Morning Notes

GMU Computing School Clears Hurdle — “George Mason University’s new School of Computing, the first of its kind in the commonwealth, has received the all-important thumbs up from Virginia education regulators… The computing school, as well as the new Institute for Digital Innovation, will eventually have a physical home in Arlington, in a 360,500-square-foot building on Mason’s Virginia Square campus.” [Washington Business Journal]

Marymount Women’s Golf in NCAA Tourney — “After winning the Centennial Conference and Atlantic East Conference championships earlier this season, the Marymount University women’s golf is officially headed to the NCAA Division III Championships after yesterday evening’s selection show. The championships are scheduled to take place May 11-14.” [Marymount University]

AIM Hosting ‘Couchella’ — “Arlington Independent Media (AIM) and WERA 96.7FM present Couchella, a two night, online concert on May 7th & 8th, from 8:00pm – 10:00pm, featuring a wide array of musical performances from the DC region and beyond. Hosted by DC’s own sideshow girl, Mab Just Mab, this two-night virtual concert will feature national acts along with some of the DMV’s most popular performers, playing from their living rooms and studios.” [Arlington Independent Media]

Ballston Company Supplying Green Power to Google — “Arlington, Virginia-based AES Corp. has signed an agreement to supply electricity to power Google’s data centers in Virginia with carbon-free energy. Financial terms of the 10-year supply contract weren’t disclosed, but AES said it will require about $600 million of investment and generate 1,200 jobs, both permanent and construction, in Virginia.” [WTOP]

Hotels Hurting in Arlington — “Hoteliers and moteliers in Arlington continue to be filling far fewer rooms than they were in the pre-pandemic period, and coupled with significant reductions in room rates, are receiving less than half the revenue per available room than they were a year before. Arlington’s hotel-occupancy rate of 31.6 percent for the first three months of the year was down from 52.3 percent for the January-February-March period of 2020.” [Sun Gazette]

Office Vacancy Rate Up This Year — “Countywide, the office-vacancy rate stood at 18.7 percent in the first quarter, according to data from CoStar as reported by Arlington Economic Development. That’s up from 16.6 percent a year before, but still down from a peak several years ago, when the countywide rate touched the 20-percent mark.” [Sun Gazette]

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Our Arlington Agenda post is back for the first time since the pandemic started.

As a reminder: Arlington Agenda is a listing of interesting events for the week ahead in Arlington County. If you’d like your event considered, fill out the event submission form to submit it to our event calendar.

Monday, May 3

Patterns at Gallery Underground
Shops at Crystal City, 2100 Crystal Drive
Time:

Gallery Underground in May presents in the Focus Gallery, Patterns: an all-member show of works highlighting pattern and texture. Media used in the display include oil, acrylic, pastel, water media, sculpture, glass, ceramics, wood and metalwork.

Tuesday, May 4

Protecting What You Build: Intellectual Property as the Entrepreneur’s Core Asset
Virtually via Zoom
Time: Noon-2 p.m.

This free session hosted by the Center for the Protection of Intellectual Property (CPIP) at GMU Law School will guide attendees through types of intellectual property and how experienced entrepreneurs rely on them to implement their visions.

Wednesday, May 5

Legislative Update for Landlords in NOVA*
Virtually via Zoom
Time: 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

This webinar will review all Virginia laws going into effect on July 1, 2021, ensuring landlords understand new laws and know they are operating within the law — particularly regarding the legalization of marijuana.

Thursday, May 6

Lunch with a Librarian: Virtual Book Buzz
Virtually via Zoom
Time: Noon-12:30 p.m.

Drop in our monthly 30-minute book buzz with local librarians, with library staff and the public swapping book recommendations.

Friday, May 7

Second Anniversary Fundraising Event
Troy’s Italian Kitchen (2710 Washington Blvd)
Time: 11 a.m.-10 p.m.

Troy’s Italian Kitchen is celebrating its two-year anniversary with a fundraiser to give back to the community. A portion of proceeds on Friday will go to the Arlington Food Assistance Center and the Lyon Park Community Center.

5K Fridays: The Great Inflatable Race
Courtyard Green (2121 Crystal Drive)
Time: 6-7 p.m.

Pacers and the National Landing BID’s annual 5K series returns this Friday with a wacky summer inflatable attire theme. Registration is limited to 250 participants, so make prospective runners should sign-up in advance.

