Arlington, VA

Owners of mixed-use buildings in Arlington are struggling to find tenants for ground floor retail space, and instead have been seeking permission to fill the space with other uses.

The Arlington County Board will consider three such requests — from office buildings in Rosslyn and Ballston and Le Meridien Hotel in Rosslyn — at its meeting on Saturday.

“It is definitely a trend,” said Michael Smith, director of real estate at Bethesda-based retail strategy firm Streetsense. “We are at a point in time where we have a lot of retail space and a decreasing number of prospective tenants to fill those spaces.”

The owner of the Ballston Pointe building at 4300 Wilson Blvd (which once housed Ted’s Montana) is asking permission to convert its 2,132 square-foot ground floor space into a gym for residents and office space.

Likewise, Le Meridien seeks to convert its 900 square-foot retail space into offices, and the 1776 Wilson Blvd building in Rosslyn (home of Quinn’s and formerly of Kona) wants to cast a wider net for “retail equivalent” tenants like education organizations to fill its 22,829 square feet of unused retail space.

County staff wrote in a report to the Board that the Meridien vacancy is “due to a combination of design and location factors the site has not been a successful retail space” and in another report, that 1776 Wilson “cited difficulty retaining leases with tenants that meet the definition of retail.”

“Municipalities are trying to encourage ground floor retail environments to create sense of place, but the reality of it is that there is only so much of it going around,” said Streetsense’s Smith.

He cited millennials’ penchant for prioritizing experiences over things as one reason retail has been declining over the last decade — leaving fewer prospective tenants. Another problem with filling ground-floor retail space is that not all spaces nor streets are ideal areas to attract shoppers.

That contrasts with an aggressive, former Arlington County policy dubbed “retail everywhere,” which was replaced in 2015 with a more “curated” approach.

Restaurateurs have long bemoaned certain portions of the county, like the western side of Glebe Road in Ballston, as places businesses struggle. The old adage of “location, location, location” applies in Arlington, but sometimes it’s hard for businesses to figure out what will work in which places.

Smith said buildings in Arlington’s neighborhoods like Rosslyn, which is hillier and sleepier at night compared to places like Clarendon, typically have a harder time finding and keeping retailers. However, he noted the Rosslyn Business Improvement District’s community events and artwork are steps toward making the area more attractive to people and businesses.

“While we would all want our streets lined with beautiful boutiques or cafes, that’s just not the reality,” he said.

The County Board has issued approvals for retail space to be turned into alternatives like medical offices for years. Members have also OKed converting office space back to retail space, though that process is sometimes fraught.

An auction by East Falls Church bookstore One More Page recently generated discussion on whether the county also had an obligation to help ground floor retailers weather rising rents.

Smith said that government-led programs or economic incentives only make sense “if the numbers pan out and its win-win for everyone.”

“The best thing you can do is turn the faucet off, and put retail where it belongs,” he said.

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The redevelopment of the Westmont Shopping Center could be one step closer to reality after this weekend.

The Arlington County Board is scheduled to vote on moving the project forward during their meeting this Saturday, September 21. Developer Republic Properties Corporation (RPC) is seeking a use permit for the project, which aims to build six-story mixed use building with 250 housing units on the site and 22,500 square feet of retail space.

County staff have recommended Board members approve the permit, per a staff report to the Board.

Plans to demolish the current single-story strip mall and parking lot, located at the intersection of Columbia Pike and S. Glebe Road, have been discussed for a year.

The 1.82 acre lot lies within an area designated for revitalization, subject to Columbia Pike Form Based Code, which is intended to streamline development within certain parameters.

The code lays out guidelines which cap a building’s stories to six and include other standards for projects along the Pike. In the case of this development, it allows the developer to build all market-rate housing, eschewing committed affordable units despite the county’s dwindling stock of affordable housing.

RPC is also planning to build a two-story parking garage with 343 parking spaces for cars, in addition to 60 above ground spaces. The garage will include 104 bike parking spaces, with 90 reserved for residents, per plans submitted to the county. Inside the donut-shaped building will be a courtyard with amenities for residents.

