Arlington, VA

Owners of mixed-use buildings in Arlington are struggling to find tenants for ground floor retail space, and instead have been seeking permission to fill the space with other uses.

The Arlington County Board will consider three such requests — from office buildings in Rosslyn and Ballston and Le Meridien Hotel in Rosslyn — at its meeting on Saturday.

“It is definitely a trend,” said Michael Smith, director of real estate at Bethesda-based retail strategy firm Streetsense. “We are at a point in time where we have a lot of retail space and a decreasing number of prospective tenants to fill those spaces.”

The owner of the Ballston Pointe building at 4300 Wilson Blvd (which once housed Ted’s Montana) is asking permission to convert its 2,132 square-foot ground floor space into a gym for residents and office space.

Likewise, Le Meridien seeks to convert its 900 square-foot retail space into offices, and the 1776 Wilson Blvd building in Rosslyn (home of Quinn’s and formerly of Kona) wants to cast a wider net for “retail equivalent” tenants like education organizations to fill its 22,829 square feet of unused retail space.

County staff wrote in a report to the Board that the Meridien vacancy is “due to a combination of design and location factors the site has not been a successful retail space” and in another report, that 1776 Wilson “cited difficulty retaining leases with tenants that meet the definition of retail.”

“Municipalities are trying to encourage ground floor retail environments to create sense of place, but the reality of it is that there is only so much of it going around,” said Streetsense’s Smith.

He cited millennials’ penchant for prioritizing experiences over things as one reason retail has been declining over the last decade — leaving fewer prospective tenants. Another problem with filling ground-floor retail space is that not all spaces nor streets are ideal areas to attract shoppers.

That contrasts with an aggressive, former Arlington County policy dubbed “retail everywhere,” which was replaced in 2015 with a more “curated” approach.

Restaurateurs have long bemoaned certain portions of the county, like the western side of Glebe Road in Ballston, as places businesses struggle. The old adage of “location, location, location” applies in Arlington, but sometimes it’s hard for businesses to figure out what will work in which places.

Smith said buildings in Arlington’s neighborhoods like Rosslyn, which is hillier and sleepier at night compared to places like Clarendon, typically have a harder time finding and keeping retailers. However, he noted the Rosslyn Business Improvement District’s community events and artwork are steps toward making the area more attractive to people and businesses.

“While we would all want our streets lined with beautiful boutiques or cafes, that’s just not the reality,” he said.

The County Board has issued approvals for retail space to be turned into alternatives like medical offices for years. Members have also OKed converting office space back to retail space, though that process is sometimes fraught.

An auction by East Falls Church bookstore One More Page recently generated discussion on whether the county also had an obligation to help ground floor retailers weather rising rents.

Smith said that government-led programs or economic incentives only make sense “if the numbers pan out and its win-win for everyone.”

“The best thing you can do is turn the faucet off, and put retail where it belongs,” he said.

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Autumn-lovers rejoice: a hard cider fest is coming to Rosslyn next month.

Multiple cider breweries are expected to set up stations in Gateway Park (1300 Lee Highway) on Thursday, October 17 so attendees can wander and sip at will. Festival goers will also be able to prove their mettle in a pie-eating contest later that afternoon.

Pie eating champions will compete for “a basket of Rosslyn goodies,” and will have one minute to eat a whole pie, according to the event description on the Rosslyn Business Improvement District’s website.

“We’re sure you’ve done your share of wine and beer tastings, but do you know how to taste cider and distinguish between varieties?” event organizers wrote. “Well, now’s your chance to learn more about this delicious alcoholic beverage that’s favored by many who don’t like beer.”

The festival will start at 4 p.m. and end at 8 p.m. that day. Attendees are encouraged to purchase tickets online — which cost $15 and cover the cost of sampling eight different brews — before they sell out.

Other Arlington festivals have offered mulled and regular ciders in years past, but this marks the second time Rosslyn squeezed a cider-only festival into the mix.

Image courtesy of Rosslyn BID

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A 26-foot-tall sculpture of a fire nozzle is coming to the new location of Fire Station 10 as a tribute to Arlington firefighters.

