At approximately 3:25 a.m. on March 18, police were dispatched to the report of a peeping. Upon arrival, it was determined that the male victim was using the restroom when he observed a cell phone placed through the crack of the stall. The victim confronted the known suspect and alerted building security.” [Arlington County]

Arlington Startup Moving to D.C. — “Auto refinancing startup MotoRefi is moving its headquarters from Arlington to D.C. and beefing up its executive team, the company said in an announcement. The company has signed a 22,000-square-foot lease at 1717 Rhode Island Ave. NW, relocating to a larger space as its workforce continues to grow. It plans on opening the new office, in the same building as venture firm Revolution and Uber, later in 2021, it said.” [Washington Business Journal]

Why Elmo is on the County Manager’s Desk — County Board member Katie Cristol, in response to a question about an Elmo toy seen on County Manager Mark Schwartz’s desk during Saturday’s virtual Board meeting: “My Elmo-obsessed kid made an on camera appearance at Thursday’s 4.5 hour work session, and Mark, who is a real sweetheart, brought out his own Elmo on the videoconference, to no end of delight from my two-year old.” [Twitter]

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(Updated at 11:50 a.m.) Will the proposed development for Landmark Block in Courthouse be the site of a “revolution” in urban living?

Arlington County says so. And developer Greystar Real Estate Partners appears ready to ignite this uprising, with plans to replace the aging, low-slung buildings on the 2000 block of Wilson Blvd — including the former Summers Restaurant — into an apartment tower surrounded by a pedestrian promenade and a curbless street.

But for some Planning Commission members, aspects of the proposal are not revolutionary enough, and one could be unsafe for pedestrians.

In 2015, the county published its vision for the square as an “attractive, accessible, and inclusive public space,” a sustainable 18-hour-a-day hub that celebrates Courthouse Square’s “rich history.”

The “civic and cultural heart of Arlington” will be flexible, innovative, sustainable and timeless, according to the 2015 Courthouse Square Sector Plan addendum. In short, the planning document said, Courthouse Square will be “where the revolution begins.”

To lead the charge, Greystar needs approval from the County Board, which is slated to review the proposal on Saturday.

Greystar is proposing a 423-unit apartment building with ground-floor retail and underground parking. But this bread-and-butter project includes community benefits that will be “a truly landmark project,” said Nicholas Cummings, Greystar’s legal representation, during a Planning Commission meeting on Wednesday.

These is a proposed pedestrian promenade on N. Uhle Street that will lead to a revamped Court House Metro station entrance, as well as the shared, curbless concrete street on 15th Street N.

“The existing N. Uhle Street is harsh, with asphalt, no benches and minimal trees,” said Steve Smith, a principal architect for Cooper Carry, the architect for the project. “We’re excited about this opportunity to transform it into a fully [compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act], pedestrian-only promenade, which provides increased tree-lined dining and public seating areas that activate the path to the Metro entrance.”

Meanwhile, 15th Street N. will be resurfaced and raised to create “a curbless table that blends into the sidewalk on both sides of the street,” he said.

Other community benefits include on-site committed affordable housing units, LEED Gold certification, a $800,000 contribution toward improving a future “Civic Square,” and $250,000 “for a public art installation in the square.”

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The school at the Key site, which opens to students this August, has a new name: Innovation Elementary School.

The name received unanimous support from Arlington School Board members during a meeting last night (Thursday), passing 4-0 with member Reid Goldstein not present.

“We’re very excited for students and staff to enjoy and attend the Innovation Elementary School in Arlington,” said Board Chair Monique O’Grady.

The School Board voted last February to convert the Key site, which currently houses a Spanish immersion choice program, into a neighborhood school. It will serve children in the fast-growing Rosslyn area, including some who were previously zoned for Arlington Science Focus School.

A naming committee proposed Innovation as its first choice for the school building at 2300 Key Blvd.

