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Columbia Pike at sunset on Monday night (Staff Photo by Jay Westcott)

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The past, present, and future of Columbia Pike is rather easy to see.

Cross Glebe Road and there’s the Broiler, first opened in 1959 and, today, still slinging cheesesteaks. Right by the ramp to I-395, the historic Johnson’s Hill neighborhood (also known as Arlington View) remains home to a number of the same residents that have lived there for decades.

Drive the Pike from Washington Blvd to where it crosses Leesburg Pike in Fairfax County and you’ll see a number of low-slung businesses and massive apartment complexes that were built during the Eisenhower administration.

But, over the last decade, the Pike has seen plenty of change. There’s now modern shopping plazas, cavernous parking garages, and gleaming new apartment complexes. Sure, there’s no streetcar, but in frequent intervals buses go up and down the Pike, pausing at a million dollar bus stop (and, soon, numerous upgraded but less expensive stops).

The Pike has continued to have a reputation for being one of the more affordable areas to live in Arlington and, with that, a diverse neighborhood has thrived. The Pike — and its corresponding 22204 zip code — is often referred to as a “world in a zip code.”

At the same time, the future is nearly here and it may bring changes that not everyone is happy with — or could afford. Redevelopment of decades-old shopping centers, forcing the closing of long-time legacy businesses. Garden-style apartments are being turned into 400-unit buildings. Mixed-use projects are set to replace under-used parking lots.

Not to mention, just a few miles away, Amazon is building a headquarters which is likely to bring more people and development to the Pike.

Today, about 41,000 people live along the Pike corridor, according to county data. That’s more that a 10% increase compared to a decade ago. Over the next thirty years, much of Arlington’s population growth is expected to be concentrated along the Pike.

Officials are looking to adapt to these changes by turning Columbia Pike into what the county calls a “vibrant… walkable, lively ‘Main Street’, an effort that first began more than 30 years ago.

In 1986, the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization formed in response to the Arlington County Board providing a $50,000 grant towards economically reviving the Pike.

The grant and the formation of CPRO would be, as the Washington Post described at the time, “the first step in what some see as a 10-year effort to coordinate improvements that could lead to revitalization of the highway as well as a return of community pride.”

That was followed over the next decade plus by a number of revitalization plans, policy changes, and initiatives – including in 1990, 1998, and 2002 — all in an attempt to bring more businesses, “revitalize,” and create a more “vibrant” Pike.

But one of the most consequential shifts in what the Pike would look like going forward was the Board’s approval of the Columbia Pike Form-Based Code for commercial centers in 2003 and, a decade later, for residential areas.

“It really gave us a bit of a blueprint on how we were going to move forward,” CPRO Executive Kim Klingler tells ARLnow.

The purpose was to standardize how new buildings along the Pike were physically going to look and integrate into the community.

“It focuses on the form of the building, which is a little different from the way that other zoning codes work,” says John Snyder, Chair of CPRO’s board. “Like, how tall is the building? What’s the shape? [How many] setbacks from the street? How many stories should it be? [The code] puts together all the rules about that… it’s all set in advance.”

The intent was to “foster a vital main street” with mixed-use buildings that had shops, cafes, and other commercial uses on the ground floor and residences and offices above. It also encourages more sidewalks, trees, and public spaces (like Penrose Square).

The hope is to create a more dense, pedestrian, and public transportation-friendly community.

“A walkable community, like a traditional downtown,” says Snyder.

The plus of following a form-based code for the community is that it is known what new buildings are going to look like and avoids a potential years-long battle with a developer over details like height and design.

For the developer, adhering to the code provides incentives like more density and less red tape.

When first adopted, the county was one of the first jurisdictions in the country to use this strategy to redevelop existing, older neighborhoods.

For the most part, proponents say it has worked. While developers can choose whether they adhere to the code, more than 90% of the new buildings along the Pike were developed with it according to Snyder.

