With Amazon gearing up to move into his neck of the woods, Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-49th District) is angling to substantially beef up state spending on affordable housing development.
Lopez, who represents a variety of South Arlington neighborhoods surrounding the tech company’s planned headquarters in Crystal City and Pentagon City, is eyeing a two-pronged approach to the issue in this year’s General Assembly session.
Both of his legislative efforts involve the Virginia Housing Trust Fund, a pot of money Lopez helped create back in 2016 to offer low-interest loans for developers hoping to build reasonably priced housing. Though state lawmakers have only allocated a few million dollars to the fund for the last few years, Lopez hopes to simultaneously ramp up appropriations for the program and find a more stable source of funding for it going forward.
Leaders in Arlington and Alexandria have both committed to send more resources to local programs targeting housing affordability in the wake of Amazon’s big announcement, but those efforts will only be designed to target the communities surrounding the tech giant’s new office space. And with most prognosticators predicting that the 25,000 Amazon employees set to descend on the area will choose to live all over the Northern Virginia region, Lopez sees a clear need for a state-level solution.
“This is a statewide problem,” Lopez told ARLnow. “And I believe affordable housing is a quality of life issue in Virginia, and it’s something we should be funding in the same breath as transit, transportation, environmental protection and education.”
Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, has already proposed sending $19 million to the housing fund over the next two years as part of his latest budget proposal. That change would make $20 million available for the current fiscal year, and another $10 million available the year after that.
But Lopez is envisioning an even larger amount heading to the fund, and he’s planning on proposing a one-time, $50-million influx to make a difference right away.
The amount might seem small compared to the state’s mammoth budget, but Lopez expects it could make a big difference — he points out that the fund has already helped kick start two projects along Columbia Pike in just the last few years alone.
Michelle Winters, the executive director of the Arlington-based Alliance for Housing Solutions, notes that the trust is “currently a small source of funding that is spread fairly thin across the state.” Accordingly, she expects even a modest increase would prove to be meaningful, in Arlington and elsewhere.
“Even though it is small, any source of funding to help fill the gap in an affordable housing project’s budget is very valuable and can help make some more projects feasible,” Winters wrote in an email.
Yet Lopez also sees a clear need to make affordable housing funding a bit more predictable going forward.
Currently, Lopez laments that he has to go “hat in hand” to appropriators on General Assembly committees, urging them each year to set aside money for the trust fund. He’d much rather see lawmakers set up a dedicated funding stream to ensure regular, stable contributions to the loan program each year.
Accordingly, Lopez is backing a bill to establish such a funding mechanism — in essence, the legislation would pull away an annual percentage of surplus revenue from state “recordation” taxes, or levies on home transactions.
He’s proposed such legislation in the past, and acknowledge that it could face an uphill battle this time around — lawmakers with power over the state’s purse strings may be loathe to give up any budgetary discretion, after all.
Even the one-time cash infusion could prove difficult for Lopez to achieve, considering that Republicans have already declared Northam’s budget proposals “dead on arrival,” as a fight over tax revenues brews in the General Assembly.
It doesn’t help matters either that some key lawmakers (and even some Northam administration officials) shied away from including more affordable housing money in the state’s proposal to Amazon, arguing localities and developers are better suited to fund this kind of development.
But Lopez is “hopeful” that the grave concerns raised about the housing market in the wake of Amazon’s announcement could help change minds on the issue, and he’ll certainly have allies among Arlington’s legislative delegation.
“Housing will be an issue here for at least a decade or more,” said Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th District). “Amazon coming in won’t change all that dramatically, but it does increase the urgency for affordable housing and putting funding behind this.”
Arlington officials remain stymied in their long push to rename the section of Jefferson Davis Highway running through the county — but you’d never know it by glancing at Google Maps.
The tech company’s virtual atlas now identifies Arlington’s section of Route 1 as “Richmond Highway,” dating back to at least Friday (Jan. 11). An ARLnow reader, who asked to remain anonymous, first noticed the switch.
That matches the new name Alexandria leaders picked for the road last year, stripping the Confederate president’s moniker from the highway. Arlington’s County Board is anxious to make a similar change, but a complex provision of state law currently bars it from doing so — Attorney General Mark Herring’s office issued an opinion clarifying that cities like Alexandria have the authority to change the names of state roads within their boundaries, but counties don’t.
Accordingly, signs around Crystal City and Pentagon City will still bear the “Jefferson Davis” name for the foreseeable future, but many people looking up the road online would never know it was there. Apple Maps users, however, will still see the Confederate president’s name on the highway, as of today (Tuesday).
The swap will surely come as good news for the Board, which recently urged state lawmakers to renew old efforts to pass a bill giving the county the power to change the name on its own. The impending arrival of Amazon in the neighborhood added some urgency to that push, given the company’s stated commitment to inclusivity and diversity and Davis’ connections to Virginia’s slaveholding past.
But Arlington legislators say they likely won’t raise the issue in this year’s new General Assembly session.
Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30th District) initially signaled that he could be willing to back legislation on the matter this time around if the local business community, or perhaps some Republicans, came on board with the issue. But without that backing, he’d rather wait to see if Democrats can seize control of the legislature in this fall’s elections first.
“It might not be the best year to push forward on that,” Ebbin told ARLnow. “We’re looking into the best strategies for 2020, to see if we go ahead with allowing them to name contiguous roads the same as in adjacent localities. That’s probably the most palatable case we can make to others that have strongly held beliefs on this.”
On the House of Delegates side of things, Del. Rip Sullivan (D-48th District) added that he doesn’t plan to introduce any bill on the subject and that “I don’t know that any of my colleagues will either.”
So far, his prediction has proven to be correct — as of Tuesday, no legislation on the topic has been filed down in Richmond.
The vegetable-focused fast casual eatery The Little Beet could soon open a new location in the Pentagon City mall.
The restaurant applied for a permit to bring a new eatery to the first floor of the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City in late December, according to county records.
Andy Duddleston, the chain’s founder and chief brand officer, confirmed that he is indeed “considering a location” at the mall.
“Stay tuned,” Duddleston told ARLnow.
A spokeswoman for the mall’s management company said they’re “unable to share information on businesses rumored to be joining the center.”
The Little Beet opened its first Arlington location in Rosslyn in the fall of 2017 in the Central Place development. The restaurant also operates a D.C. eatery, with a variety of other locations in New York City, where the company got its start.
Its menu is largely dominated by salads and bowls, with a whole host of vegetarian and vegan options for diners.
H/t Chris Slatt
State lawmakers are now setting the wheels in motion to approve at least $550 million in grant money to Amazon, a process that should help seal the deal to bring the tech giant to Arlington.
Legislators in both chambers of the General Assembly have now introduced bills to make good on the deal that Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration helped strike with Jeff Bezos’ firm, promising hundreds of millions in incentive cash if Amazon comes through on its promise to bring 25,000 jobs to Pentagon City and Crystal City between now and 2030.
Arlington is set to chip in some cash of its own to make the deal work (about $23 million in grant money over 15 years, drawn from a projected increase in revenue from the county’s tax on hotel stays) and new investments in transportation and education programs beef up the state’s offer to Amazon by hundreds of millions more.
But the new legislation lays out the clearest look yet at what Northam’s team promised the tech company — and makes it clear that Amazon could earn another $200 million if it adds another 12,850 jobs at the new headquarters over the years, bringing its haul to $750 million in total.
The identical bills are backed by primarily by state Sen. Frank Ruff (R-15th District) and Del. S. Chris Jones (R-76th District), the powerful head of the House of Delegates’ appropriations committee.
Each would establish a “Major Headquarters Workforce Grant Fund” to lay out the payments, attaching a $22,000 price tag to each new job Amazon brings to the area over the next 15 years. To qualify for the grant, the jobs will need to come with an average wage of $150,000 per year starting in 2019, increasing by 1.5 percent each year after that.
The legislation lays out a schedule for how the state pays out the grant money, with Amazon set to earn $200 million by 2024, then $300 million by 2025. The figure jumps by $50 million increments before topping out at $550 million in 2030.
Then, if the company can deliver on the additional 12,850 jobs beyond the original 25,000 it promised, it will collect another $50 million each year through 2034.
The bill also requires Amazon to provide evidence to state officials each year that it’s meeting the requirements to earn the grant payments.
The legislation generally seems like a sure bet to pass, considering that several influential state lawmakers have already had a chance to help shape the incentive package.
A panel known as the Major Employment and Investment Project Approval Commission signed off on the bulk of the details in tandem with Northam’s staff, and that group included some of the most senior members of both parties in the House and the Senate. As Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30th District) told ARLnow, the incentive package “may not face much opposition, but it’s still meaningful.”
Nevertheless, some of Amazon’s fiercest opponents in Arlington are urging state lawmakers to reject the deal. A group of advocates dubbing themselves the “For Us Not Amazon” coalition, including organizers from Our Revolution Arlington, the Metro D.C. chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America and the Latino rights group La ColectiVA, is calling for legislators to vote down the incentive package in its entirety, and organized a demonstration at the county’s Amazon-focused listening session Saturday (Jan. 12) to underscore that point.
“There should be no incentives for Amazon, and city and state grants and funding should go to protect communities at risk,” the group wrote in a statement. “Public officials need to hear our communities’ concerns about Amazon’s current and future impact on residents.”
But a vote on the incentive bills will be only one piece of the puzzle in finalizing the Amazon agreement, lawmakers say. The state promised transportation improvements all around the company’s proposed campus, and a huge influx of cash into tech-focused higher education programs, and that money will likely be included in adjustments to the biennial state budget.
That means cash for everything from Metro improvements in Crystal City to money for an expansion of George Mason University’s Virginia Square campus will all be wrapped up in one massive budget bill.
Of course, Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th District) points out that any lawmakers hoping for a seperate vote on the Amazon-specific portions of the budget could move to “sever” those sections from the rest of the spending plan. Hope says he generally supports the deal, but he fully expects there to be some discussions over the course of the remainder of the General Assembly’s 46-day session about the issue.