*Denotes featured (sponsored) event.

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Thinking about taking the next step in your career? The Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University offers flexible part-time or full-time options for graduate certificate and master’s degree programs designed to teach applicable, real-world knowledge for in-demand careers.

Join our upcoming Master’s and Certificate Virtual Open House for prospective students on April 7. The online session will provide an overview of the Schar School’s top-ranked master’s degree programs and graduate certificate programs, student services, and admissions requirements.

Virtual Master’s and Certificate Open House:

Wednesday, April 7
6:30-8 p.m. (EDT)
Virtual Session

Graduate Certificate Programs
Just five courses each with part-time and full-time options available

Master’s Degree Programs
Part-time and full-time options available

To learn more about graduate programs at the Schar School, register for the April 7 virtual open house or fill out our inquiry form.

(Update 5:15 p.m.) Demolition has begun on the exterior of the old Kann’s Department Store to make way for George Mason University’s Arlington campus expansion.

A University spokesperson confirmed to ARLnow that demolition of the interior began in November and the exterior demolition began this week. It’s expected to be completed in the fall.

Fencing went up in November around the mid-century building that has a long Arlington history.

First opened in 1951 as the suburban branch of a popular D.C. department store, Kann’s Department Store at 3401 Fairfax Drive became a gathering spot for many in Arlington. The department store featured three-floors, an escalator, a restaurant called the “Kannteen,” and monkeys.

Yes, the shoe department had a large glass-windowed monkey display with live monkeys from Brazil.

To this day, Arlingtonians hold fond memories of shopping at the department, as Charlie Clark documented earlier this month for the Falls Church News-Press.

In 1975, GMU acquired the building at Virginia Square.

For many years, it was used to house GMU’s law school (named after the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016) and became known as the “Original Building.” It was thought at the time that it was only law school in the country that had an escalator.

In an alumni remembrance from last year, many former students recounted how this building was where they bought clothes as a kid and earned their law degree as an adult.

In soon-to-be-demolished building’s place and on the same site will go an expansive, new, glass and steel building perhaps emblazoned with a distinctive green “M” at the top.

When demolition of the old building is completed, the university will begin design and construction work on the $250 million expansion. Money for the expansion, spurred by the arrival of Amazon’s HQ2, is coming from a combination of state funds and private donations.

The new building will have about 360,500 square feet of space, and is expected to be LEED Platinum-certified. It will house faculty from Institute for Digital InnovAtion and the university’s new School of Computing.

The expansion will help create “the Rosslyn-Ballston Innovation Corridor, an innovation district that will be the first of its kind in Virginia,” GMU says.

The university is expected to occupy about 60% of the space while private companies may lease other portions of it. GMU is predicting that the expansion will add 3,000-4,000 additional students to the Arlington campus by 2024.

Last month, GMU’s Board of Visitors authorized the university to begin negotiating with Mason Innovation Partners, a consortium made up of developers and investors, as the developer of the expansion project.

Following the demolition, construction is slated to start in the spring of 2022. The building is scheduled to open in the summer of 2025.

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(Updated 5:45 p.m.) Washington-Liberty High School senior James Licato is trying to clean up micropollutants in the Potomac River, and he came up with a solution that vaulted him to the finals of a major science competition.

Licato is one of 40 finalists in the Society for Science’s Regeneron Science Talent Search 2021, the nation’s oldest science and math competition for high school seniors. He developed a sandy substance, using zeolites, that acts as a microscopic net, catching the micropollutants that wastewater treatment facilities miss.

Chosen from 1,760 applicants, top finalists each earn $25,000 in scholarships and can nab between $40,000 and $250,000 if they are named in the top 10. This year’s virtual competition goes from March 10-17.

“Regeneron is definitely prestigious,” Licato said. “It feels great.”

Arlington Public Schools last had a senior — from Wakefield High School — make it to the finals in 1997. Washington-Liberty High School last had two students reach the final round in 1976, and have had four in total since 1942, said Society for Science spokeswoman Aparna Paul. Yorktown High School most recently had a finalist in 1996.

Licato credits the APS science staff with connecting him with extracurricular opportunities to present his work. His teachers also helped him work out the logistics of participating in science fairs and ordered materials he needed but could not obtain.

“The APS science department is awesome and has always been really supportive of everything I’ve done,” Licato said.