County staff issued a report stating that the new housing would only cause “minor increases in delay” for traffic at nearby intersections. As part of the project, RPC has promised to add three bus stops to the area, two along S. Glebe Road and the other along the Pike.

Elsewhere along the Columbia Pike corridor, developers have also proposed to bulldoze the Fillmore Gardens Shopping Center, which is currently home to tenants like Turkish restaurant Atilla’s, dance studio the Salsa Room, and the beloved Burritos Bros food stand. Replacing it would also be a six-story, mixed-used building made up of housing units and ground floor retail.

Images 1-2 via Arlington County, 3-4 via Arlington County, Image 5 by Alex Koma

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Nearly four years after the Wendy’s in Courthouse closed, the prominent but empty lot at 2026 Wilson Blvd is set to remain an empty lot for the foreseeable future.

Once set to become a 12-story office building, the site — located on a triangle of land a block from the Courthouse Metro station — is now proposed as a “temporary off-site contractor’s storage and staging area” for the condo construction project across the street. The Arlington County Board is set to consider the use permit at its meeting this Saturday.

“The proposed use is anticipated to last no longer than one (1) year,” according to a county staff report.

Per the office project, which was approved by the County Board in March 2015, the report notes: “At this time it is unknown when construction will begin.”

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St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church is tired of being the big, ugly brick church in Clarendon.

St. Charles occupies a large piece of land in Clarendon, near Northside Social, and the church is continuing to review how that land should best be used — namely, the pastor says the church needs visual overhaul.

The redevelopment proposal started in 2018 with a push from the church’s pastor, Rev. Don Planty for a church that better suited the needs of the community. In a letter to the community, Planty said the church needed — among other things — a more “appealing design,” social spaces that would appeal to young adults, and green spaces.

The building has a glass facade on the corner of Fairfax Drive and N. Kirkwood Road, but much of the rest of the structure across from George Mason University is squat brick and a surface parking lot.

“The consensus was that the current parish physical plant does not support those aspects of our mission as well as a redeveloped campus could,” Planty said at the time.

A spokesperson for the church said the community has nearly finalized the “second phase” of its redevelopment planning efforts.

“This phase focuses on determining how St. Charles parishioners prioritize ongoing programs to fulfill the mission of the parish,” the spokesperson said in an email. “A sub-group was formed to analyze those findings and has presented that preliminary information to the Catholic Diocese of Arlington. The diocese is reviewing this information and collaborating with the parish in assessing the best opportunities for St. Charles Parish to continue to serve the local community in the years to come.”

Once the Catholic Diocese of Arlington reviews the information, the spokesperson said the priorities will be translated into master plan options that will be reviewed by county officials and the community. The master plan options are expected to be released sometime “in the coming months.”

“At every point moving forward, the parish will actively engage the local community ensuring it continues to be a good neighbor throughout the process,” the spokesperson said.

Other churches in Arlington have funded new facilities through redevelopment of the church property, including the nearby Church at Clarendon and Arlington Presbyterian along Columbia Pike. Both congregations approved affordable housing developments that were built on top of the new church spaces.

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After a year of silence, plans for the redevelopment of two blocks along N. Vermont Street straddling 11th Street N. could be coming back to the table.

In February 2018, Arlington County Board approved developer NVR’s plans to replace the two-story church and its parking lot at 1031 N. Vermont Street — formerly Grace Community Church and currently Portico Church Arlington — with a 72-unit condominium building and 12 townhouses. Four of the units on-site would be committed as affordable housing.

The plans drew some backlash from the neighbors who said the plan added density to an already congested Ballston neighborhood.

Since its approval, however, there has been no sign of work moving forward on the homes. An employee for NVR confirmed that the company had dropped its plans for the site, while county officials tell ARLnow that a new developer and development plan is forthcoming.

“Yes, NVR has walked away from this site plan,” said Gina Wimpey, spokeswoman for Arlington’s Dept. of Community Planning, Housing and Development. “There is a new contract purchaser and they are planning on submitting new plans as early as next month.”