“We’ve gotten 12 or 13 new projects, gained some plaza areas we didn’t have before, and we got ground floor retail,” he says. “We got economic revitalization.”

But with economic revitalization, comes other challenges.

With more amenities, a neighborhood becomes more attractive and vulnerable to natural market forces.

“The whole idea for a building like Centro was to build one that has amenities like you’d expect on [Metro’s] Orange Line, except cheaper,” says Snyder. “Because it is close to everything… it drives prices up. And that puts pressure on the affordable apartments.”

While the county has made efforts to preserve and increase affordable housing along the Pike, not all of their proposals have been embraced by the public as good enough.

It isn’t just about rental units, either. Economic revitalization can drive up housing costs and potentially prevent those in the middle-income brackets from buying homes in the community.

While there are a lot of reasons why the Arlington housing market is hot right now, the redevelopment of Columbia Pike is a factor.

“[Housing] prices are definitely up and… can change the tone of a neighborhood,” says Snyder.

The county’s Missing Middle Housing Study is diving into how to address this challenge, but solutions may be hard to come by even if everyone wants to preserve a community that’s accessible for all.

“The goal has always been for the Pike to be a very diverse community — culturally, socioeconomically, and generationally,” Klingler told ARLnow. “We still want to make Columbia Pike a place for all people.”

But is that even possible? Some certainly don’t think so.

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The Arlington County Board took two steps over the weekend to preserve and upgrade existing affordable housing while building hundreds of new units.

During its meeting on Saturday members unanimously approved a nearly $23 million loan from the county’s Affordable Housing Investment Fund (AHIF) for renovations to the Park Shirlington Apartments, a 1950s-era, garden-style complex with 293 units at 4510 31st Street S., on the edge of the Fairlington neighborhood.

The Board also approved $124,000 in rent assistance to offset potential increases resulting from the renovations.

“This project has a long history and is very important as one of the larger affordable housing developments in the county,” said Melissa Danowski, a staff member in the housing division of the county’s Department of Community Planning, Housing, and Development.

The vote marks a change in plans for the county, which was initially planning to buy and build up part of the property with a partner developer, Washington Business Journal reports. Instead, Standard Property Co. and the National Foundation for Affordable Housing Solutions will oversee soup-to-nuts renovations and pledge to keep the rent affordable for 75 years.

The renovations will begin in winter 2022 and end in 2024, with 10-20 units redone at a time. Residents will have access to vacant “home-hotel suites” so they do not have to find another place to stay while their unit is redone, said Steven Kahn, a director of Standard Communities.

Each unit’s interior will get new appliances, fixtures and cosmetic upgrades. Building systems such as HVAC will be modernized and common areas will be renovated. The developer is considering including free- or reduced-price internet.

“I’m very happy that this thought about preservation has led to preserving a community, while essentially rebuilding the units,” Board Chair Matt de Ferranti said. “That’s a really positive step. It is a huge victory for our community as a whole.”

Following the vote, the Board took action to approve an agreement with Amazon to develop affordable housing near its HQ2. Amazon will donate a $40 million parcel of undeveloped land on the Crystal House Apartments site to the county to be developed into new affordable housing.

This is a gift beyond any of our requirements, but it’s a partnership really that helps serve affordable housing,” de Ferranti said.

More than 550 units could be developed as affordable for moderate- to low-income households. At least 148 will be committed to households earning 50% or less of the area median income (AMI), and a minimum of 406 will be for households earning 80% or less of the AMI.

The county aims to partner with an affordable housing developer, to be selected later, and complete construction by Jan. 1, 2028.

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Alamo Drafthouse Cinema is planning to open its Crystal City location about a year from now.

Set to be located at 1660 Crystal Drive, the nine-screen, 50,000-square-foot Alamo Drafthouse National Landing will be near a new CVS, Solidcore, and likely linked to a specialty grocery store (perhaps Amazon Fresh).

