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.
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.
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 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.
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
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.”
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.
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.
‘Open Schools’ Signs Also Being Stolen — “The debate over whether kids should be learning in or out of schools is getting ugly in Arlington. So much so, dozens of signs that said ‘Open Schools Now’ have gone missing. ‘Some of them have gotten stolen and neighbors have found them in trash cans,’ parent Russell Laird said Friday, standing near 100 new signs that had just been delivered. ‘I told people, keep count of how many were stolen, come back with double.'” [Fox 5]
County Getting More COVID-19 Aid — “The Arlington County Board today accepted more than $3 million dollars in additional federal aid to support low-to-moderate-income residents during the COVID-19 pandemic. The aid included more money for housing vouchers and funding for a range of relief programs to support families and small businesses.” [Arlington County]
Restaurant Week Starts Today — “Arlington Restaurant Week will run from October 19-26. During the week, diners can try set menu items from many local restaurants, at a discounted price. The idea is for diners to find a new to-go place for dining out.” [ARLnow]
W&OD Trail Detour Shifting — “The current W&OD Trail detour route just east of Lee Highway (Route 29) will be shifted for about two weeks beginning October 19 to allow additional construction activity. Crews will reconstruct sidewalks on Lee Highway, the Econolodge entrance on Fairfax Drive, and nearby curb ramps on Lee Highway. Trail users will be directed to a new sidewalk and trail adjacent to the new trail bridge during this detour.” [VDOT]
Gutshall Posthumously Honored By Chamber — “The Arlington Chamber of Commerce is pleased to announce that the late Erik Gutshall is our 2020 inductee into the Arlington Business Hall of Fame.” [Arlington Chamber of Commerce]
Local Church Gets Big Donation — “Today, Our Lady, Queen of Peace Church in Arlington received 40 pallets of toiletries and household products worth $250,000 from @FoodForThePoor. They plan to give away the items during their weekly food distribution and through the parish thrift store.” [Arlington Catholic Herald/Twitter]
AED Wins Prestigious Awards — “Arlington Economic Development took home numerous honors at this year’s International Economic Development Council (IEDC) 2020 Excellence Awards, which were announced earlier today at the organization’s annual conference. AED’s programs and partnerships were recognized for Economic Excellence in several categories.” [Arlington County]
Amazon Nears Thousandth HQ2 Hire — “Even amid the region’s economic shutdown, Amazon has still been staffing up its HQ2 offices in Arlington, quickly approaching its 1,000th hire at the second headquarters campus, said Brian Kenner, head of HQ2 policy. ‘We’ve been very happy with the caliber of candidates,’ Kenner said.” [Washington Business Journal]
Pandemic Making Single-Family Homes Pricier — “Could the bloom be off the rose when it comes to urban (or urban-village) living? Figures are preliminary at best, but there is some inkling that the COVID-19 pandemic may be changing patterns among home-buyers. ‘Relatively better performance of single-family homes in relation to multi-family condominium properties clearly suggest migration from the city centers to the suburbs,’ said Lawrence Yun, chief economist of the National Association Realtors, in parsing sales data from May.” [InsideNova]
New Arlington Poet Laureate — “Award-winning poet and Marymount University professor Holly Karapetkova has been selected as the second Poet Laureate of Arlington County. During her two-year appointment, which begins July 1, 2020, she will serve as an advocate for poetry and the literary arts, working to raise Arlingtonians’ consciousness and appreciation of poetry in its written and spoken forms.” [Arlington County]
Snubbed Business Owners Speak Out — “ASAP Screen Printing is a small business. Yet the Arlington County government did not find the company small enough to deserve assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic, instead providing grants to the likes of” hotels and franchisees of chain restaurants like Subway and Jimmy John’s, writes ASAP owner Mohammad Shiekhy. [InsideNova]
Toppled Tree Knocks Out Power to Neighborhood — A large tree fell, took down utility lines, and knocked out power to more than 100 homes in North Arlington’s Bellevue Forest neighborhood last night. [Twitter]
Dorsey on Death of George Floyd — Arlington County Board member Christian Dorsey posted the following on Facebook Sunday afternoon: “Why is it when we are bird watching, retrieving mail, swimming in a pool, walking down the street, or living in our own homes that you view us as a threat? Why do these routine activities see us being reported to police and losing our lives? It is a question my daughters ask, as do the children of every black person in America. Yet that question needs to be seriously be pondered non-Blacks. We then need you to transform episodic outrage into all-the-time anti-racism.” [Facebook, Blue Virginia]