Wimpey said the contract was purchased by BCN Homes, a developer that has constructed custom homes throughout the Arlington. Brian Normile, president of BCN Homes and a partner in a number of popular local restaurants, told ARLnow it’s too early to comment on the property but more information could be forthcoming in the next few weeks.

“The plans will be processed as a minor site plan amendment, but will still need to return to the Site Plan Review Committee,” Wimpey said. “That should occur sometime this fall or winter.”

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Arlington County is asking residents to share their thoughts on a developer’s plan to turn areas of a lot at 1900 S. Eads Street into public parks.

The plan is part of the Crystal City Houses redevelopment project to build four new apartment buildings at S. Eads Street and 18th Street near the existing, 12-story Crystal House apartment buildings. The project is two blocks from Amazon’s planned permanent HQ2.

As part of the proposed 798-unit construction, the developer pledged to provide a 31,000 square feet of space in the center of the buildings as public space, and another, 23,986 square feet of space in the corner of the lot by S. Fern Street and 22nd Street as another privately-owned, public park.

Now the Department of Parks and Recreation is asking residents to share their feedback on this second park proposal via an online feedback form.

“The significant additional open space will also be a crucial addition to the Crystal City community,” the developer wrote in site plans revised earlier this year.

The county says it will stop accepting feedback via the form at midnight next Friday, September 6.

Feedback will used to finalize draft designs scheduled to be shared on September 16 from 5:30-7 p.m. at county government headquarters in Courthouse (2100 Clarendon Blvd), per the county’s website. The Long Range Planning Commission will also review the feedback during their own meeting later that night from 7 -9 p.m.

County staff expects to present the final designs to the Arlington County Board in October.

Image via Arlington County

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(Updated at 2:35 p.m.) A developer is proposing to demolish the Ames Center office building in Rosslyn, at 1820 N. Fort Myer Drive, and replace it with almost 800 housing units and retail space.

Building owner Snell Properties has long planned to replace the aging office building, which formerly housed the Art Institute of Washington, with the two residential towers. Newly-submitted plans indicate Snell plans to build a 31-story tower with 424 units on the south side of the property and a 30-story tower with 364 units in the north side.

Plans indicate that the south tower will have 411,338 square feet of residential space, and the north tower will feature 382,608 square feet of residential space. Together, the two will offer 8,000 square feet of retail space on the ground level.

Currently, more than half of the Ames Center is vacant, with the remaining leases to expire before construction begins, according to a letter filed by an attorney for the developer.

The Ames Center property, which includes a church built over a gas station — once dubbed “Our Lady of Exxon” — was one of the earliest developments of it kind in Arlington, credited with kickstarting the redevelopment of Rosslyn as a commercial center in the 1960s. It was designed by the noted Czech-American architect Vlastimil Koubek.

The proposed project coincides with plans to redesign N. Fort Myer Drive and N. Nash Street, among other parts of Rosslyn, and extend a bicycle and pedestrian corridor from 18th Street N. to  N. Arlington Ridge Road.

This extended 18th Street corridor would bisect the Ames Center property, and Snell is proposing to build a walkable plaza between the two towers to incorporate the path.

Snell and nearby property owner Monday Properties previously clashed over the plan for the 18th Street corridor, with Snell saying Monday’s original plan for the 1812 N. Moore could have moved the corridor northward and disrupted the Ames Center plan. Today, a lawyer representing Snell told ARLnow today (Tuesday) that the firm is happy with the corridor.

In the meantime, Snell’s plans also indicate several “interim” changes to the streetscape surrounding the site, including:

  • Removing one parking lane and one travel lane from N. Nash Street (between 19th Street to Wilson Blvd) and adding 6-foot-wide bike lanes with 3-foot medians on both sides the street. Additionally, the developer is asking to widen the sidewalks from 12 feet to 16 feet wide.
  • Removing one travel lane from Fort Myer Drive and replacing it with a 7-foot-wide parking lane, and a 5-foot bike lane.
  • Removing two travel lanes from N. Fort Myer Drive and replacing them with a parking lane and a bike lane.