Licato said his area of research is a growing one, as more people become aware of the toxicity of these micropollutants. Many known pharmaceutical and personal care products (PPCPs) are toxic to aquatic organisms and perfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAs), found in non-stick and water-resistant coatings, can cause a host of diseases in humans, he said.

“The more we study, the more negative effects we find,” he said.

The benefit of his product is that it could be cheap and scalable because it could use the byproduct of coal fire plants, which normally sits in landfills, he said. It will need more testing and engineering work but Licato believes it has the potential to attract federal funding.

A Boy Scout and avid fisher, Licato has always been passionate about water quality and ecology. He won second place in the Earth and Environmental Sciences at the INTEL ISEF competition, also hosted by Society for Science, for his project removing an anti-diabetic medicine from wastewater.

That project introduced him to Thomas Huff, the Director of the Shared Research Instrumentation Facility at George Mason University, who specializes in researching river pollutants. Licato reached out to him because he needed to access a liquid chromatograph-tandem mass spectrometer.

At first, Huff was “highly skeptical,” but the then-sophomore won him over. He said Licato proved to be more adept with the machine than many senior undergraduate students.

Huff offered him an internship drawing and analyzing environmental samples at the Potomac Science Center in Woodbridge. He and a team of graduate researchers at George Mason University were determining the concentrations of PPCPs near wastewater treatment facilities for multiple grant projects.

Licato became a peer of the graduate student researchers, offering new ideas and mastering the software the team used, Huff said. He also developed methods of analyzing data that the other students and professors still use. The lab received a three-year contract to continue studying micropollutants.

“He was a consummate team member and morale booster,” the professor said. “He even taught tricks and tips to a full professor with 35 years of research experience.”

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If you are considering pursuing a graduate degree in an in-demand security field, now is the perfect time. The Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University has been awarded a $450,000 gift from the Diana Davis Spencer Foundation for the school’s highly ranked security studies programs.

The gift, intended to develop and prepare future national security leaders, will be available in scholarships for eligible students studying one of the Schar School’s four master’s programs this fall 2021:

“The Diana Davis Spencer Foundation gift is making it possible for many students to attend our high-ranked security studies programs and prepare for careers in intelligence and security policy,” said Schar School Dean Mark J. Rozell.

Scholarships will range from $3,000 to $30,000.

“We are delighted to support students to attend a top-tier policy and government school, which prepares them to be the outstanding professionals who will serve in the national security arena,” said the foundation’s Chief Executive Officer Abby Spencer Moffat in announcing the award.

Learn more about the Diana Davis Spencer Foundation Scholarship and how to apply.

Not ready to apply just yet? The Schar School offers admissions events for you to explore which program is the right fit for you.

Register for an upcoming Master’s and Certificate Virtual Open House on April 7 to explore each program in-depth, as well as meet program directors, understand the admissions process and application requirements, and talk to admissions staff. To get a feel for life as a Schar School student, attend a sample class with former Deputy Director of the FBI Andrew McCabe on national security, or join an interactive discussion on some of today’s most pressing topics during a Policy Exchange event.

Morning Notes

Early Morning Fracas in Va. Square — “At approximately 1:09 a.m. on February 24, police were dispatched to the report of a fight in progress. Upon arrival, it was determined that the suspect entered a business and allegedly began selecting merchandise. The victim refused the suspect service citing restrictions on the sales of alcohol during the overnight hours. The suspect and victim became engaged in a verbal dispute that escalated to a physical altercation, during which the victim was able to recover the merchandise. The suspect re-entered the business… at which point a witness intervened.” [ACPD]

Developers Selected for GMU Expansion — “George Mason University has picked a team of developers to manage the construction of the Amazon-induced expansion of its Arlington campus… The university hopes to finalize a development agreement with Edgemoor and Harrison Street by December and start construction by spring 2022. It plans to open the building by summer 2025. The Arlington campus, is located on Fairfax Drive just west of Clarendon.” [Washington Business Journal]

YHS Swimmer Breaks Two Nat’l Records — “US National Teamer Torri Huske made her mark on the final day of the 2021 VHSL Class 6 State meet, breaking two National High School records. Huske, a senior at Yorktown High School, began her meet by swimming a time of 1:53.73 in the 200 IM, chopping a tenth of a second off of Dagny Knutson’s National Public High School record of 1:53.82 that had stood since 2009.” [Swim Swam]