The artwork is the result of a partnership between Arlington Public Art and Penzance, the developer behind the upcoming massive development in western Rosslyn dubbed “The Highlands.”

Set to open in 2021, The Highlands will be the future site of the new Fire Station 10. Currently, the station is temporarily located at 1791 N. Quinn Street.

“This is our first opportunity to integrate public art into a fire station, which is a recommendation in Arlington County’s Public Art Master Plan,” said Angela Adams, Director of Arlington Public Art, in a press release. “Partnering with Penzance has allowed us to honor the history of Fire Station 10 through an enriching piece of public art for all to enjoy for years to come.”

Baltimore artists David and Eli Hess were commissioned for the artwork, which was funded by Penzance as a part of The Highlands development process.

The sculpture, described by officials as “larger-than-life,” will be fabricated from the same bronze used in actual firefighting nozzles. More from the press release:

The nozzle of the piece will act as a giant sconce or torch mounted to the side of the building. At night, a light inside the nozzle will illuminate the spray of water above. The water will be made from stainless steel pipe, twisting and bending in a quasi-spiral formation. The entire sculpture will be 26-feet-tall, attached 8 feet above the ground, extending to the top of the station’s façade. The stainless steel and bronze of the sculpture contrast the dark brick of the station, and the stainless water spray will shine at night against the rich red glow of the brick behind.

The Highlands, on the 1500 block of Wilson Blvd, will include three towers, up to 27 stories, with 104 condos, 780 apartments and 40,000 square feet of retail space.

Images courtesy of Penzance

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Morning Notes

Arlington 9/11 Remembrance Ceremony — “The County’s wreath-laying ceremony will begin at 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 11, at the Bozman Government Center. A moment of silence will be held at 9:37 a.m., the moment when the plane struck the Pentagon and 184 lives were lost.” [Arlington County, Press Release]

Stabbing in Boulevard Manor — “ACPD responded to a domestic violence incident in which a woman was reported stabbed in a home in the Boulevard Manor neighborhood around 11:30 a.m. [Tuesday]. She’s expected to be okay. Police are not releasing additional details, to protect the victim’s identity, per spokeswoman.” [Twitter]

ACPD Considering Ring Doorbell Partnership — “The Arlington County Police Department appears likely to become the fourth Greater Washington law enforcement agency to sign a partnership with Ring Inc., a doorbell-camera company owned by Amazon.com Inc., despite internal concerns over privacy and racial profiling.” [Washington Business Journal]

Marymount Jumps in Rankings — “Great news — Marymount has jumped more than 20 spots in the rankings for top Regional Universities in the South, according to the 2020 Best Colleges Rankings from @usnews!” [Marymount University, Twitter]

Arlington Visitor Spending Keeps Rising — “Arlington visitors spent a record $3.4 billion in 2018, a 4.3 percent increase over 2017, according to the U.S. Travel Association. Arlington has led Virginia counties in visitor spending since 2009. Tourism generated nearly $94 million in local tax receipts, benefiting County programs and services, as well as state tax receipts of nearly $127 million.” [Arlington County]

Rosslyn Neighbor Drama Does Federal — “A former analyst for the FBI admitted Tuesday to copying the private emails of a conservative conspiracy theorist and sharing them with his superiors while his wife offered them to the press… Tolson, who has left the FBI, agreed to forfeit two phones and two computers and avoid contact with Burkman, his neighbor in Arlington. He was released on bond until sentencing on Dec. 20.” [Washington Post]

Hoskins Wants ‘Innovation Campus’ in Fairfax — “As one of the lead negotiators involved in bringing Amazon.com Inc. to Arlington County, Victor Hoskins also helped Alexandria land Virginia Tech’s new ‘Innovation Campus’ — and now that he’s changed jobs, he wants to help Fairfax County do the same.” [Washington Business Journal]

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A new bubble tea joint is coming to Rosslyn.

Permits have been filed for a Gong Cha Tea Shop at 1650 Wilson Blvd, across from the new Arlington Public Schools facility The Heights.

There is a Gong Cha international franchise with locations throughout D.C. and Maryland with a Fairfax location in Annandale (4230 Annandale Road) that opened earlier this year.

The chain offers bubble tea — a tea-based drink with pearls of tapioca balls — at a variety of sweetnesses. It also offers egg waffle dishes with ice cream.

There was no evidence of construction activity at 1650 Wilson Blvd and Gong Cha could not be reached to learn when the shop will be opening.

Hat tip to Chris Slatt

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The annual Rosslyn Jazz Fest returns to Arlington this Saturday.

Celebrating its 29th year, the free festival is anticipating nearly 10,000 attendees. It will feature jazz music, food trucks, and crafting from 1-7 p.m in Rosslyn’s Gateway Park (1300 Lee Highway).

The festival will also prompt several street closures. According to Arlington County Police:

  • 10 a.m.-8 p.m. — Eastbound lanes of Lee Highway between Fort Myer Drive and Lynn Street closed
  • 10 a.m.- 8 p.m. — Fort Myer Drive will be closed at westbound Lee Highway
  • 12-8 p.m. — I-66 Exit 73 to Rosslyn closed

“Local traffic within the closure zone wishing to access Route 66 or the Key Bridge by way of Eastbound Lee Highway should exit Lee Highway at either Veitch Street, Rhodes Street, Quinn Street, or Fort Myer Drive and use Wilson Boulevard to reach Lynn Street,” ACPD said in a press release. “Once on Lynn Street, drivers can travel north across the Key Bridge or take the ramp from Lynn Street onto Route 66 East and enter the District of Columbia.”

Street parking will be restricted and there will be temporary “no parking” signs posted. Attendees are encouraged to use public transportation or ride-hailing apps to get to the festival. Drivers are encouraged to “be alert and prepare for delays” due to road closures and heavy pedestrian traffic.

This year, performers include Grammy-nominated New Orleans brass band Cha Wa, and an eight-piece headlining band The Suffers.

Saturday’s official lineup is:

To preview the event, the Rosslyn Business Improvement District put together a Spotify playlist of the performing artists.

Food trucks in attendance include Swizzler — a hot dog truck — and Ben & Jerry’s. There will also be two beer and wine bars along with a sangria bar.

Additionally, the Arlington Art Truck is expected to set up shop at the festival, presenting a craft series titled Ties That Bind. Multimedia artist Lorenzo Cardim will teach visitors how to sew colorful buttons onto fabrics shaped like Arlington neighborhoods.

Photo via Rosslyn Business Improvement District

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A new fast-casual taco restaurant from one of Arlington’s most prolific restaurateurs is slated to open in late September in Rosslyn, according to a spokesman.

“Taco Rock” from chef Mike Cordero will be located at 1501 Wilson Blvd, in the former Spinfire Pizza space.

The approximately 2,500-square-foot space will be rock-and-roll themed, with a large ceiling guitar and graffiti-style art throughout. There will be space for 50 diners and an 18-seat bar.

The menu will feature specialty tacos served on homemade blue corn tortillas, plus appetizers like corn elotes, ceviche, and “hot Cheeto jalapeño poppers.”

In addition, the restaurant will offer an extensive drink menu featuring tequila cocktails and Mexican beers.

Taco Rock will be Cordero’s ninth Northern Virginia establishment. Currently, Cordeo co-owns the popular Arlington bars Don Tito and The G.O.A.T, and is the force behind the just-opened Bronson Bier Hall in Ballston.

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A man yelling at an employee in a Rosslyn business did not take kindly to a patron filming the encounter on a cell phone, according to an Arlington County Police crime report.

The incident happened on the 1900 block of Fort Myer Drive — the same block as the Holiday Inn hotel — around 7 a.m. this past Saturday.

“The suspect entered a business and allegedly began acting disorderly, engaged in a verbal dispute with an employee and damaged property,” police said in the crime report. “The suspect then observed a patron filming him, struck the patron with a closed fist and stole their cell phone.”

“The suspect fled the business and threw the phone, causing it to break,” the crime report continues. “Arriving officers located the suspect still in the vicinity of the business. Olubunmi Osinuga, 36, of No Fixed Address, was arrested and charged with Robbery, Destruction of Property (<$1000) and Destruction of Property (>$1000). He was held on no bond.”