House Fire in Hall’s Hill — “1800 block of N. Cameron St — crews encountered fire in attic. Fire was quickly controlled, 6 occupants escaped without injury and one dog was rescued in good condition. @RedCross called in to assist occupants.” [Twitter]
County Creates Badges for Mask-Requiring Businesses — “In response to Gov. Ralph Northam’s Executive Order that face coverings must be worn inside public places, the County created the ‘We Are Covered’ program. This gives Arlington businesses, multi-family residences, and houses of worship a way to show they have pledged to protect the people who come through their doors.” [Arlington County]
Tables, Tents in CC Sports Pub Parking Lot — “With outdoor seating now permitted as part of Phase One, Finlay and his staff worked to turn the restaurant’s parking lot into a patio. Outdoor tables are all set up six feet apart. ‘We’re lucky and blessed to have a parking lot that’s big enough to accommodate that type of spacing and still have the social distancing and be able to abide by all the rules and regulations we have to go by,’ he said.” [WJLA]
ACPD Releases Photo of Car That Struck Girl, Dog — On Sunday, Arlington County Police released photos of the dark-colored sedan that struck a girl and killed her dog Friday in the Donaldson Run neighborhood. ARLnow also obtained video of the car. [ARLnow]
Bayou Bakery Donates Thousands of Meals — “Back in 2005, [Bayou Bakery owner David] Guas saw first hand how Hurricane Katrina impacted his hometown and the importance of rapid response in rebuilding the community. In March 2020, when COVID-19 closed school doors, he knew he needed to provide the same fast-acting relief to area children and families left underserved.” [Washington Life]
Discussion with AED’s Telly Tucker — “We talked with Telly Tucker, the new head of Arlington Economic Development, about Friday’s reopening, what’s going on with the local economy, the plight of small businesses during the pandemic, and the growth of tech companies in Northern Virginia.” [Facebook, Apple Podcasts]
County Board Defends COVID-19 Response — “Arlington leaders continue to push back against accusations they could be doing more to address the COVID-19 crisis within the county’s 26 square miles. A number of civic-activists used the public-comment period of the County Board’s April 25 meeting (held ‘virtually’ after the government received state authority to do so) to rap officials for not imposing more aggressive regulation of daily life.” [InsideNova]
More Contributions for Small Biz Grant Fund — “The Arlington County Industrial Development Authority has joined Arlington Economic Development’s (AED) efforts to help small businesses… [The authority] approved a contribution of $326,000 of its own funding. Together with the $674,000 of funding from the County, and the recently announced contributions of $100,000 each by the Crystal City and Rosslyn Business Improvement Districts, total GRANT program funding has reached $1.2 million.” [Arlington County, Rosslyn BID]
Ballston Hotel Donates Rooms to Healthcare Workers — “The Ballston BID is collaborating with local organizations to coordinate free accommodations at the Holiday Inn Arlington at Ballston for essential healthcare workers in the community. Chesapeake Hospitality, which manages the Ballston-based Holiday Inn on North Fairfax, is donating a complimentary block of 50 rooms per day… to frontline medical staff, their families, and those most vulnerable within the community.” [Press Release]
Arlington Gets Okay Social Distancing Marks — “Falls Church has a C+, Fairfax County has a C and Arlington gets a B- in social distancing grades from @Unacast. Virginia’s grade is D- and the U.S. as a whole gets a D+.” [Falls Church News-Press, Twitter]
New Deputy Chief for ACPD — “Arlington County Police Chief M. Jay Farr is pleased to announce the appointment of Captain Adrienne Quigley to the position of Deputy Chief of Police, effective Sunday, May 10, 2020. Deputy Chief Quigley will assume command of the Systems Management Division at a later date.” [Arlington County]
Historic Home and Huge Lot Not for Sale, Yet — “Long coveted by developers and planners for schools and parks, the home built just after the Civil War has stirred interest since the death in 2017 of owner Randy Rouse, the homebuilder and equestrian. But his widow still lives in the home. And this week, it appears that some speculation on marketing the house was premature, the chances that the county could purchase it almost nil.” [Falls Church News-Press]
COVID Case Shuts Down Credit Union Branch — “The Arlington Community Federal Credit Union is closing one of their branches after a staff member tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, the credit union announced Monday morning.” [Patch]
Bankruptcy for Hair Cuttery, Bubbles — “Ratner Cos., the Vienna-based parent company of hair salon chains including the Hair Cuttery, Bubbles and Cielo, has filed for bankruptcy protection after closing more than 80 locations across the country in March. The company and related entities, including Creative Hairdressers Inc., filed for Chapter 11 in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court.” [Washington Business Journal]
Flickr pool photo by Lisa Novak
More than 90% of Arlington small businesses have had their business “very” or “extremely” disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.