Snell also plans to build a four-story parking garage on site, with around 650 spaces for cars — equivalent to 0.81 spaces per residential unit — along with 10 dedicated spaces for retail, and 4 additional spaces. The developer is also planning space for tenants to park 317 bicycles.

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Morning Notes

JBG Focusing on Arlington — “As JBG Smith continues to focus its portfolio on the area around Amazon HQ2, the REIT is unloading an asset in the heart of D.C.’s Central Business District… The developer is currently constructing its Central District Retail project and is renovating the 1770 Crystal Drive office building, which Amazon has leased. It is also moving through the planning process to add nearly 1,000 units to its RiverHouse Apartments property and build two new residential towers totaling 750 units at 1900 Crystal Drive.” [Bisnow]

Man Battles Abandoned Scooters — Washingtonian editor Andrew Beaujon is on a mission this summer to get e-scooter companies to pick up abandoned scooters along the Mt. Vernon Trail, near Gravelly Point. [Twitter]

Church Holding Vigil Following Mass Shootings — “Given the terrible events of last week our service this Sunday will be a prayer vigil w/ prayers & ritual to help us find some kind of sense of peace as well as determination to change the culture of our country.” [Twitter]

Vaccine Change for Va. Students — “Ordinarily around this time of year, Arlington school officials are bombarding parents of rising sixth-graders to remember the need for ‘Tdap’ vaccines. Any student turning up the first day of school without one would be sent home. This year, however… as the General Assembly has changed the requirements – now, it is rising seventh-graders who need the vaccines.” [InsideNova]

Photo courtesy @mashalette/Instagram

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(Updated at 11:20 a.m.) Target recently filed building permits for its new Ballston location at 750 N. Glebe Road, but there’s still no word on an exact opening date.

The new 41,000+ square foot Target is part of The Waycroft, a towering mixed-use building at the west end of Ballston. The building was originally approved by the County Board in 2016 and construction is still underway at the project. The building is expected to be completed sometime in the first quarter of 2020, according to an employee at developer Saul Centers, Inc.

The building will also have 491 residential units with apartments ranging from studios to three-bedrooms.

A Silver Diner is also planned to be built at The Waycroft.

According to a spokesperson for Target:

I can confirm Target has plans to open a Ballston, VA store. We’re excited to bring an easy, convenient shopping experience to additional guests in the community with this new Target store. Located at Wilson Boulevard and North Glebe Road in the new development from Saul Centers, Inc, the store will be approximately 41,500 square feet. As we get closer to opening the store, we’ll have more specific details to share — including how the shopping experience will be tailored to serve local guests and the grand opening date.

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Morning Notes

New Coworking Space Coming to Ballston — “Piedmont Office Realty Trust signed a 29K SF lease with WeWork at its Arlington Tower office building at 901 North Glebe Road in Ballston, the REIT said in its Q2 earnings release Wednesday evening. The coworking giant will take the entire fifth floor and plans to open before the end of the year, Piedmont Director Chris Poppell tells Bisnow.” [Bisnow]

Disaster Declaration May Be Coming Soon — “A disaster designation based on damage assessments in Arlington County would allow homeowners and businesses in Alexandria, Arlington and Fairfax County to apply for low-interest federal loans beginning as soon as next week to help pay for repairs. Fairfax County Emergency Management Coordinator Seamus Mooney expects the designation to be approved within the next two weeks.” [WTOP]

Changes Proposed for Pentagon City Hotel — “The owner of the DoubleTree by Hilton in Crystal City is gearing up for a play to capitalize on the 627-room hotel’s proximity to Amazon.com Inc.’s second headquarters. Tom Baltimore, CEO of the hotel’s owner, Park Hotels & Resorts (NYSE: PK), told analysts on its second-quarter earnings call Thursday that the hotel is one of several the company is evaluating as possible redevelopment opportunities.” [Washington Business Journal]

Video: Dark Star Park Day — A timelapse video captured the moment on Thursday morning when the shadows lined up at Rosslyn’s Dark Star Park, as happens once a year on Aug. 1. [Twitter]