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Morning Notes

GMU Forms Coalition for Arlington Expansion — “George Mason University has gathered a powerhouse coalition of business executives and public sector leaders to help guide its tech-centric Arlington campus. The President’s Innovation Advisory Council, GMU announced Monday, will be chaired by Aneesh Chopra, president of CareJourney and the nation’s chief technology officer during the Obama administration.” [Washington Business Journal]

Arlington Real Estate Prices Rise — “Year-over-year median per-square-foot prices were up in eight of nine major jurisdictions across the inner D.C. region, according to new figures… The District of Columbia led all comers, with its per-square-foot sales price standing at $521, up 16 percent from $449 in January 2020. Arlington ($465, up 16.5 percent from $399) and Alexandria ($360, up 4.1 percent from $346) ranked second and third.” [InsideNova]

Explaining Arlington to Australians — Arlington native and former Real World cast member Eric Patrick talked about his hometown and upbringing with an Australian podcast that focuses on communities. [Apple Podcasts, Twitter]

Nearby: Patrick Moran Running for Office — “Patrick Moran, son of former Northern Virginia Congressman and Alexandria Mayor Jim Moran, announced Saturday that he is running for City Council. Moran made the announcement on Facebook… [he] has yet to file his paperwork with the city registrar to run as a Democrat in the June 8 Democratic primary.” Moran was twice the subject of local controversy in 2012 and 2013. [ALXnow]

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Morning Notes

Planning Process for Pentagon City Underway — “Amazon.com Inc.’s vision for Pentagon City is decidedly futuristic, anchored by a helix-shaped building that looks straight out of a sci-fi novel. Arlington County’s existing plans that guide the neighborhood’s growth, meanwhile, date back to the days of disco… The open question is how much more development the tech giant will inspire.” [Washington Business Journal]

SUV Overturns on GW Parkway — From WTOP yesterday morning: “NB George Washington Pkwy before the Key Bridge, crash involves one on its side with the left lane only squeezing by.” [Twitter]

GMU to Partner with Local American Legion Post — “Realizing a need existed to help veterans and their families in similar situations, leaders at the law school established the Mason Veterans and Servicemembers Legal Clinic (M-VETS) in 2004…. A new partnership with American Legion Post 139, which will be standing up a new building in Arlington, will allow the clinic to further increase its impact.” [George Mason University]

New Apartment Building Opening — “AHC Inc., a leading developer of affordable housing in the Washington-Baltimore metro region, is pleased to introduce a new apartment community in Arlington, VA, called The Apex. Featuring a total of 256 apartments, the $100 million development has started to welcome its first residents and is currently accepting applications.” [Press Release]

Arlington Housing Remains Pricey — “The city of Falls Church in Virginia remains the most expensive housing market, by official jurisdiction, with a median price of $820,000 last month. But among larger jurisdictions, Virginia’s Arlington County remains the most expensive, at $600,000 last month.” [WTOP]

Instant-Runoff Voting Challenges — “Technical, legal and financial complexities likely will mean any start to ‘instant-runoff’ County Board voting in Arlington will be pushed back to 2022 at the soonest. ‘It’s not practical for this year. The earliest this could possibly be used is next year,’ said Arlington Electoral Board secretary Scott McGeary, summing things up during a Feb. 6 Electoral Board meeting.” [InsideNova]

Reminder: Blue Line Work Starts Tomorrow — “Metro’s entire Blue Line is being shut down for more than three months starting Saturday… platform reconstruction work [is] being performed at the Arlington Cemetery station.” [ARLnow]

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A recent national report has revealed that rents in Arlington have dropped by 14.8% since last March, according to an analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data by ApartmentList.com.

Arlington has had the seventh-largest decrease compared to other (much larger) markets, like New York, San Francisco, and Seattle. D.C. had the fifth-largest decrease.

Between December and January, Arlington rents decreased by nearly 2.5%.

The median two-bedroom rent in the county is now $2,032, according to the report. However, Arlington still has the most expensive rents in the D.C. region, topping fellow close-in suburbs like Bethesda and Alexandria.

There’s one huge reason for the drop.

“It’s really tied to the economic carnage [from] the pandemic,” says Terry Clower, director of the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University. “Most of the jobs that we have lost have been in the hospitality services and retail sectors, which are typically disproportionately renters.”