“I believe it has the votes to pass, but there could be some debate on that on the floor,” Hope said. “I suspect we will see that, in fact.”
Arlington officials are set to sign off on their portion of the Amazon deal no sooner than the County Board’s Feb. 23 meeting.
The legislature is set to adjourn that same day, meaning that any Amazon bill will likely have cleared the General Assembly well in advance of that gathering — however, budget debates have been known to linger well past the proposed end of each year’s legislative session.
Nearly three quarters of all IT workers across the D.C. region would consider leaving their current job to work for Amazon, a new survey shows, revealing just how impactful the company’s arrival in Arlington could be on the local labor market.
A poll released today (Wednesday) by Eagle Hill Consulting, and conducted by the survey firm Ipsos, found that 51 percent of employees across all occupations would jump ship for Jeff Bezos’ company. The group found that younger people and tech workers were especially enthusiastic about the company, with 60 percent of millennials expressing interest in Amazon and 71 percent of IT workers showing a willingness to leave.
The research underscores the fears harbored among many smaller, tech-focused startups in the D.C. area that Amazon’s arrival in Crystal City and Pentagon City (set to begin in earnest this year) will result in a brain drain of sorts. Eagle Hill also expects that federal workers could find themselves lured into the private sector by Amazon’s hefty paychecks, particularly as the company ramps up hiring for the 25,000 jobs it expects to eventually bring to its new headquarters.
“Area employers should be worried, especially those that need to retain their tech talent,” Melissa Jezior, Eagle Hill’s president and CEO, wrote in a statement. “Private sector and government employers will have to do all they can now to hang on to their employees before Amazon arrives – especially in such a tight labor market.”
As Jezior points out, unemployment rates are low around the country at the moment, especially in Arlington, which regularly posts the lowest jobless rate in the whole state. To Eagle Hill researchers, that means employers will need to “dig deep to understand their employees’ satisfaction and deliver what their workforce needs are positioned to hold onto their star employees when Amazon moves in,” Jezior said.
The poll results show that 71 percent of all workers see a move to Amazon as a chance to earn more pay, while 45 percent say they’d make the move to do “more interesting work.” An identical number said they’d move to Amazon in order to work “for a progressive company” — Bezos’ firm has been a leader in bumping up wages for its warehouse workers, but has also taken plenty of criticism for its labor practices and support for the Trump administration’s immigration tactics.
Among IT workers, those numbers are even stronger: 71 percent see a chance for higher salary, 55 percent are enthusiastic about more interesting work, and 51 percent want to work for a progressive company.
Victor Hoskins, director of Arlington Economic Development, acknowledged that Amazon will put pressure on the labor market, as will the tech companies who flock to the area to take advantage of Amazon’s arrival. But he was also quick to point out that companies concerned about losing employees will have to time to prepare and do the sort of introspection that Jezior recommends.
“Only a few hundred jobs are coming here in the first year, so if that’s the concern, they can get a jump on them,” Hoskins said. “The big numbers really don’t start until 2020, 2021.”
Much like other surveys of attitudes about the company, Eagle Hill found that opinions on Amazon were largely positive: 83 percent of workers surveyed believe the company will have a positive impact on the local economy. Additionally, 88 percent believe Amazon will improve prospects for job seekers and 73 percent think the company will have a positive impact on “overall compensation” in the region.
But Amazon’s impact on Northern Virginia’s already crowded roads emerged as a clear concern among those survey — 77 percent believe Amazon will have a negative impact on traffic, a common view among Arlington residents but one generally not shared by local officials.
Eagle Hill says Ipsos conducted the survey by collecting responses online from about 1,000 “working age” people across the D.C. region.
Photo via Amazon
Metro is shutting down three Arlington stations on the Blue and Yellow lines this weekend, in order to allow for some major lighting improvements set to make each station substantially brighter.
The Pentagon, Pentagon City and Crystal City stops will all be closed both Saturday and Sunday (Jan. 12-13), WMATA announced last week, work that is sure to create substantial disruptions on both lines.
Metro plans to run Blue Line trains on its regular weekend schedule between the Franconia-Springfield and Reagan National Airport stations and between Arlington Cemetery and Largo Town Center each day, with free shuttle buses providing a bridge between the closed stations. After the cemetery closes at 7 p.m. each day, Blue Line service will end at the Rosslyn station.
As for the Yellow Line, Metro expects it will only run trains between the Huntington and National Airport stations, with free shuttle buses on that line too.
The exact details for the shuttle buses are as follows, per a WMATA press release:
- Blue Line Shuttle (No stop at National Airport) – every 5-10 minutes between Braddock Rd, Crystal City, Pentagon City, Pentagon, Rosslyn
- DC-Airport Express Shuttle – every 5-10 minutes between Reagan National Airport and L’Enfant Plaza Metro Station in Downtown DC
- Pentagon-Airport Shuttle – every 15 minutes between Reagan National Airport, Crystal City, Pentagon City, Pentagon only
Metro is warning anyone hoping to use the rail service and shuttle buses to allow an extra 30 minutes of travel time to reach their destinations this weekend.
Officials chose to kick off work this weekend because they’re counting on “lighter post-holiday travel” patterns, easing demand for service reaching DCA. Metro made a similar assumption back on Veteran’s Day in closing the National Airport station, only to see huge traffic snarls as frustrated commuters turned to the roads instead.
This latest construction project is aimed at installing new LED lights in all three stations, part of a $50 million project that involves lighting upgrades at all of Metro’s 48 underground stations. WMATA says that stations generally become about six times brighter after the new lights are installed.
The station closures will also let Metro “perform additional track work, including concrete grout pad replacement, installation of radio communication cables and tunnel leak mitigation” at all three locations.
The troubled transit system remains beset by questions of how to best complete needed track work while improving service and luring riders back to its trains. Metro leaders are proposing some key rush hour service increases in WMATA’s new budget, but it remains an open question whether Arlington and other Virginia localities will be able to help pay for those changes.
Photo via WMATA
Harry’s Smokehouse, a burgers and BBQ restaurant, has now shut its doors in the Pentagon City mall.
Signs posted at the eatery, located near the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City’s Metro entrance, indicate that it’s now permanently closed.
“Thank you for many years of patronage,” the signs read.
Readers told ARLnow that the restaurant has been closed since at least Thursday (Jan. 3).
The restaurant has long been a fixture of the mall’s lower level, starting out as a Harry’s Tap Room before rebranding to a more BBQ-centric menu back in 2011.
There’s no indication yet of what might replace Harry’s in the space.
Amazon says it will offer “transit benefits” to its thousands of employees bound for Arlington, in a bid to incentivize workers to rely on the county’s public transportation options once they arrive.
The tech giant has long worked to help employees at its Seattle headquarters afford train and bus rides and ease their commutes, but Amazon officials didn’t initially detail similar plans for the new offices it plans to set up in Crystal City and Pentagon City.
Yet county officials have said recently that they’ve received assurances from Amazon that the company would indeed offer similar benefits in Arlington, and the tech firm has confirmed that plan to ARLnow.
“Consistent with our other corporate offices, Amazon will provide transit benefits for our employees at our new headquarters in Virginia,” Amazon spokesperson Jill Kerr told ARLnow. “Last year alone, we provided $63 million in transit fares for our employees in Seattle.”
Kerr added that “more than half of our employees in Seattle bike, walk or take public transportation to work,” and she expects that the new “National Landing” campus will “allow for similar commuting.”
The move is quite welcome news for county leaders and transit advocates alike, who are anxious to see the tech giant embrace public transportation in the area. Though Metro’s rail service may well have its problems, many around Arlington hope Amazon’s 25,000 workers embrace transit to ease pressure on the county’s congested roads.
“Ideally, Amazon employees here will be like those in Seattle where a significant number live within walking distance of the headquarters,” said Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the transit advocacy-focused Coalition for Smarter Growth. “But for the rest, offering essentially free transit passes is basically the single most powerful thing they could do to make a difference.”
Kerr declined to provide specifics on how the transit benefits will be structured for future Arlington employees. But posts on the crowdsourced employer review site Glassdoor suggest that the company offers free “ORCA” passes for its Seattle workers, giving them unlimited access to public transit options in the city and its surrounding suburbs.
Schwartz hopes that the company pursues a similar strategy in Arlington, considering that Amazon’s new offices in Crystal City and Pentagon City will sit adjacent to a variety of different transit options.
While the area’s Metro stations are the more obvious options for employees, giving them access to the Blue and Yellow lines, the county also operates a bus-rapid transit system between Crystal City and Potomac Yard (which it will soon expand to Pentagon City).
The neighborhood’s Virginia Railway Express station is also located just a few minutes’ walk up Crystal Drive from the company’s planned office space, and the VRE is even weighing an expansion of the station in the coming years. That could put an entrance to the station directly across from a new entrance for the Crystal City Metro station, a project set to be funded largely with state money as part of the proposed Amazon deal that will sit just under one of the company’s buildings.
“They have a very high preference among their employees for multimodal transportation, public transportation, biking, walking, being part of an integrated place that you can get around in a number of ways,” Alex Iams, assistant director of Arlington Economic Development, said during a Dec. 6 question-and-answer session on Amazon. “Pentagon City-Crystal City fits the bill perfectly. You can get on a plane, a train, an automobile, a scooter, all of the amenities.”
But officials do acknowledge that for any drivers glad to see Amazon employees pushed onto public transit, there are also nervous Metro riders who fear crowds of new arrivals. After all, the service already suffers from fairly regular meltdowns leaving huge crowds on platforms during rush hours.
Yet Arlington planners are optimistic that crowds in Crystal City and Pentagon City have died down enough over the years, particularly as military and federal agencies fled the neighborhoods, that there should be plenty of room at the Metro stations near the new headquarters. Metro officials also point to proposals to increase the size of all trains and ramp up rush-hour service as reason for optimism, though Arlington leaders may not be able to find enough cash to afford those improvements just yet.
Of course, county leaders acknowledge that not everyone headed for Amazon HQ can ride Metro. That’s where they hope their work to, eventually, bring Route 1 down to the same grade as other streets in the neighborhood will expand other commuting options as well.
“That’s the desire of the company too, to make it more walkable, bikeable and more connected,” county transportation director Dennis Leach said during the Dec. 6 Q&A.
Ever seen a light-up, musical seesaw? If not, you might want to swing by a new public art installation in a parking lot sitting on the border of Crystal City and Pentagon City.
Starting last week, the lot became home to “Impulse,” an interactive art display designed to spruce up the previously barren space at the corner of 12th Street S. and S. Eads Street, just across from the Whole Foods grocery store.
The Crystal City Business Improvement District and property owner LCOR teamed up to bring the new exhibit to the area, after it was initially displayed in downtown Montreal, and it’s designed as a “an interactive light and sound experience.”
“It consists of large seesaws whose light intensity and musical tones change when set in motion by visitors,” Crystal City BID Events Manager Cassie Hurley wrote in an email. “This work creates an ephemeral and ever-changing field as the public plays with this urban instrument. Impulse embodies ideas of serialism, repetition, and variation to produce zones of intensity and calm.”
Hurley added that the BID has been working with LCOR recently to make the parking lot a bit more inviting, dubbing it “The Grounds,” with plans to sketch out a full “lineup of new arts and events programming” for the area next year.
“The Crystal City BID is always looking for unique ways to enliven spaces, engage residents and welcome visitors to our community, which makes Impulse an ideal choice for our latest art installation,” BID Executive Director Tracy Gabriel wrote in a statement. “The exhibit energizes the area between Crystal City and Pentagon City, connecting the neighborhoods with light, sound, and excitement, and its whimsical seesaws are a fun way for residents and visitors to socialize and enjoy the season.”
“The Grounds” sits in a section of the neighborhood set to see quite a few changes in the coming years, thanks to Amazon — the space is just across from the “PenPlace” development that the tech giant purchased for one of its new office buildings in the area, and is just a block away from the Metropolitan Park properties where the company will build more space.
Arlington Employee Inspires New Child Care Policy — Lanette Johnson, an employee at the Pentagon City Best Buy store, is “the inspiration behind Best Buy’s new backup child-care benefit for all full-time and part-time employees. Workers at nearly 1,000 U.S. stores, distribution centers and corporate headquarters have access to 10 days of subsidized care each year through a Best Buy partnership with Care.com.” [Washington Post]
Weekend Rain Drenched Arlington — Arlington was among the parts of the region to see the most rainfall over the weekend. [Twitter]
Small Business Lender Active in Arlington Courts — “On Deck Capital Inc., a publicly traded online small business lender based in New York… which also has Arlington office space… accounted for 7 percent of all [small business] debt collection cases brought to that Arlington County courthouse through September.” [Washington Business Journal]
New Leadership for Arlington NAACP — “The Arlington branch of the NAACP will enter 2019 with a new leadership structure and a commitment to building on recent growth. ‘I’m all about community activism – we will go out and do good things,’ said Julius Spain Sr., who on Dec. 17 was sworn in to serve as president of the 78-year-old local civil-rights organization.” [InsideNova]
Arlington GOP Chief Steps Down — “The Arlington County Republican Committee will enter 2019 on a hunt for prospective candidates – and a hunt for a new chairman, too. Jim Presswood, who has chaired the GOP for nearly three years, announced recently he would be stepping down halfway through his second two-year term due to commitments at work.” [InsideNova, Facebook]
Photo courtesy Crystal Comiskey
JBG Smith is gearing up to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in Crystal City, Pentagon City and Potomac Yard, arguing that Amazon’s impending arrival could make the “National Landing” area nearly as in-demand as D.C. itself.
In documents delivered to investors last week, the developer revealed its most detailed plans yet for how it expects to work with the tech giant as it moves its 25,000 workers to the county.
Perhaps most notably, JBG revealed for the first time that Amazon will fork over $294 million to buy the company’s “PenPlace” and Metropolitan Park properties in Pentagon City, where it will eventually build new offices. As work on those buildings continue, the company will sign “short-to-medium term” leases at JBG’s buildings at 241 18th Street S. and 1800 S. Bell Street in Crystal City, where JBG is also planning to spend another $15 million to spruce up the properties.
JBG also told its shareholders that Amazon will lease the entirety of a new building planned for 1770 Crystal Drive, which sits at the heart of the developer’s just-approved “Central District” redevelopment project for the entire block. The company expects to spend $80 million redeveloping the building, with the eventual goal of opening it in time for 2020 and making it a more permanent home for Amazon employees.
But those changes represent only the work the developer is planning that’s tied directly to Amazon. By its own estimate, JBG already owns about 71 percent of office buildings in the neighborhood, and it hopes “redeploy the proceeds” of its Amazon windfall “into either new development or income-producing multifamily assets.”