“We really feel like ‘Innovation’ represents a skill and an ideal that we want our children to get from their elementary school experience,” said the new school’s principal, Claire Peters, during an informational meeting last month.

As an alternate, it proposed Gateway Elementary School, which committee members said references the school’s location as a gateway to Arlington from Washington, D.C. and symbolizes the purpose of education as a gateway to a child’s future.

Board Vice Chair Barbara Kanninen, who moved last night to name the school Innovation, said in February she initially preferred Gateway.

“As you sit with names, they hit you differently,” she said at the time. “I came to appreciate Innovation.”

Next month, the School Board will vote on a new name for the school at the Reed site, which is also involved in the school shuffle. A committee is currently weighing the top contenders: Cardinal, Compass, Exploration, Kaleidoscope and Passport.

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Morning Notes

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]

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Unsurprisingly, Mardi Gras won’t be the same this year at Courthouse’s Bayou Bakery.

But that doesn’t mean that the decade-old, New Orleans-inspired eatery is out of fresh ideas for Tuesday’s festivities.

This year, the restaurant is offering a take-home “Mardi Gras in a Box,” which includes a king cake with a do-it-yourself decorating kit, beads, masks, a murder mystery party game, and Pat O’Brien’s signature Hurricane mix.

The party in a box is intended for six to eight people and costs $135.

“Knowing that really no one is going to large events or celebrating Mardi Gras anywhere, what we did is brought a kit… so that basically the party comes to you,” says David Guas, chef and owner of Bayou Bakery.

The restaurant is also selling individual king cakes, king crown cookies, and Mardi Gras pralines, as well as offering catering and its lunch and breakfast menus.

While business has continued to be steady, Guas says that king cake sales are way down this year.

“What’s obviously different than last year is that we don’t have our corporate clients that are buying 25, 30 king cakes all in one swoop,” says Guas.

Last year, he tells ARLnow, they sold about 1,500 king cakes. This year, he expects to sell fewer than a thousand. This despite the fact that they have now partnered with the online ordering platform Toast in order to sell cakes around the clock.

Guas is still keeping busy, despite the more subdued Mardi Gras this year.

Last March, 24 hours after schools shut down, the chef began serving red beans and rice from outside of the bakery to anyone in need. That evolved into a partnership with Real Food for Kids for an initiative called Chefs Feeding Families, which provided free, plant-based meals to local families, students, frontline workers, hospitals, and shelters.

That initiative continues, says Guas, with a recent partnership with Arlington County that sends 150 to 200 meals a week to Virginia Hospital Center. In total, the initiative is still providing about 300 meals a week; funds come from grants, private donations, and community support.

That isn’t all, though. Guas also helped to feed the National Guard while they protected the Capitol throughout January, dropping off hundreds of sandwiches to the troops. He’s currently in the midst of co-organizing Bean-efit, a joint effort with 25 other local restaurants to provide a free meal of beans to anyone in the hospitality industry on Mardi Gras (Tuesday, Feb. 16) from 4-6 p.m.

“Any industry employee who’s been furloughed, now part time, or lost hours, doesn’t matter, gets a free meal,” he says. “We’re not going to ask questions. We’re not taking names. We’re not vetting at all.”

While Guas and the Bayou Bakery team have continuously been cooking, baking, and working over the last year, business remains down. The care-free boozy brunches of the before-times, after all, were more lucrative than take-out sandwiches and coffee.

The restaurant, meanwhile, has taken on plenty of additional expense and effort to continue operating during the pandemic, from constant cleanings to a kitchen remodel to a new ventilation system.

“It sucks. There’s nothing positive about it,” Guas says.

He remains optimistic, however, that Bayou Bakery will make it to the other side of the pandemic.

“I’ve got no other choice but to make it work. That’s why I’m in the restaurant six days a week… and I have a mask on for 12 hours a day,” he says. “I got no plans to go anywhere.”

Photos courtesy of Bayou Bakery

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