Clower says parsing out data shows the pandemic has also caused behavioral changes in terms of renting. In general, high-rise units have seen a larger drop in demand than lower-rise properties, Clower notes.

If part of your calculation of where you want to live at the moment is based on how dense the development is, how [crowded] it is in the elevator,” says Clower. “Then, you are less likely to live in a high rise.”

Ballston and Rosslyn, in particular, have seen an influx of these dense-living types of properties, mostly due to construction prior to the pandemic, though there are more in the pipeline.

What’s more, there’s lower desire at the moment to live in high-density areas, according to Clower. While rent prices have declined in Arlington, they’ve risen in further D.C. area ‘burbs.

“Areas like Fredericksburg, Virginia… or Charles County, Maryland, rents have increased,” says Clower. “You’re getting… that effect of fleeing the dense inner suburbs to the less dense outer suburbs.”

The need for more space, as well, has shifted some renters to exploring buying single family homes. Between a lack of housing inventory and rising home values in Arlington, says Clower, demand for residences in the outer suburbs have also exploded.

“Most households in our region are two-income earner households, especially families with school-age children,” says Clower. “Kids need a place and both [parents] need some place to work inside the house, preferably not the kitchen table.”

Plus, lower interest rates have also encouraged first-time home buyers.

While rent decreases may be good for renters, it’s not good for property owners, developers, or even the county as a whole.

Clower says smaller landlords, those that only own a few properties, are not getting any break on mortgage payments, meaning decreasing rents impact their ability to pay their mortgage. In terms of the bigger developments, units are generating less revenue.

“They are less valuable in the market, which means that… the property taxes paid to local governments should be reduced as well,” says Clower. “Because they’re less valuable and generating less income.”

Arlington County depends on these property taxes to balance its budget and provide services to residents. But the full impact of all of this may not be seen until further into the future.

“The fiscal and economic down side of this pandemic is going to last well beyond… when we start getting the pandemic under control through the vaccinations,” says Clower.

Right now, it just may be a great moment to rent in Arlington. Clower says we can probably expect a continued slight dip in rents, but the big drop-off probably has already happened with vaccinations starting to happen.

“If you are looking for a good deal and prefer to be a renter,” says Clower, “it’s probably a good time to lock in a relatively long term lease.”

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(Updated at 4:20 p.m.) Initial preparations are underway for a major transformation of the George Mason University campus in Virginia Square.

Fencing is currently going up around the former Kann’s Department Store on the GMU Arlington campus, next to the FDIC office complex, in preparation for demolition. The aging, mid-century brick building, at 3401 Fairfax Drive, is set to be torn down starting in early 2021.

The demolition will make way for a $250 million expansion project, which will see the construction of an expansive new building to house new tech-oriented facilities.

“The university is transforming its Arlington campus to create a new innovation hub for the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor,” GMU said of the project. “The multi-million dollar expansion project will include an approximately 500,000 SF state-of-the-art building that will serve as the headquarters for Mason’s Institute for Digital Innovation and its proposed School of Computing.”

A university press release from July further clarified the GMU would occupy most of the building, while private companies may also lease space in it.

“Utilizing the site of the former Kann’s Department store, the Institute for Digital InnovAtion headquarters will be a mixed-use, multi-tenant building with approximately 400,000 square feet of new building space adjacent to Mason’s existing presence in Virginia Square,” the press release said. “Mason will occupy approximately 225,500 square feet of the new space, leaving 135,000 square feet available for leasing by industry partners.”

Abatement work will follow the fencing installation, and demolition is expected to start early next year. Design work on the new facility is expected to be complete by the fall of 2022, followed by a construction project which should be complete by mid-2025, according to an information packet about the project.

The overall goal is to position GMU, plus Arlington and Northern Virginia as a whole, as a new tech powerhouse.

“By 2024, Mason projects it will have more than 10,000 undergraduate and 5,000 graduate students enrolled in computing-related degree program. More than just an addition to the Arlington skyline, the new building will directly serve those students,” the information packet says. “The first of its kind in Virginia, [Mason’s proposed School of Computing] will graduate future leaders in key tech fields and position Arlington as a global leader in computing.”

GMU is currently trying to raise $125 million, which will then be matched with another $125 million from the state, for the graduate programs. The university is set to receive another $110 million from Virginia to establish the undergraduate programs. The funding was announced in the wake of Amazon’s decision to locate its HQ2 in Arlington.

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