Just last week, the Texas-based movie theater chain announced it was emerging from bankruptcy and poised to open a number of new theaters, including two in the D.C-area. The Crystal City location is currently expected to open in May or June 2022, theater representatives confirm to ARLnow.

The other new theater will be in Northeast D.C.’s Edgewood neighborhood. That one is planning a November 2021 opening.

Founded in 1997, Alamo Drafthouse Cinema has nearly 40 locations while marketing itself as a movie-lover’s oasis, complete with craft beers and locally-sourced snacks.

The theater in Crystal City will be operated by a franchisee, Cojeaux Cinemas. The company operates three other Alamo Drafthouse franchises in Virginia as well as the new D.C. location.

Cojeaux Cinemas has had an eye on the Arlington market for the better part of a decade, but jumped at a deal a few years ago amid an opportunity presented itself.

“We signed this deal in 2017 when JBG Smith gained control of Crystal City,” Joseph Edwards, co-owner Cojeaux Cinemas, tells ARLnow. “We had confidence in their vision and their people to transition the market by bringing tenants like us in to rebalance the overall mix of office, residential, retail and entertainment, creating a more modernized urban area that will draw from all the surrounding areas.”

Just last week, JBG Smith released an investor relations video detailing its ambitious plans for National Landing.

JBG Smith has nearly finished its portion of the work on the building that will house the movie theater, and Cojeaux Cinemas will start the interior build-out within the next couple of months, Edwards said. The theaters will all have laser projectors, large recliners with individual tables, and call buttons to request service (“quietly and seamlessly during the show”).

There will also be a themed bar with the exact concept still in development.

As the operator of other Virginia theaters, the last year has been an immense challenge, Cojeaux co-owner Anthony Coco concedes. But they are confident that folks are ready to go back to the movies.

“Having seen some fantastic box office numbers, like we saw last weekend, it is clear that movie goers are ready to get back in cinemas,” writes Coco. “And enjoy the craveable, one of a kind experience that Alamo Drafthouse provides its guests.”

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Morning Notes

Arlington Home Show This Weekend — “Whether you are a resident looking to improve your home, an experienced contractor, or landlord managing rentals, the 2021 VIRTUAL Arlington Home Show & Expo offers a convenient one-stop shop to ‘Ask an Expert’ and learn of new ways to update your home, and add value to your property.” [Event Calendar, Arlington Home Show]

Mastercard Returning to Arlington Office — “Mastercard Inc. will soon bring workers back to its New York City office at least two days a week. The payments giant also plans to open its Arlington, Virginia, office to more workers after already inviting more staff back its Sydney and Dubai offices, Chief Executive Officer Michael Miebach said in a memo to staff Wednesday. For most locations across the U.S., the company hopes to have workers in by September.” [Bloomberg]

Local Restaurants Need More Help — “Behrooz Sarvghadi is the owner of Kabob Bazaar, in Arlington, and one of hundreds of thousands of small business owners looking for financial assistance, as the nation tries to recover from the pandemic. ‘I’m hoping we get it, so we can continue the business,’ said Sarvghadi… the U.S. Small Business Administration says it ‘received more than 303,000 applications representing over $69 billion in requested funds, and nearly 38,000 applicants have been approved for more than $6 billion.’ But the issue is, only $28.6 billion was ‘signed into law.'” [WJLA]

Challenger Wants County Arts Changes — “The recent Embracing Arlington Arts forum between County Board aspirants actually provided some fireworks – albeit on an issue that qualifies as inside baseball. Incumbent County Board member Takis Karantonis and his challenger in the June 8 Democratic primary, Chanda Choun, split over whether the local community was best served by having the Arlington government’s arts and cultural-affairs apparatus continue operating as a subsidiary to the government’s economic-development operation.” [Sun Gazette]

Arlington Cemetery Station Reopening — “Metro customers at Addison Road and Arlington Cemetery will enjoy safer, modernized stations when the stations reopen on Sunday, May 23, after three months of work to completely rebuild their platforms and make upgrades throughout the stations. The reopenings will mark the completion of all 12 stations slated for platform reconstruction in Virginia.” [WMATA]

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Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders, and other local technology news. Monday Properties is proudly featuring 1812 N. Moore Street in Rosslyn.