Per the documents, potential projects could include the redevelopment of 1800 S. Bell Street property once Amazon leaves, or the overhaul of some of its other existing Crystal City and Pentagon City properties; 2001 Jefferson Davis Highway, 223 23rd Street S., 101 12th Street S., and the RiverHouse Apartments (1400 S. Joyce Street) are all listed as possibilities.
Essentially, the company is betting that Amazon’s arrival will be a “powerful economic catalyst” and “kick-start the development of a technology ecosystem that has long searched for its footing in the D.C.,” CEO Matt Kelly wrote to shareholders.
“As vacancy in National Landing burns off and technology job growth gains momentum, we expect National Landing to [surpass] Rosslyn as the most valuable Northern Virginia submarket, and approach convergence with Washington, D.C.,” Kelly wrote in a letter to investors.
Those forecasts represent quite the radical change from Crystal City’s previous woes attracting any companies to the area. The departure of federal and military tenants left the neighborhood with a persistently high vacancy rate, shrinking a key tax revenue stream for the county, but officials have long touted Amazon’s impending arrival as a way to solve that problem virtually overnight.
JBG is so bullish on the impending demand in the area that it could very well convert one of its planned apartment redevelopments into more office space instead.
The developer recently began demolition work on a building at 1900 Crystal Drive, space it eventually hoped to transform into two apartment towers with a total of 750 homes between them. JBG plans to start construction by “early 2020,” but notes for investors that “this project could switch to office in the event of a substantial or full building pre-lease.”
The company plans to eventually spend $550 million on that construction and work its other Amazon-related properties, though it expects it will have little trouble affording such expense. Kelly noted in his letter that JBG saw increased demand in the area even before Amazon made its Arlington move official, and has been able to raise rents and property asking prices accordingly.
“We have also seen a dramatic increase in demand from retailers looking to locate in our initial phases of placemaking development,” Kelly wrote. “Since the announcement, we have had a further wave of increased inquiries. We believe that this increase in demand for our holdings in National Landing will continue, and likely amplify, as Amazon grows in the submarket.”
With Amazon coming to town, Arlington leaders believe the time is ripe to finally change the name of Jefferson Davis Highway — and some of their allies in Richmond are ready to hit the gas on that effort, even as others look to pump the brakes.
Once again, the County Board plans to ask the General Assembly for the authority to remove the former Confederate president’s name from its section of the state-owned Route 1. Alexandria leaders have already taken a similar step, but state lawmakers have repeatedly refused to grant Arlington the permission to make such a change over the years.
But with a socially conscious tech giant planning to set up shop in Crystal City and Pentagon City, the very neighborhoods where signs currently honor Davis’ legacy, the Board hopes skeptical legislators might be a bit easier to convince. Board members held a joint work session with six of the county’s representatives in Richmond Friday (Dec. 7), in order to underscore the importance of the switch ahead of the start of the General Assembly’s session on Jan. 9.
“We should be clear that this is an effort to elevate white supremacy and honor Confederate leaders on our highways,” said Board Vice Chair Christian Dorsey. “A nongovernmental company choosing our area to locate underscores how we should be thinking about things differently.”
While all in attendance could agree that the name of the highway needs to change, preferably to match Alexandria’s newly adopted moniker of “Richmond Highway,” there wasn’t much in the way of consensus on how to achieve that goal.
Some lawmakers urged patience, noting that the upcoming 2019 elections could flip control of both the House of Delegates and the state Senate to Democrats for the first time in nearly two decades — Republicans hold one-seat majorities in both chambers, following last year’s wave election for Democrats in the House.
Until that happens, however, most lawmakers aren’t willing to spend political capital battling on the issue, particularly considering that the upcoming legislative session will last less than a month.
State Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31st District) carried legislation to spur the name change this year, only to see it narrowly die in committee on a party-line vote, and she’s already sworn off interest in renewing that effort. Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30th District) has backed other such bills in the past, but he expressed similar skepticism about the legislation’s prospects next year.
“The only way I’m putting it in is if we have any hope of passing it,” Ebbin said. “I’m polling some Republicans on the prospect of that… but I’m not introducing it unless can we can get a very narrow bill together.”
Ebbin suggested that the Board might have more success if it secured some allies in the business community for that effort, urging officials to solicit support from groups like the Arlington Chamber of Commerce or the Crystal City Business Improvement District. Representatives from both groups did not immediately respond to requests for comment on whether they’d be interested in supporting such a bill.
Other lawmakers suggested that Amazon itself might provide a powerful push, considering the company’s robust lobbying efforts and its growing importance to the state’s economy. But, after speaking with the company’s representatives about just such a prospect, Ebbin is less than optimistic.
“I don’t think Amazon will be taking active political positions until after things cemented in,” Ebbin said, noting that state lawmakers and local officials still need to formally sign off on Gov. Ralph Northam’s proposed deal with the company. That isn’t set to happen until early next year, meaning that Amazon likely won’t have much of a say in the upcoming legislative session.