That’s according to the results of a preliminary survey conducted by Arlington Economic Development, revealed in a county press release Thursday evening. With many businesses shut down by emergency order, revenue has slowed to a trickle for a wide swath of the local business community.
“While the pandemic is impacting numerous segments of the Arlington business community, it is particularly difficult for those that are customer-facing, specifically small retail, hospitality and personal services businesses, which have reported significant sales declines as well as employee layoffs,” the county noted.
To make matters worse, the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program loan fund, part of the $2 trillion stimulus package passed late last month, has run out of money — before many small businesses could get their applications processed by swamped banks.
A delay in replenishing the program, amid partisan bickering in Congress, could lead to business closures.
(ARLnow’s parent company, which employs 9 people, applied for a PPP loan from PNC Bank on April 6. As of this morning it was still “under review.”)
Arlington County, meanwhile, is launching its own relief program for small businesses. The county says it will provide grants of up to $10,000 for businesses and nonprofits with fewer than 50 employees. The application for the program is expected to open in early May.
The funds for the program are being reallocated from elsewhere in the current Fiscal Year 2020 budget.
More from Arlington County:
Arlington County has created the Arlington Small Business Emergency GRANT (Giving Resiliency Assets Near Term) Program, to provide immediate financial assistance to Arlington’s small businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The GRANT program is designed to bridge the gap to provide near-term relief for businesses, some of whom have experienced delays or limitations with Federal relief initiatives. The program was approved during a County Board budget work session Thursday, April 16.
“Small businesses contribute to the character of our community,” said Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey. “What’s more – they are a vital component of our community’s economic health. More than 90 percent of our businesses are small businesses – and right now, they need our help more than ever before.”
The GRANT Program would provide grants of up to $10,000 to businesses and non-profits with less than 50 employees. Businesses may use the grants for employee salary and benefits as well as for other business capital and operating expenses directly related to the immediate impacts of COVID-19. Funding for the program is being reallocated from existing grant funds in the FY2020 budget.
“This pandemic has been truly devastating to the Arlington business community, particularly our customer-facing small businesses,” said Arlington Economic Development Director Telly Tucker, who reported that more than 9 out of 10 small businesses called the pandemic extremely or very disruptive to business operations. “In our outreach to our business community, we’ve heard that access to financial assistance was what they needed more than anything. We’re hoping these funds can bridge the gap for businesses and help them stay afloat during this challenging time.”
Eligibility and Applications Process
Eligible businesses and non-profits are those located in Arlington County with fewer than 50 employees that can demonstrate revenue losses of 35 percent or more as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Applications will be evaluated through a competitive process involving a weighted scoring system, looking at considerations like the number of jobs retained or supported with funds, length of time the business has operated in Arlington, whether it is women and/or minority-owned, demonstrated need, and how the funds will be used. Applications for Federal programs will not impact County GRANT eligibility. The goal is to have the application process up and running in early May.
Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf