Arlington, VA

A proposal to expand public television station WETA’s Shirlington headquarters has been approved by the Arlington County Board.

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.

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(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

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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.

The current NewsHour studios, on 27th Street S. near the Weenie Beanie, are set to be sold to Arlington County and eventually torn down to expand the soon-to-be-renovated Jennie Dean Park.

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

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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.

Arlington is currently soliciting feedback on both a park master plan and an area plan to guide the valley’s future, and will accept comments on both through Aug. 20.

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.

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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.

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Shrlington-based public television station WETA and the Arlington Historical Society have produced a series of videos highlighting the county’s history.

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.

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Morning Notes

Inside a piece of art at the Arlington Arts Center in Virginia Square

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]

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Arlington may have a relatively low crime rate and a reputation for being a idyllic “urban village,” but there are still gangs — including the notorious MS-13 street gang — operating in our midst.

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.

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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.

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Morning Notes

Problems at PBS NewsHour — The PBS NewsHour is facing serious challenges. The hour-long news program, which is produced at the WETA facilities in Shirlington, has been shedding staff and viewers. A number of top news and business personnel have left recently, while viewership is down 11 percent year-over-year. Meanwhile, a top sponsor is pulling out at the end of the year, leaving a $2 million hole in the NewsHour’s budget. [New York Times]

Elementary School Goes Solar — A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held at Glebe Elementary School yesterday to mark the installation of a 1.1 kilowatt solar panel system. The solar panels will not only generate enough clean energy to power one classroom, but will also serve as an educational tool. Students, parents and teachers will be able to monitor the system’s electricity output using any web-enabled device or smartphone. [Arlington Public Schools]

Park Gives Marymount New Athletic FacilitiesLong Bridge Park is more than an attractive new green space to Arlington’s only four-year university. Marymount University paid about $2 million toward the cost of one of the three multi-use synthetic-turf fields at the park. In exchange, the school’s Division III soccer and lacrosse teams will utilize the field as their “home base.” When the field is not in use by the school, it will be available for use by the public. [Sun Gazette]

Ballston BID Director Hired — The newly-created Ballston Business Improvement District has a new executive director. Tina Leone is leaving her post as president of the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce to run the BID. [Alexandria Times]

Flickr pool photo by Mark C. White

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