The landscape for tech jobs is changing, according to a new study from the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA).

Although California still enjoys the No. 1 position for job postings, it is losing jobs while openings surge from Texas to Florida.

Virginia continues to hold its own as a hub for tech talent and jobs, coming in fourth for overall tech jobs and Artificial Intelligence jobs posted in March. Job postings increased enough from February to land the Commonwealth in the sixth, while it ranks eighth for work-from-home positions.

“While Virginia does not rank among the states with the highest tech industry employment growth rates over the past five years, this is largely due to the fact that the Commonwealth of Virginia already has a very large tech industry,” Suzanne Clark, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, said. “States that have seen the most spectacular growth in tech industry employment are by and large ones that began with very small tech industries.

Clark said the organization wants to see more economic diversification in the form of more private sector — as opposed to public sector — tech jobs.

“Much of Virginia’s underperformance in tech sector growth is attributable to our over-reliance on the federal government for tech sector jobs,” she said.

Arlington is doing its part to sustain Virginia’s tech job growth, according to Arlington Economic Development. The county’s tech industry is expected to stay ahead of the growth of the tech industry nationwide over the next five years, said Kirby Clark, a spokeswoman for AED.

“Arlington maintains its competitive edge for tech talent with its highly educated workforce, above-average millennial workforce participation, a cluster of higher education institutions and proximity to innovative government agencies,” she said.

Arlington’s tech industry grew by 19.3% from 2015 to 2020, nearly 4% more than the national average. It is expected to grow by 15.6% over the next five years, compared to the expected national growth of 14.7%, the AED spokeswoman said.

Last year, Arlington’s top industries included computer systems services and technical consulting services, sectors she said are poised to continue growing.

Many of the employers with the most job postings in March have headquarters or prominent outposts in Arlington: business and tech consulting group Deloitte has a space in Rosslyn, Amazon is moving into its HQ2 in Pentagon City, consulting group Accenture has three spaces in the county, including a cybersecurity center, while another consulting group, ICF International, has an outpost in Crystal City.

The local Deloitte office is also driving a 361-position increase in AI jobs in Arlington, with its recent announcement that it will launch a new AI research center to advance federal work, Clark said.

“Demand for AI professionals has grown substantially since 2017, when there were 165 total AI jobs posted in Arlington,” she said. “Fast-forward to 2020, there were 1,172 AI jobs posted in Arlington.”

The VEDP spokeswoman said the demand for people with AI skills in Virginia during the past year was more than twice the national average.

Nationwide, thousands of tech jobs are remote opportunities, and Kirby Clark said AED is dedicated to ensuring Arlington remains an attractive place to work from home.

“Many employers intend to adopt a hybrid work model following the pandemic, making Arlington well-positioned to remain a hub for companies by enabling them to offer an attractive home and work environment in a single setting,” Clark said. “Whether working at an office or home, Arlington will continue to provide an outstanding quality of life that attracts people to live here.”

The VEDP spokeswoman, meanwhile, said the organization expects hybrid to be the new norm as well, which could help lift up the state as a whole, not just its large metro areas.

“Capitalizing on tech telework positions is also an important opportunity for rural and small metro regions that might not have been first in line to land tech jobs in the past,” Clark said.

Charts via CompTIA 

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With COVID-19 cases trending down, vaccines being distributed and restrictions loosening, County Board Chair Matt de Ferranti says his focus is starting to shift toward Arlington’s economic and social recovery.

“There is more work to do on the pandemic but recovery has already begun,” he said.

And Arlington County, by his assessment, is in a fairly strong place financially — in some ways, he said it is in a better place than when numerous federal agencies and military offices decamped from Pentagon City and Crystal City starting around 2005.

