The $50 million renovation of WETA’s headquarters in Shirlington is nearing completion.
After about two years, the local public broadcasting station WETA is set to finish off its 17,000-square-foot expansion on Campbell Avenue later this year. The refresh will include four floors of studios, offices, a consolidated headquarters, and more large spaces for public gatherings and screenings, Vice-President of External Affairs Mary Stewart told ARLnow.
Some production is still being done out of the old building, which WETA first moved into in the 1980s, but that will stop once the renovation is completed on the building on Campbell Avenue, Stewart said.
Externally, much of the work appears to be nearing the finish line with the expansion extending into a space that was once a courtyard. It’s the internal renovations, said Stewart, that still need some time. Those are expected to be done in “late 2023,” despite some “supply chain hiccups.” Some of the studios and public spaces could be open to employees by the summer, though.
Two main studios and one flash (smaller) studio are set to be added. One of the main studios will be used by the PBS NewsHour.
The national nightly news broadcast, which recently debuted a new pair of anchors, will get an updated set, with modern tech, video walls, and an outward-facing TV screen on the ground floor. The goal for the new set is to be “flexible,” modern, and for the video screens to allow remote interviews to be more “natural and cohesive,” said Stewart.
Also set to start filming in the new studios will be the six-decade-old teen quiz show “It’s Academic.” In the fall, the longest-running TV quiz show in history announced it was moving into WETA’s renovated building with the hope it would start producing episodes there in early 2024.
The studios will also be home to PBS NewsHour Weekend and Washington Week, as well as local programming like WETA Arts. Additionally, the update will also allow pledge drives and special broadcasts to take place in the new studios.
“We will now be a 365-day, 7-day-a-week production,” Stewart said.
She said the biggest drivers of the expansion are to modernize, allow for more production flexibility, and consolidate all of WETA in one building.
The local PBS station actually first began operating out of Yorktown High School more than six decades ago, in 1961. It moved to D.C. for a time, before consolidating operations back in Arlington in 1983 at the still-standing 3620 27th Street S. location. In 1995, WETA purchased the building on Campbell Avenue and moved its headquarters there, while production remained mostly at the other building a few blocks away.
But with this $50 million expansion, WETA will be whole for the first time in its 62-year history.
“With this expansion of our building, it means WETA will have a permanent home in Arlington,” said Stewart.
After 61 years with D.C.’s local NBC station, the teen quiz show “It’s Academic” has a new broadcast home: WETA-TV in Arlington.
And the inaugural episode on the public TV station will feature a team of three Arlington students from Washington-Liberty High School, who will face teams from Herndon High School and W.T. Woodson High School in Fairfax County.
As early as fall 2024, the show could be produced at the local PBS station’s headquarters in Shirlington, at 3939 Campbell Ave, which are currently being renovated. But for now — due to the pandemic — students are participating via Zoom.
For Senior Vice President and General Manager Miguel Monteverde, Jr., bringing the show to WETA was an obvious decision.
“It was a no-brainer,” he tells ARLnow. “There’s no show more local than one that features… 240 of frankly some of our brightest kids, our future leaders, in an education themed quiz show.”
The last few years have been rocky for the independently produced show, which has aired on WRC-TV (NBC 4) since it started in 1961 and holds the Guinness Book of World Records title for the longest-running TV quiz show.
“It’s Academic” was previously filmed in WRC-TV’s historic Studio A in upper Northwest D.C., near the American University campus, until renovations started on that building. The show then bounced around filming locations while still airing on NBC 4.
Major funding for the show is now provided by McLean-based MITRE. And now, having a new broadcaster — and eventually a new filming location — provides “It’s Academic” with even more security, Monteverde says.
“I’m glad that all the stars were aligned and that we could work out a deal and keep that show going and bring it to the WETA audience,” he said.
For now, kids will still use Zoom to appear on the show, but as early as the spring, the show could be in-person at a yet-undetermined location.
“The kids are just as smart on Zoom as they are in the studio, but they’re eager for the show to be in the studio,” Monteverde said. “You’ve got the parents and family members in the seats, the team mascot. Schools will bring cheer squads. It’s a more visually interesting, festive experience.”
Although renovations to the WETA building could be finished next year, the studio won’t be ready for filming “It’s Academic” until the 2024-25 school year, he said.
“When we’re able to finally get the show in the new WETA studios in a couple of years, it will start to look a little different,” he said. “It’ll still be the quiz show format, but it’ll be in a new studio, so we have an opportunity to give it a fresh look.”