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The widened stretch of the Custis Trail through Rosslyn finally opened to pedestrian and cyclist traffic late yesterday (Wednesday) afternoon.

The new improvements widen the Custis Trail along westbound Lee Highway from N. Lynn and N. Oak streets, a popular stretch of the trail that connects the Metro corridor to the Key Bridge and the Mount Vernon Trail.

After months of passing each other in the narrow confines of the slimmed-down path along Lee Highway, cyclists and pedestrians both immediately took to the new trail. The former travel lane has now been blocked off with orange barriers.

Even with the widening wrapped up, the project website said work will still continue on installing permanent signs along the trail, but with a minimal impact on trail traffic.

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(Updated at 4:30 p.m.) There’s still a lot that needs to be done in The Heights, the new home of H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program and the Shriver Program, before the school opens next week.

Construction crews are putting on the finishing touches of the building at 1601 Wilson Blvd even as teachers get their classrooms ready for the start of school next Tuesday (Sept. 3). Much of the state-of-the-art interior is completed.

Demolition for the old Wilson School at the site started in 2017, with crews working since then to build the new, five-story terraced structure. Most of the building is slated to be open and usable when school starts, though the auditorium remains under construction. Jeffrey Chambers, director of design and construction for Arlington Public Schools, explained that there’s still construction work that needs to be done and it won’t be accessible until a few weeks after the school opens.

There are other projects around the school, smaller pieces Chambers described as “finishing up the punch list,” but Chambers said any construction work that would be disruptive to students will be done after hours.

“We’re excited to open in a week,” said Dr. Casey Robinson, principal of H-B Woodlawn. “There’s lots to do and we’re having lots of fun exploring the new space.”

H-B Woodlawn is a secondary program with a focus on students playing an integral role in developing school curriculum and shaping the culture of the school. Robinson was a student at the old H-B Woodlawn and later became a teacher there, so like much of the faculty she’s still adjusting to the new location, but she and the others are approaching it with a smile.

“We’ve been telling ourselves and our students that the comfortable feeling [at the old school] took 40 years to create,” Robinson said. “It won’t happen overnight.”

But artifacts brought over from the old school have helped soften the blow of the move for Robinson, as has an elaborate mural painted across the main common area that includes images from the generations that decorated the walls of the old school. Robinson said a “town meeting” planned with faculty and students will decide how the relics should be displayed.

The lower two floors of the building will be devoted to the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Program — formerly the Stratford Program. The two programs will share a common area, cafeteria, auditorium and other school amenities.

“I can’t begin to tell you how excited I am [for school to start again],” said Dr. Karen Gerry, principal of the Shriver Program. “It’s surreal to be in this beautiful building and we’re excited to collaborate again with H-B Woodlawn.”

Plans for the new building haven’t always been happily received by the H-B Woodlawn community, but faculty at the school seemed determined to make the best of the new, more urban location.

“All of your familiar teachers are ready to welcome you back,” Robinson said.

Bill Podolski, director of choral activities at H-B Woodlawn, wore a shirt with an artistic rendering of the school’s former beloved home — which has been transformed into a neighborhood middle school — but seemed happy in a spacious band room with a full wall of multi-floor windows.

“We’re going to make it home,” said Podolski.

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Arlington County Police are investigating a camera found in a local bathroom.

ACPD says they were called Saturday evening to a business on the 1300 block of Wilson Blvd in Rosslyn — which includes an office building and a hotel — after someone found a camera “in the toilet area of a restroom inside a business.” The camera was removed and police are now investigating the incident as a case of unlawful filming.

More from ACPD:

UNLAWFUL FILMING (late), 2019-08240209, 1300 block of Wilson Boulevard. At approximately 6:47 p.m. on August 24, police were dispatched to the late report of found property. Upon arrival, it was determined that at approximately 4:25 p.m., a witness allegedly located a camera in the toilet area of a restroom inside a business and subsequently removed it and notified management. There is no suspect(s) description. The investigation is ongoing.

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