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De Ferranti Goes on the Offensive Over Vihstadt’s Handling of Arlington’s Office Vacancy Rate

Arlington’s lone County Board race this fall has largely been a genteel affair so far, but Democratic challenger Matt de Ferranti is sharpening his attacks on incumbent John Vihstadt’s record, claiming the independent hasn’t done enough to address the county’s high office vacancy rate.

County officials of all stripes have long identified Arlington’s challenges filling vacant office space in corridors like Crystal City and Rosslyn as a prime reason that the county’s tax revenues have shrunk, squeezing its budget and creating a whole host of challenges for the county government.

Accordingly, both Vihstadt and de Ferranti have made the issue a central one for their respective campaigns, particularly because whoever wins a spot on the Board will likely need to wrestle with a budget that includes tax increases to tackle those revenue challenges.

Yet the Democrat has pledged a laser focus on the issue in recent debates and forums, and the Committee of 100 Board debate on Wednesday (Oct. 10), moderated by ARLnow’s Scott Brodbeck, was no exception. De Ferranti even went a step further to critique Vihstadt’s handling of the vacancy rate since he first won a special election four years ago, when he became the first non-Democrat on the Board since 1999.

“It’s been at 20 percent for four years,” de Ferranti said. “We need to bring it down and make it our priority to bring it down… and we need new vision to bring down that vacancy rate.”

Vihstadt pointed out that the county has successfully lured major companies during his tenure, with few bigger than Nestle and Gerber, in addition to smaller firms like trade associations and tech companies.

He added that he remains committed to “business and tax base diversification” to address the office vacancy rate as federal tenants increasingly go elsewhere, noting that “we’re not just a company town anymore.”

“We need green tech, med tech, cybersecurity and so forth,” Vihstadt said.

De Ferranti agrees on that point, but noted he’s been discussing the prospect of luring those industries to Arlington since his successful primary campaign this spring, charging that Vihstadt was coming to that particular talking point a bit late in the game.

“I’m glad that we’re both mentioning now, clean tech, green tech, energy efficiency technology,” de Ferranti said. “Those are the right fields, but we should’ve identified those four years ago.”

The spat over the office vacancy rate also carried over to perhaps the most contentious topic in Arlington at the moment: whether Amazon’s potential arrival in the county should be welcomed, or feared.

Vihstadt, as he has for months now, struck a cautious tone on the matter, noting that the county winning HQ2 would be a “mixed bag” in terms of its impacts on Arlington.

“We need to confirm the purported positives of this development coming to Arlington, but we also need to be mindful about addressing mitigants and negatives,” Vihstadt said.

De Ferranti acknowledged that caution is warranted, given the myriad ways in which the sudden arrival of 50,000 Amazon workers could disrupt the county’s housing market and strain its infrastructure. But he was also considerably more bullish on how the company could solve the very problem he spent so much time discussing, should Jeff Bezos follow through on the rumors and tab Crystal City for his second headquarters.

“With a vacancy rate of above 20 percent in Crystal City, we can’t turn it down,” de Ferranti said. “Count me as someone who says, we have conditions, but we have to move forward. That’s not to say your anxieties, and all Arlingtonians’ concerns on this, aren’t relevant, but eventually you have to take a position. My position is we need to ensure there are net benefits…but we also need to have a solid plan before we sign on to anything.”

You can listen to the entire debate on this week’s edition of the 26 Square Miles podcast.

Listen below or subscribe to the podcast on iTunesGoogle PlayStitcher or TuneIn.

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Podcast: Unsuck DC Metro

The Metrorail system has been “rebuilding” for years and now has a dedicated stream of funding. On top of that, its general manager just received a big vote of confidence from the Metro board: a new contract and a sizable raise.

So why does Metro still kind of suck?

On today’s 26 Square Miles podcast we talked with the semi-anonymous creator of Unsuck DC Metro, a blog and Twitter account that is perhaps Metro’s biggest and most vocal critic.

We talked about Paul Wiedefeld’s new contract, his adversarial relationship with Metro’s main union, the system’s new railcars and more — and tried to arrive at an explanation for why Metro is in its current state.

Listen below or subscribe to the podcast on iTunesGoogle PlayStitcher or TuneIn.

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Podcast: 9/11 First Responder Capt. Justin Tirelli

Justin Tirelli is currently an Arlington County Fire Department captain, but 17 years ago he was a rookie firefighter in the ACFD ranks.