Arlington will receive $23 million this year and next year through the federal American Rescue Plan, some of which will be used to return funding for affordable housing and hunger prevention programs that had been on the chopping block from the 2022 budget. The new budget, as passed, boosts spending by 3.5% despite the economic turmoil caused by the pandemic.

In addition, Amazon’s presence is contributing to Arlington’s stability. De Ferranti said the e-commerce giant’s arrival is and will continue attracting talent and businesses of all sizes, strengthening the county’s commercial office base. And, for now, the county has been spared from making incentive payments to Amazon.

The county’s incentive package for Amazon stipulated that Arlington would share a cut of the revenue generated from an increase in hotel stays if Amazon met its hiring goals. Since the economic impact of the coronavirus also included dramatically fewer hotel stays, Arlington has not been on the hook for these payments.

If any of these things weren’t true, de Ferranti said he “would be more worried about the fiscal outlook in 2023, 2024 and 2025.”

This moment — when the county’s financial outlook is strong but there’s still significant need in parts of the community — is exactly when the government needs to step in, he said. Keeping people who are at risk of eviction in their homes, fighting hunger and providing grants and loans to small businesses will have big economic returns later on, the chair said.

The county has learned a number of financial lessons from the coronavirus, de Ferranti noted. Arlington will need to invest more in public health staffing and is considering a rainy-day fund for future public health emergencies. When the American Rescue Plan funding dries up, the county may need to increase its support, through grants and loans, for small businesses as well as its investments in hunger and eviction prevention.

While the county has been focused on the pandemic response, it has held back on certain equity-focused work. Some community engagement in land-use changes to address Missing Middle housing was pushed back due to the pandemic, as have investments in multimodal transit and workforce development.

“Arlington is committed to equity, but it has been hard,” de Ferranti said.

And while Amazon is economically propping up the county in some ways, Arlington Public Schools’ budget will not be feeling the returns as directly. The county will need to do more work with the School Board and administration to address APS’s systemic budget deficits, he said.

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Amazon has unveiled plans for the PenPlace site in the second phase of its $2.5 billion HQ2 in Pentagon City, including a lush office building shaped like a double helix.

The company will build 2.8 million square feet of office space across three 22-story buildings, an amenity building with a community gathering space and daycare center, and three retail pavilions. The focal point will be The Helix: a 350-foot tall spiraling office building that recreates a climb in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

PenPlace will also have three acres of open space with a dog run and a 250-seat amphitheater, for public use.

Amazon will start filing designs and technical documents with Arlington County Tuesday morning, Amazon spokesperson Adam Sedó said during a call with journalists on Monday.

The tech giant aims to go before the Arlington County Board by the end of 2021, with construction starting in 2022 and ending in 2025, said John Schoettler, Amazon Vice President Global Real Estate and Facilities, during the call. He affirmed that so far, HQ2 remains on-schedule.

PenPlace is bounded by Army Navy Drive, S. Fern Street, 12th Street S. and S. Eads Street. Amazon owns the entire block after it bought a hotel on the site in September. The hotel is currently being torn down.

Schoettler said Arlington County has given Amazon more flexibility for this phase than for the first phase of development on the Metropolitan Park site, which includes two, 22-story concrete office buildings, retail and open space.

“The County Board told us for PenPlace, we really want you to push the envelope,” he said. “It really gave us a clean canvas to try new things.”

The Helix will be the highlight of the site and the tallest building, said Lead Architect Dale Alberda, who works for the international architecture firm NBBJ and helped to design The Spheres within the company’s Seattle headquarters. Throughout PenPlace, he said, the designs keep employees, who will number 25,000 across HQ2, close to nature and the community.

“Amazon has been challenging us to think about how people can connect to nature not just outside when the weather is good, but inside as well, so that it’s available all day, all the time,” Alberda said.