Arlington Boy Lives Dream in Boston — “There was a special visitor to the WBZ Weather Center on Thursday. Noah Coon from Arlington, Virginia is a big weather fan and stopped by the studio thanks to Dream On 3. Noah has cerebral palsy and was in Boston to visit the Red Sox. Because he’s also a fan of meteorology, he came to visit the WBZ weather team.” [WBZ]

Video: Yorktown vs. W-L — Just published online: “Long-lost footage of the famous Nov. 5, 1970, mud bowl football game between the Yorktown High School Patriots and the Washington-Lee Generals. Yorktown was favored with a 9-0 record but W-L won 12-0 and earned the Potomac District championship. [YouTube]

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Amazon’s designs for a new headquarters need to do more to become true landmarks for the Pentagon City skyline, say members of an Arlington County planning committee.

At the first Site Plan Review Committee meeting for HQ2 last night (Monday), Amazon and ZGF Architects pitched the new 2.1 million square foot project in Pentagon City. The meeting, held in Shirlington, primarily focused on the design and architecture of the buildings, with other concerns about Amazon’s arrival saved for future meetings.

Amazon’s proposal involves the construction of two new office buildings at the corner of 15th Street S. and S. Eads Street — almost the perfect midway point between the Pentagon City and Crystal City Metro stations. The project is part of the first phase for Amazon’s permanent offices opening in Arlington.

Metropolitan Park Phases 6 and 7/8, as the project is dubbed in reports, consists of a pair of buildings with outward-facing retail and restaurants, and the Amazon headquarters portion of the building facing inwards towards a central park.

Brian Earle, the project architect with ZGF Architects, said the focus of the design was integrating the building into the neighborhood.

Design Evolution, Color Revolution

There are no rooftop signs planned for the project, and the exterior design is terracotta masonry and glass — an inoffensive design that will feel familiar to anyone who has seen the new Marymount buildings in Ballston or the Wharf in D.C., Amazon’s architects said.

The project drew the most praise where it stood out, and most of the criticism was focused on where the project seemed unambitious. Earle played up the modernist and art deco influences of other buildings on the block, like The Gramercy and The Bartlett, but to the untrained eye, they seem to have the same tan and dark glass facade.

“These are the tallest buildings in the area,” Planning Commissioner James Lantelme said. “It’s handsome, but I’m wondering if more can be done with the crown. Some buildings don’t have a formal crown but a distinctive top. This is just a continuation of the block going up. Is there anything that can be done to make it a centerpiece of this area?”

Committee members were mainly impressed with the polychrome glass planned for the building, with colors ranging from fuchsia to teal across the buildings.

“I’m always excited for colors,” said Planning Commissioner Nancy Iacomini. “It’s always been beige or grey. Rosslyn is a sea of grey and it’s just as bad as Ballston beige. I’m happy to see the terracotta as grey but a lot of polychrome.”

“People are getting tired of seeing the same beige building,” Lantelme agreed. “I’m hoping this is the start of a different design trend away from the beige. We may have an emergence of a colorful district.”

Retail Tensions

Plans for ground floor retail in the Amazon buildings was also a focus of some excitement — and concern. Brick and mortar retail is suffering, ironically in no small part due to the building’s primary tenant, and committee members expressed concern that the project could have too much ground-floor retail that it wouldn’t be able to fill.

Earle said the idea is to have a 50-50 split between restaurants and community-serving retail, like barber shops and pet stores, on the ground floor.

“One of Amazon’s strategies is they design the in-house food service [to serve] only 25 percent of the lunchtime traffic to encourage employees to go to other restaurants,” said Earle.

Commissioners also couldn’t resist little jabs at the Amazon-versus-retail tension, particularly the middling reception the company’s physical bookstores have gotten so far.

“A Busboys and Poets would be great there,” said Planning Commissioner Jane Siegel, “with their book store.”

The next meeting for the project is planned for September 23 at 7 p.m. in the Parks Operations Building (2700 S. Taylor Street).

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