Monteverde approached the producers of “It’s Academic” about switching homes to add to the station’s stock of local shows. He says WETA is investing in local programming to distinguish itself from streaming services and cable television.
The station is planning to construct a four-story addition between the existing office building, at 3939 Campbell Avenue, and its parking garage. The 17,000 square foot addition would then house the WETA studios that produce the national PBS NewsHour broadcast, allowing the current NewsHour studios to be razed and used to expand Jennie Dean Park.
In addition to housing more than 100 NewsHour employees, the addition will have a giant, outward-facing TV screen on the ground floor, adding some flair to Shirlington’s street life.
An even larger project may eventually come to the current WETA site, after the Board’s approval of a new Shirlington land use plan study on Saturday. The study suggests that WETA’s above-ground parking garage is a prime candidate “for demolition and redevelopment.”
More on the expansion approval, from a county press release:
The Arlington County Board has approved WETA’s plan to expand its Shirlington headquarters and an incentive grant to will keep the public television station in Arlington for at least another 5 years.
“WETA was born in Arlington,” Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey said. “Its headquarters lies on Campbell Avenue, named for Elizabeth Campbell, an educator and activist who worked tirelessly to create a public television station here that was educational and good for children. She then guided it for four decades. WETA is a big part of Shirlington’s success and an important part of our community. I’m thrilled that this respected educational and cultural institution, and its 292 jobs, will be staying in Arlington for years to come.”
The Board voted unanimously to approve the expansion, the performance-based incentive grant, and purchase and lease-back agreement for WETA’s 27th Street S. studio site…
WETA, the non-profit local PBS station, will add a four-story studio and office building to its existing six-story headquarters at 3939 Campbell Avenue, opened in 1989. The addition, with its state-of-the-art television studio, will be built in a private courtyard between the existing building and WETA’s above-grade parking garage, connecting the two existing structures. A large media screen will be installed at the building’s ground level on S. Quincy Street.
The expansion will allow WETA to vacate its aging television studio on 27th Street S., which the County is purchasing for the expansion of Jennie Dean Park.
The Board approved a $2.27 million Economic Development Incentive (EDI) grant for WETA. Under the grant agreement, WETA is committed to retain its 292 jobs and more than 88,000 square feet of occupied commercial space in Shirlington for at least 15 years and to invest at least $15 million in constructing the new studio. The EDI grant is performance-based, with WETA eligible to receive up to $112,500 annually over 15 years if it meets the jobs and base facility targets. WETA must repay the grant if it does not reach its performance targets. Staff estimates that the 15-year net tax benefit for the County will be approximately $4.8 million. The Board also approved the purchase, for a price of $8 million of WETA’s 27th Street S., studio, and a lease-back agreement that will allow WETA to lease the studio for up to five years.
(Updated at 4:15 p.m.) It was a seemingly uncontroversial item on the County Board agenda: shifting a temporary parking lot for television station WETA down the block, in order to allow renovations to Jennie Dean Park to proceed.
But the proposal, which was approved unanimously last night after a detailed discussion, ended up raising questions about race, equity and public engagement. It was the subject of a recent op-ed published by the Sun Gazette entitled “Arlington government again fails Green Valley,” accusing the county of repeatedly ignoring the wishes of the historically Black neighborhood.
“While millions marched for equity and racial justice last week, the Arlington County government posted a board agenda item that turns these actions into mere slogans,” wrote Green Valley Civic Association members Robin Stombler and Portia Clark. “A license agreement would have the county government turn a newly acquired $1 million property in the Green Valley community into a parking lot for WETA. This action is but one in a series of events that draw attention to the inequity systemic within the county.”
The discussion at Tuesday’s County Board meeting did not include much talk of race or equity. Instead, it mostly addressed the practical matter at hand: about 10 employees of the nearby WETA facility, which produces the PBS NewsHour, were parking on a temporary, county-owned lot that is set to become a playground in Phase 1 of the Jennie Dean expansion. To allow construction to move forward, they would be moved to a lot a short distance away on S. Four Mile Run Drive, between a small commercial building and the Weenie Beenie.
Demolition of the building that will become the new WETA lot started last week, a county staffer said. Heavy construction on the park is set to begin in late summer or early fall. Without use of the current temporary lot, “we would not be able to build out the project as designed,” the staffer said.
The Green Valley neighborhood didn’t want the current WETA lot and doesn’t want the new lot, said Stombler. And notification of the change — it was advertised in the lightly-read Washington Times newspaper, as are Arlington’s other public notices — was inadequate.