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Tirelli was responding to a fire call in Rosslyn when American Airlines Flight 77 struck the west side of the Pentagon. As his engine company was diverted to join the massive and heroic emergency response to the terror attack, Tirelli and his fellow firefighters focused on the task at hand — not realizing that it would change them and the community they served forever.

In this special episode of the 26 Square Miles podcast, we talked with Tirelli about what it was like to be a first responder at the Pentagon on that fateful day.

Listen below or subscribe to the podcast on iTunesGoogle PlayStitcher or TuneIn.

Screenshots via @ReadyArlington

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Podcast: Long-time Arlington Civic Leader Jim Pebley

For more than two decades, Jim Pebley worked to make Arlington a better place.

Pebley, a retired U.S. Navy commander, last year moved to a more leisurely locale in North Carolina, but not before receiving plenty of plaudits for his civic involvement from across the political spectrum.

We decided to check in with Jim, see how he’s doing and get his take on the current state of the county. We covered a variety of local topics, including the safety of Reagan National Airport, the cost of school construction, the potential of Amazon’s HQ2 in Arlington and why he decided to decamp for elsewhere.

Listen below or subscribe to the podcast on iTunesGoogle PlayStitcher or TuneIn.

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Podcast: Democratic County Board Nominee Matt de Ferranti

Fresh off a commanding primary win, Democrat Matt de Ferranti has the next four months to make his case to Arlington voters about why they should oust incumbent County Board member John Vihstadt in his favor.

De Ferranti, a lawyer and local political activist, has the benefit of running as a Democrat in deep blue Arlington, particularly in a midterm cycle that’s shaping up to be quite favorable to Democrats at the top of the ticket. But Vihstadt, the Board’s lone independent, won his seat in another midterm year, back in 2014, and has incumbency to lean on as he campaigns for another term.

De Ferranti spoke with ARLnow about his vision for the county’s economy, how he sees the Amazon HQ2 debate, how he thinks he can beat Vihstadt, and much more.

Listen below or subscribe to the podcast on iTunesGoogle PlayStitcher or TuneIn.

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Podcast: Political Strategist Ben Tribbett

Ben Tribbett gained notoriety for being the first to publicize George Allen’s “macaca moment.”

Since his early days blogging under the pseudonym “Not Larry Sabato,” Tribbett has worked as a Democratic strategist. While he mostly works for candidates and causes outside of Arlington, Tribbett does weigh in on local affairs here on occassion.

Tribbett correctly predicted the demise of the Columbia Pike streetcar, for instance, and more recently has leveled criticism against fellow Democrat Del. Alfonso Lopez and his work for a private company that contracts with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Tribbett joined us on this week’s 26 Square Miles podcast to talk about local, state and national politics — and a bit of sports betting.

Listen below or subscribe to the podcast on iTunesGoogle PlayStitcher or TuneIn.

Photo via Facebook

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Podcast: George Mason Regional Researcher Terry Clower

Arlington’s economic outlook is “so bright you need to wear shades,” according to Terry Clower, an expert on the D.C. region over at George Mason University.

As a professor of public policy and director of Mason’s Center for Regional Analysis, Clower can speak with some authority on just how Arlington is doing. But between Amazon’s potential arrival in Arlington and all of the problems surrounding the region’s transportation, Clower does see a few clouds on the horizon.

On this edition of the 26 Square Miles podcast, we discussed the county’s odds of landing Amazon, what would happen if the county is successful, and all manner of the hottest economic and transportation-related debates around Arlington.

Listen below or subscribe to the podcast on iTunesGoogle PlayStitcher or TuneIn.

Photo courtesy of George Mason University

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Podcast: A Conversation with ARLnow Intern Anna Merod

For the last four months, you might’ve noticed Anna Merod’s byline here at ARLnow; regrettably, that won’t last much longer.

Anna’s time as a spring intern is almost up, but before she leaves, she stopped by for a podcast conversation with ARLnow’s Alex Koma.

Topics included some of Anna’s favorite stories, like an analysis of racial disparities in suspensions in Arlington Public Schools and in-depth look at why millenials struggle to buy homes in Arlington, and what she’s learned in her time growing up in and covering the county.

Listen below or subscribe to the podcast on iTunesGoogle PlayStitcher or TuneIn.

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Podcast: Ballston BID CEO Tina Leone

Plenty of big changes are on the way for Ballston, and Business Improvement District CEO Tina Leone has a front seat to all the latest developments.

Join Leone and ARLnow’s Alex Koma for a conversation about the future of the Ballston Quarter development, the shifting landscape of the neighborhood’s transportation needs and much more.

Listen below or subscribe to the podcast on iTunesGoogle PlayStitcher or TuneIn.

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Podcast: Virginia’s 2018 Teacher of the Year, Michelle Cottrell-Williams

Michelle Cottrell-Williams, an Arlington Public Schools high school teacher, was named Virginia’s Teacher of the Year for 2018.

Join her and ARLnow assistant managing editor, Bridget Reed Morawski, as the two talk APS world language reductions proposed for next year’s budget, the one-to-one device program, and guns in schools.

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Podcast: Former Arlington County Treasurer Frank O’Leary

Frank O’Leary served as Treasurer of Arlington County for more than three decades and has seen it all.

During his time in office, O’Leary brought the tax delinquency rate down from 9 percent to less than 1 percent, but somehow managed to win friends in the process.

O’Leary, 74, is retired but still avidly follows and offers predictions about Arlington elections. We talked to him about his time in office, whether names like Jefferson Davis Highway and Washington-Lee High School need to change, his predictions for the upcoming November elections, and why restaurants are among the hardest businesses from which to collect taxes.

Listen below or subscribe to the podcast on iTunesGoogle PlayStitcher or TuneIn.

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Podcast: Arlington Economic Development Director Victor Hoskins

The competition for online retail giant Amazon’s second headquarters is hotting up, and Arlington County is right in the thick of things.

The company announced last week that Northern Virginia — including Arlington alongside Alexandria, Loudoun and Fairfax Counties — has made its short-list of 20 finalists from 238 separate proposals from the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

And while the county is keeping details of its bid close to the vest — like many others in the running — there have been rumblings that both Crystal City and Rosslyn have been floated as good locations for Amazon’s so-called “HQ2.”

Arlington County Board chair Katie Cristol promised to release details of the county’s bid, win or lose, once the process is over.

On this week’s 26 Square Miles podcast, we discussed the county’s bid for Amazon as well as other topics like the office vacancy rate, the shrinking influence of the federal government and also the future of arts in the county, with Arlington Economic Development director Victor Hoskins.

Listen below or subscribe to the podcast on iTunesGoogle PlayStitcher or TuneIn.

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Podcast: Rosslyn Business Improvement District President Mary-Claire Burick

Rosslyn has undergone a transformation in recent years as it continues to add new businesses, residential units and retail space in arguably Arlington County’s densest neighborhood.

It made national news last year as food giant Nestle chose to relocate its U.S. corporate headquarters there from Southern California. Nestle joined other corporate giants like Grant Thornton in moving to Rosslyn in recent years.

And at the forefront has been the Rosslyn Business Improvement District, which works to bring in new businesses and make the neighborhood a fun and vibrant place to be.

On this week’s 26 Square Miles podcast, we spoke to Rosslyn BID President Mary-Claire Burick about Nestle’s move, the ongoing construction at Central Place and its soon-to-open observation deck, as well as other development projects in the works.

Burick also discussed the ambitious Western Rosslyn Area Plan, events hosted by the BID and the future of Rosslyn, including a possible second Metrorail station and the long-discussed boathouse by the Potomac River.

Listen below or subscribe to the podcast on iTunesGoogle PlayStitcher or TuneIn.

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Podcast: Dels. Rip Sullivan and Alfonso Lopez

Local Dels. Rip Sullivan and Alfonso Lopez (D) were at the forefront of last November’s wave of Democratic victories, from the governor’s race to the Virginia House of Delegates, where the party is near parity with the Republicans.

Sullivan served as House Democratic Caucus Campaign Chair, while Lopez is Chief Democratic Whip, and both represent sections of Arlington County in the House of Delegates.

On this week’s 26 Square Miles podcast, Sullivan and Lopez reflected on a momentous 2017 for Virginia Democrats, and looked ahead to the new year.

They discussed the role of outside progressive groups in helping shape 2017’s results, and the Democratic gains in the House of Delegates that have brought near-parity with Republicans and the promise of more bipartisan legislating.

And the pair looked ahead to policy they would like to work on, like a reliable funding source for Metro, Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, environmental issues, gun control and more.

Listen below or subscribe to the podcast on iTunesGoogle PlayStitcher or TuneIn.

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