Del. Mark Levine (D-45th District) was similarly pessimistic on the prospect of his Republican colleagues taking action on any name change legislation in 2019, but he believes the county shouldn’t wait on Richmond.
He argued that Arlington could act immediately to remove any road signs referencing Davis, even if the county doesn’t formally change the name. After all, Levine pointed out that the highway is known by all manner of other names as it winds its way throughout the state.
“There is zero Virginia law that requires that highway to have those street names,” Levine said. “If the question is: ‘can you change the street signs?’ Of course you can change the street signs. If it has some name in a dusty book somewhere, that’s fine.”
Levine argued that the county should go directly to the Commonwealth Transportation Board, the executive agency overseeing all of Virginia’s road and transit operations, to ask for such a change. He suggested an appeal to Northam, a Democrat, might help that effort, considering that “we have a very friendly governor right now, and we have a much less friendly General Assembly.”
County Board Chair Katie Cristol noted that Arlington officials have had some conversations with the CTB about such a prospect, but have not come away with the clarity that Levine sees in the law. A spokesman for the CTB did not respond to a request for comment on the issue.
Cristol also pointed to an advisory opinion from Attorney General Mark Herring suggesting that the county might not be able to make such a change, which Levine waved away quickly as having “no force of law.”
Still, Dorsey and his colleagues argued that they’d much rather pursue a more cautious path, in order to avoid unnecessarily ruffling feathers in Richmond.
“In the absence of universal certainty, we’re not interested in figuring out what think we can get away with,” Dorsey said. “This is not about if we can somehow figure out if we can do it and somehow not suffer adverse consequences. That’s a risk we’re not willing to take.”
To combat growing concerns about how Amazon’s new influx of workers might put a strain on Arlington’s congested roads and Metro’s troubled rail system, county leaders are increasingly embracing the same argument — so many people have left Crystal City and Pentagon City over the years that the area’s transit network is ready to welcome new residents.
There’s little doubt that the 25,000 workers Amazon plans to eventually bring to the region will have an impact on commute times for drivers, and crowd more people onto local trains and buses. But Arlington officials stress that they already planned to move plenty of people through and to the newly dubbed “National Landing,” only to see thousands of federal and military employees flee the neighborhood years ago.
That means the area’s trains and buses still have available seats, ready to accommodate Amazon’s new arrivals.
“Transportation system utilization is reflective of building occupancy,” county transportation director Dennis Leach said during a question-and-answer session live streamed on Facebook yesterday (Thursday). “We’re down about 24,000 jobs and we see it on the rail system, we see it on the roads… so we have that capacity, we just have to get people to use [these options].”
Leach points out that Crystal City has been hardest hit in recent years, particularly by the Base Realignment and Closure process. He noted that he “had to go back to 1986 to find a lower annual passenger count” at the neighborhood’s Metro station; for Pentagon City, he had to go back to 2001.
Similarly, Leach said that traffic volume on Crystal City and Pentagon City roads is “down 20 percent since 2000,” another “reflection of lower employment” in the area. He believes there’s even ample parking available, despite some neighbors’ concerns to the contrary, arguing that the neighborhoods’ “parking assets are incredibly underutilized.”
That being said, Leach admits that the county would much rather see Amazon’s new arrivals using public transit, and the county has some “work to do” in that department. Metro presents a particularly thorny challenge for leaders — even if stations in the “National Landing” area aren’t seeing as many riders as they once did, the rail service is still trying to improve its safety and reliability after years of struggles.
But Lynn Bowersox, Metro’s assistant general manager for customer service, communications and marketing, believes that the agency is moving in the right direction in solving those problems. She’s particularly enthusiastic about General Manager Paul Wiedefeld’s budget proposal for the 2020 fiscal year, which would see Metro return to running nothing but eight-car trains and even expand its “Rush Hour Promise” program to offer more refunds to commuters for lengthy rides.
“I think the capacity is really going to be there as these jobs come to Arlington,” Bowersox said. “Especially with these improvements we have in the pipeline.”
Of course, it’s no guarantee that Wiedefeld will win all those promised changes from Metro’s governing board. The full suite of service improvements Wiedefeld is calling for come with a hefty price tag, and Arlington officials have cautioned that they may not be able to afford everything Wiedefeld is asking for. The new budget could end up costing the county another $8 million per year, a particularly worrying prospect for county leaders, given Arlington’s existing budget pressures.
With or without those enhancements, however, Bowersox is confident that Metro’s safety and reliability improvements will be enough to win Amazon employees over.
“We believe in our reliability and we’re standing behind it,” she said.
Leach is optimistic about as well about the state’s planned investments to help the county build its long-planned second entrance at the Crystal City Metro station, making it even more accessible to both Amazon’s future office space and the rest of the neighborhood. The state will also help Alexandria fund another entrance at the soon-to-be built Potomac Yard station, even though funding concerns initially convinced leaders to cancel the project.