Schoettler said Amazon is also working hard to use sustainable energy. As part of its goal of LEED Platinum certifications — and to meet its pledge to be carbon neutral by 2040 — the buildings will be powered by a solar farm in southern Virginia.

The headquarters will feature one-quarter mile of new protected bike lanes and more than 950 onsite bike spaces as well as below-ground parking for about 2,100 cars and underground loading zones for trucks. There will also be a new bus platform on 12th Street S. near the main entrance to PenPlace.

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The pandemic has dealt a blow to Arlington’s economy, but the county may be well-positioned for a rebound rather quickly.

In a virtual panel discussion hosted by the Arlington Committee of 100 — the second of a two part series — local experts said that unlike past downturns that resulted in a lengthy recovery, this one is driven not by structural economic factors but by a virus.

As people are vaccinated and the pandemic recedes — whenever that may happen — expect a strong recovery.

“The economy right now is reacting to the health crisis and [that] is driving the recession,” said Jeanette Chapman, economist and director of the Stephen Fuller Institute at George Mason University. “This is not a normal recession.”

Due to the pandemic, consumer spending dropped significantly. Compared to this time last year, credit and debit card spending is down nearly a quarter in Arlington (less than D.C. comparably, which is down nearly 30%).

However, that is an improvement from early spring when spending overall was down about 50%.

As expected, the drop in spending was mostly concentrated in the transportation, apparel, hotel, and food service sectors. Grocery and food spending rose in 2020.

While job losses continues to be a concern, the Northern Virginia region is above the national average. Chapman says this is due to “mostly being a knowledge services economy and can send a bulk of workers home [to telework].” A big chunk of the job losses, as expected, are in the leisure and hospitality sector, accounting for nearly a third from November 2019 to November 2020.

“Leisure and hospitality jobs tend to have lower wage scales,” says Chapman. “Those jobs are hardest hit.”

In general, says Chapman, the losses regionally are skewed toward lower wage jobs. However, because this recession is due to a health crisis, Chapman says we can expect a near full recovery by 2022 due to the widespread availability of a vaccine.

Arlington’s small businesses, particularly those dependent on in-person interaction, are also being significantly impacted.

Telly Tucker, director of Arlington Economic Development, said that any business with fewer than 50 employees is defined as a “small business.” This encompasses about 90%, or 6,000, of the county’s businesses.

Over the last ten months, the county and the Commonwealth have implemented a variety of programs and grants. And it does seem to be helping, said Tucker.

Arlington’s small business emergency grant provided nearly 400 businesses with a combined $2.7 million. More than half of those businesses were woman and/or minority-owned.

As for bigger businesses, Tucker also spoke about how office building vacancy rates actually were decreasing going into 2020 from a high of over 20% in 2015.

While the vacancy rate has since risen and now sits at 16.3%, that remains below the office vacancy rates of the mid-2010s. Commercial real estate like office buildings are a major source of tax revenue for the county, Tucker noted.

What’s more, a number of large, multinational companies have made a home in Arlington over the last five years. This includes Microsoft, which made the announcement just last week that it would have a significant presence in Rosslyn.

The presence of Amazon and other major companies is likely to spur more job growth in Arlington, as is an expected rise in federal spending under the Biden administration.

The Arlington housing market, meanwhile, is doing well. Homes are typically selling for between 3% to 5% over listing price, noted Tucker, which is a positive sign.

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Longtime Arlington residents who founded a Rosslyn-based online university are donating $50,000 to help local small businesses.

In 1998, Yanping Chen and J. Davidson Frame established the University of Management and Technology, a fully online school enrolling national and international students, located at 1901 Fort Myer Drive. Their $50,000 donation comes from the Chen Frame Foundation, which they started to support educational causes across the world.

But now, they are thinking closer to home.

“COVID-19 brought to mind that we’re not focused enough on our own backyard,” Frame said.

Arlington Economic Development will use the money to help pay for new initiatives, such as educational programming and online services, to help small businesses through the pandemic.