“Publishing notices in the Washington Times and considering it an outreach method is very telling of how the county regards Green Valley and community input in general,” Stomber said. We deserve much better… The county’s engagement processes must be improved.”
The remarks echo complaints from Green Valley residents two years about the lengthy design process for Jennie Dean Park.
“This community has been ignored repeatedly by the Arlington County Board while the requests and desires of several other, predominantly white, Arlington neighborhoods are being placed ahead of those of the people who live here,” one resident told ARLnow at the time.
“I feel like we’re second class citizens,” said a resident during the public comment period last night.
Nonetheless, under an agreement approved by the Board, WETA will be granted temporary use of the newly-created lot for a year, after which its use can be reevaluated. Eventually, the lot will become part of park, in the second phase of its expansion. And the county will get something in return for the temporary use.
“The compensation to the County for the Amended and Restated License Agreement will be in the form of 12, 15-second promotional underwriting credit spots on WETA’s radio programs during each calendar year,” a staff report says.
Stombler and Clark — who support the expansion of WETA’s Shirlington headquarters that will see its aging NewsHour studio eventually demolished — said that the radio ads will not do anything to benefit the neighborhood.
“The county government must reassess its engagement processes to correct these actions, and must be held accountable for practices that marginalize segments of our community,” the op-ed said. “More innovative and compassionate solutions should be encouraged. Local hiring, paid internships, job fair hosting and community clean-ups beat 12 ego-boosting radio spots any day.”
Photos (1-2) via Arlington County, (3-4) via Google Maps
Progress is being made on an expansion plan for public broadcaster WETA’s Shirlington offices.
The plan is to construct a four-story addition between the existing office building, at 3939 Campbell Avenue, and its above-ground parking garage. The 17,000 square foot addition would then house the WETA studios — and the approximately 130 employees, according to county documents — that produce the national PBS NewsHour broadcast.
Arlington County is expected to pay WETA $8 million for the property while also providing economic development incentives for the broadcaster to stay in Arlington and expand its offices, the Washington Business Journal reported in December.
“The goal is to bring the Purchase and Sale Agreement for the WETA Studio property, and the Economic Development Incentives agreement between WETA and the County, to the Board concurrently,” a county spokeswoman told ARLnow this afternoon. “We anticipate these items will go the County Board this spring — April or shortly after.”
The site plan amendment for the WETA expansion is set to be discussed by Arlington’s Site Plan Review Committee on Monday. Public hearings and County Board consideration is expected later this spring, “shortly after the two aforementioned agreements are approved,” the spokeswoman said.
Photo (2) via Google Maps
With a key bit of planning work on the Four Mile Run valley in Nauck wrapped up, the county is pushing ahead with the development of additional design guidelines for parks and other features in the area.
The County Board approved a “policy framework” for the area in May, sketching out general goals for the remainder of the planning process. Chiefly, the work is focused on the redevelopment of Jennie Dean Park, the evolution of pedestrian and cycling options along roads like S. Four Mile Run Drive and the promotion of the arts industry in the area.
In the framework, the Board endorsed one plan for the redesign of Jennie Dean to account for the county’s plans to someday acquire WETA’s building in the area (3620 27th Street S.).
The Board expects to approve a plan calling for two planned baseball and softball fields to be aligned closer to S. Nelson Street, with new basketball and tennis courts on the site of the WETA building, even though it attracted some fierce pushback from some in the Nauck community. Now, the public will get another chance to weigh in on the design, including the county’s plans to add a new “gateway” to the park near the Weenie Beanie on S. Four Mile Run Drive.
The plans also include details on how the county might manage stormwater in the area moving forward, and future tweaks to features throughout Shirlington Park. The area’s dog park, however, won’t see big changes under the proposed plans, after the Board declined to move forward with any reduction in size for the park.
The Board expects to vote on a final parks plan in September, and could sign off on the area plan in November.
Arlington County is considering buying property owned by local PBS affiliate WETA in the Four Mile Run Valley, as part of a park expansion project and a plan to keep WETA’s headquarters in Shirlington.
Under a deal announced yesterday (Thursday), the county has an option to purchase the WETA studio at 3620 27th Street S., and use the land for the future expansion of Jennie Dean Park. If WETA’s Board of Trustees approves the plan, a sale could happen in the next two years.
Should the sale go through, per a letter of intent signed by both parties, the county would make $500,000 of urban design improvements in the area near WETA’s headquarters (3939 Campbell Ave), including improving pedestrian safety and signs.
The county would also provide WETA with a performance-based Economic Development Incentive grant of up to $150,000 per year based on reaching targets for job creation and square feet used.
WETA will soon “begin design and construction feasibility studies to explore relocating the studio next to the current headquarters located at 3939 Campbell Avenue in Shirlington Village,” according to a county press release. “The planned project would include building a new, state-of-the art studio in space adjacent to their headquarters building.”
“We’ve had a longstanding relationship with WETA, one of our most valuable community partners,” County Manager Mark Schwartz said in a statement. “This agreement allows WETA to move forward with envisioning their ideal television studio and headquarters as we move forward with planning for Jennie Dean Park’s future.”
The property has been identified as a way to expand Jennie Dean Park since 1994, while WETA has been looking throughout the region for new space.
The future of Jennie Dean Park has been a source of controversy among some members of the Four Mile Run Valley Working Group, tasked with making recommendations for the area’s future. An area near the park has been proposed as a possible arts district, a plan that has come in for some criticism from group members and commission chairs.
The full county press release is after the jump.
The partnership began in late 2013, when AHS President John Richardson approached WETA digital manager Mark Jones about starting a video web series. According to AHS spokesman Garrett Peck — also the subject of the above video — Jones immediately took to the idea, and they’ve produced a video a month since.
“The videos have really helped a lot of awareness,” Peck said. Each video is paired with AHS’s monthly lecture series, with topics like local brewing, Arlington’s fire department and a noted local civil rights leader. “Mark interviews each speaker about a month beforehand. It’s a nice little promo and it stays online forever.”
Considering the nonprofit’s interest in permanence, Peck said he’s enjoyed WETA creating a library of sorts of the short videos they’ve produced.
“It’s a permanent record of history, and people really like seeing video,” Peck said. “That’s the way people want their information nowadays.”
For sneak peeks into the next video and speaker program, you can visit AHS’ website. Coming up next month: a history of the Arlington County Police Department.
Park Activists Taking It Too Far? — Residents pushing for the Arlington School Board to scrap a plan to build a new elementary school on parkland next to Thomas Jefferson Middle School might have taken their effort to preserve parkland too far. Activists reportedly placed “Save TJ Park” signs in the yards of some school board members overnight before the vote on a new Arlington Public Schools Capital Improvement Plan. School-related activism “seems to be getting out of hand,” writes Sun Gazette editor Scott McCaffrey. [InsideNova]
HOV Enforcement Today — Virginia State Police, Arlington County Police and other D.C. area law enforcement agencies are conducting an HOV enforcement campaign today on I-395, I-66 and other local highways. The enforcement took place during the morning rush hour and will take place again during the evening rush hour. [Associated Press]
WETA Takes Ownership of ‘NewsHour’ — Shirlington-based public TV station WETA has taken ownership of the PBS NewsHour from longtime owner MacNeil/Lehrer Productions. The NewsHour is produced at WETA studios in Shirlington, but has lately been struggling to raise funds for its $25-30 million budget. [New York Times]
An event next week will remind residents that Arlington is not without gang activity and gang-related violence.
On Tuesday, April 17, Leadership Arlington will be holding a panel discussion entitled “Arlington County Gangs: Exploring the Shadows of Our Urban Mayberry.” Part of the organization’s spring speaker series, the event will focus on “the threats that gang activity present to the Arlington community,” “contributing factors to youth participation in gangs” and “initiatives in place to address gang-related violence.”
The speakers include Robert “Tito” Vilchez of the Arlington County Task Force, a member of the Arlington County Police Gang Unit, and Meredith McKeen of Northern Virginia Family Services.
Gang activity might not be visible to many residents, but it is to many of Arlington’s youth. One in six Arlington Public Schools students know at least one person who is involved in gang activity, according to the event invitation.
The panel discussion will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the WETA building (2775 S. Quincy Street). Tickets are $40 for the general public and $30 for Leadership Arlington members. Lunch is included in the price of admission.
Residents near Big Walnut Park report being surprised by odd noises around 10:30 last night. When they checked outside, they discovered that someone had apparently performed a parachute jump off the WETA television tower.
The jumper reportedly became tangled when she landed in a tree in the 5200 block of N. 19th Rd. Onlookers say they saw her detach from her parachute and attempt to climb down the tree. She fell and was taken to the hospital for her injuries.
Police charged five people with trespassing for climbing the tower: three men, ages 48, 30 and 25, along with two women, ages 48 and 30. The jumper is listed as being from Litchfield, CT.
The parachute remains in a tree, which is in a residential backyard. So far, it’s unclear how it will be removed.