Yet officials also recognize that the area is still not as walkable, or accessible for cyclists, as it could be. That’s due in large part to Route 1, which Leach points out acts as a “divider” between Pentagon City and Crystal City with its large, elevated sections of highway.
The state and county are both planning on spending $250 million on Route 1 improvements, but they haven’t identified the exact source of all that money, or even what the improvements will be. Generally, Leach does hope that the change help “knit the Crystal City and Pentagon City neighborhoods together,” and that will likely mean bringing the highway down to the same grade as the rest of the street network.
Renee Hamilton, deputy administrator for the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Northern Virginia District, said that officials only have a “broad concept” for what those changes will look like, and are still discussing the exact timeline for how the project will move forward. But, like Leach, she does expect that substantial changes are in the offing.
“It’s very difficult to get from one side of Route 1 to another,” Hamilton said. “So we’re going to look at creating a boulevard feel to it, which will likely require us to lower some of the roadways.”
Arlington County Prepares for Winter Weather — Though a winter storm this weekend is looking increasingly unlikely for the area, Arlington County says it is preparing for a snowy winter and “will be ready to fight back” against snow and ice. [Arlington County]
More Solar Panels for APS — “Arlington County Public Schools signed a contract on Thursday night that they say will save them millions of dollars. Five of their schools will be made over with solar panels as part of a power purchase agreement, or PPA, with a Charlottesville, Virginia firm called Sun Tribe Solar.” [WUSA 9]
Fire at Ledo Pizza — Firefighters responded to an electrical fire at the Ledo Pizza restaurant in the Red Lion hotel in Rosslyn yesterday. The fire was extinguished by a sprinkler system. [Twitter]
Amazon, Pentagon City and Housing — Most or even all of Amazon’s permanent presence in Arlington could actually be in Pentagon City, not Crystal City. That presents an opportunity to add more housing, including affordable housing, in Pentagon City. [Greater Greater Washington]
American May Add Flights at DCA — “American Airlines is closely ‘studying’ online retailer Amazon’s plans to open a second headquarters steps away from its hub at Ronald Reagan Washington National airport, where it is already planning to add seats at the slot-controlled facility. ‘We absolutely plan to upgauge at DCA,’ the Fort Worth, Texas-based carrier’s vice-president of network Vasu Raja tells FlightGlobal.” [FlightGlobal]
Our Lady of Guadalupe Celebration — “On Saturday, December 8, approximately 300 people are expected to pour into Saint Agnes Catholic Church’s Parish Hall in Arlington to celebrate the anniversary of the apparition of the Blessed Mother to Juan Diego on December 12, 1531. Following the Mass, there will be a candle lit procession with some of the faithful carrying a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe, followed by praying the rosary, and a potluck dinner with live entertainment -a mariachi band!” [Diocese of Arlington]
Flickr pool photo by Tom Mockler
A Pentagon City parking lot is jacking up some of its monthly rates, and some residents fear that Amazon’s impending arrival in the neighborhood is to blame.
Residents of the RiverHouse Apartments (1400 S. Joyce Street) were recently informed by their landlord that their monthly parking rates were about to jump substantially if they park their cars in the nearby Pentagon Row garage and surface lot. Starting Jan. 1, anyone from the apartment complex parking there will pay $100 month per space, up from $65.
The parking managed by Colonial Parking, not JBG Smith (RiverHouse’s owner, the area’s dominant real estate developer and a key player in bringing Amazon to the area). Accordingly, RiverHouse management lamented in a letter to residents, provided to ARLnow, that it isn’t able to control such a change.
“Please rest assured that this increase was just as much a surprise to us as this is to you,” General Manager Joe Mettee wrote.
Colonial Parking did not respond to a request for comment on what prompted the sudden increase. But Megan Niewold, a RiverHouse resident set to see her parking rates skyrocket, told ARLnow that she has her suspicions about their motivations.
“When I spoke to my garage attendant, he said they were notified because they want to prepare ‘National Landing’ for an influx of parking needs in the future,” Niewold wrote in an email. “It sure seems like they’re raising prices for Amazon’s arrival super early, which sucks because it’s making this place unaffordable for nonprofit workers/teachers/etc.”
Concerns over how the tech giant’s new headquarters, and its promised 25,000 workers, will transform the area are certainly nothing new.
The company’s selection of Arlington for half a new headquarters has already spurred development activity in both Pentagon City and Crystal City, and other such changes are surely on the way in the coming months. Though county officials are hoping a slew of new transportation options will encourage Amazon employees to opt for public transit instead, neighbors fear that the area is already facing a parking crunch, which will only be exacerbated by similar price increases.
“The belief is that because so many people take public transportation that it won’t be a problem; but for people who already live here, there’s already a problem,” Crystal City Civic Association President Carol Fuller said during a town hall focused on Amazon this week.”Most of the spaces we have are only available at cost, and some street parking will disappear due to the Metroway expansion.”
The good news for people like Niewold, at least, is there are some other options. RiverHouse added in its letter that it’s knocking down some of its own parking prices for anyone frustrated with the Pentagon Row increases.
Photo via Google Maps