Together with a second round of Paycheck Protection Program funding, AED is expecting about $250,000 in new funding for its pandemic-focused programs, AED Director Telly Tucker said. The department will release more information on the new efforts the money will be funding in the next few weeks, he said.

Arlington County has about 6,000 enterprises that employ fewer than 50 people, which is AED’s definition of a small business, Tucker said.

Pre-pandemic, about three staff members from AED handled outreach to these small businesses. When businesses were forced to shut down or change their operations, the three-person staff was swamped with questions on everything from how to apply for federal assistance programs to how to set up temporary outdoor seating areas to how to keep employees safe.

“It was all hands on deck: We were working together to do what we could to support businesses,” Tucker said. “The overall takeaway for me was that there was no playbook for us to go by on how to navigate during a pandemic.”

But existing business owners were not the only ones with questions. Many who had lost their job or were furloughed saw the pandemic and their new-found extra time as an opportunity to pursue their goals of owning a business, and needed help getting started, he said.

“I ran the entrepreneurship program at George Washington University for several years,” Frame said. “All the time, people would come off the street and describe some new, really weird idea. They would pick my brain. I understand some of the challenges they face — they have lots of questions.”

After listening to business owners, AED came up with a list of efforts that could help, including retaining a few experts who could answer questions “on everything from finances to business-legal services,” Tucker said.

With the influx of cash, AED is also looking to launch an e-commerce platform for small-scale retail stores in the County, in addition to spending more on marketing campaigns to encourage people to shop local.

The County Board heard the news about the donation during its recessed meeting on Dec. 15. It is the first donation of its kind since the Board authorized County Manager Mark Schwartz this year to accept donations of $50,000 or less.

“I wanted to say a hearty thank you,” Schwartz said of the donation. “I hope that when the pandemic is over, I can meet both these [people] in person and give them the commendation that they deserve.”

Schwartz will ask the Board in January to appropriate the money.

Photo courtesy University of Management and Technology

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(Updated at 4:15 p.m.) On the second anniversary of Amazon choosing Arlington for its HQ2, Vice President of Public Policy for Amazon Brian Huseman is celebrating the project staying the course.

Huseman spoke with ARLnow about the goals of the celebration, Amazon’s local charitable contributions, the progress the company is making toward its hiring goals, construction deadlines, and the impact of the coronavirus on work.

“We want to convey that we’re on-track and on-target to hire the employees and we want to convey that we’re deeply invested in the community,” Huseman said. “We want to be a good neighbor and contribute to community organizations as much as we can during these challenging times.”

Despite the pandemic, Phase One of construction — on the Metropolitan Park development site in Pentagon City — continues on-schedule, Huseman said. In this phase, a block of warehouses were torn down and two Amazon towers totalling 2.1 million square feet are being built in its place.

Amazon is also funding the $14 million renovation of Metropolitan Park, adjacent to the first HQ2 phase.

Both Phase One and the park are expected to be completed in 2023, when Amazon expects to open its complex. Until then, it is leasing several temporary office spaces in Crystal City.

The second phase of HQ2 should be ready to present to the community and go through the county’s approval process starting in 2021, Huseman said. That phase is expected to include several million additional square feet at the PenPlace development site, one block down from the first phase along S. Eads Street. Amazon recently bought a hotel on the PenPlace block, with plans to tear it down.

Amazon reached the 1,000-employee mark earlier this year, hiring first in Human Resources, Recruiting and Finance. It has 500 open roles currently, Huseman said, and plans to continue its hiring spree for the foreseeable future.

“We’re on-track to meet 25,000 hires over next decade,” he said.

Amazon is sticking to that number even as it grows in Bellevue, Washington, which some have speculated is becoming the “real HQ2.” In September, Amazon announced it would be increasing the number of hires from 15,000 to 25,000 in the city, not far from the company’s Seattle headquarters.

Huseman dismissed the speculation that Bellevue would be supplanting Arlington.

“We have a presence in the Puget Sound region,” he said. “We are growing there, but the key here is that we promised 25,000 jobs and we’re on target for that. That’s what we’re going to deliver.”

And employees at HQ2 will be doing a “whole range of things” from web services to retail. The Vice President of Alexa International, Rob Pulciani, was one of the first executives to transfer to HQ2 with his team to build “the next generation of Alexa services,” Huseman said.

“Whatever Amazon does, you’ve got people at HQ2 doing that,” he said.

As a result of the pandemic, Amazon employees can work from home until June 2021. Most are opting to stay home but the offices are open with temperature checks, frequent disinfecting and social distancing in place. Candidates are interviewing remotely.

“Working from home is pretty effective and collaborative,” Huseman said. “We are able to communicate with video-conferencing and channels that we have with teams across the country.”

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From themed attractions to hydroponic farms, locals have dreamed up novel ways to revitalize Crystal City Shops (1750 Crystal Dr), an underground mall.

The shops, which rely largely on foot traffic from Crystal City office workers, have been struggling during the pandemic. But with Amazon’s arrival spurring new development, some local groups have been brainstorming a new future for the half-mile corridor.

Last week, the best ideas were proclaimed winners of the “Underground Challenge,” developed by Livability 22202, a group that includes the Arlington Ridge, Aurora Highlands and Crystal City civic associations.

“The Underground Challenge was organized to spur creative thinking about the Crystal City Underground and its future with the change and new development now happening in Crystal City and National Landing,” said Livability 22202’s press release. The group said that subterranean shops are “much loved by local residents.”

The challenge was sponsored by JBG Smith, which owns the shopping center, and the National Landing Business Improvement District, which serves the Crystal City, Pentagon City and Potomac Yard neighborhoods. The three groups founded a working group to liven up the sparse hallways.

People submitted creative writing pieces, videos or business plans to revitalize the buildings, corridors and plazas that were built a half-century ago.

“Entrants celebrated their fondness for the underground, pointed out its quirks and features, and proposed new ideas for its future,” said the press release.

These ideas included libraries, museums, urban farms or spaces for kid-friendly STEM activities.

Patricia Heath’s “Underground Energy” won first place in the “Write Underground” category:

“There are myriad issues to be addressed, and I don’t have all the answers (and likely don’t know all the challenges),” Heath wrote. “What I do know is this: the Water Park may be the outdoor personification of our Crystal City urban village, but the Underground is its beating heart and circulatory system, literally and figuratively.”

Runners-up in the creative writing category included Neena Gupta’s “In Search of a Protagonist” and Matthew Mercado’s “Dr. Mercado’s Diagnosis.”

Kari Klaus won the video category with a vision of a Las Vegas-inspired Underground.

Videos from the runners-up Emma Benson and Eric Cassell offered “fond — and satirical — commentary on the existing Underground experience.”

Business plan category winner Matt McKinstry suggested the “Under Grange,” a network of indoor hydroponic farms and agri-tech startups that grow vegetables, greens and herbs, and support cheesemaking and beekeeping, to supply local restaurants.

Runners-up included Michael Hong, who suggested a Museum of Science Fiction and venues for live music, and John Chapin, who imagined security-related businesses settling into the Underground.

“The community’s robust level of engagement in the ‘Underground Challenge’ truly reflects their passion for great places and appetite for continuous reinvention,” said Tracy Sayegh Gabriel, the president and executive director of the National Landing BID, in a statement. “National Landing is fortunate to have such a committed community of residents focused on positive efforts that will improve the neighborhood for all.”

The contest’s judges included Robert Siegel, former co-host of National Public Radio’s All Things Considered; Arlington videographer Eric Courtney; and Arlington authors Rick Hodges and Kim O’Connell.

Livability 22202 said it plans to share ideas from the Challenge in future discussions about the underground.

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