In a bizarre turn of events this Monday, the fanfare that accompanied the symbolic groundbreaking for the long-time-coming Harris Teeter project on a brisk but sunny morning at the W. Broad Street site was contrasted to a late-night somber appearance of the project’s chief developer before the Falls Church City Council as a last-minute substantive change in the company’s contract to buy City-owned land as part of the deal had to be ratified by the Council.
Rushmark Properties’ Patrick Kearney, who was the buoyant master of ceremonies at the morning event, introducing the mayor, the city manager and dignitaries of the City and his development team, came to the Council that night in a black trench coat to apologize profusely for what he said happened that day when he took the terms of the deal to his banker and was told that the bank would not agree to a clause of the contract that calls for the City property to revert back to the City should the project not get completed.
The odd development required a snap decision from the Council, and Kearney hoped to make that easier for them by throwing in $100,000 for their trouble. The entire project, including the $1.4 million in annual net tax revenues projected to come to the City coffers, was suddenly in the balance. Vice Mayor David Snyder told his Council colleagues tersely, “If we don’t vote ‘yes’ on this, the whole project will be off.”
The vote was 7-0 to agree to the modification that included a commitment to close on the land the same time as Rushmark closes on its bank loan. There was very little discussion, except for a scolding of Kearney, who’d said he was willing to “accept the blame” for the last minute modification requirement. “I never should have agreed” to the contract term needing changing, Kearney said.
After the vote, he quickly exited the building.
His mood was so different than when all the the happy glad-handing was going on in the morning. A tent was set up where the post boxes used to be on the old post office parking lot, and a portable generator was set up to keep the coffee hot.
After a lot of schmoozing, everyone took seats inside the tent to hail the upcoming development that will kick off with the demolition of the old post office building and the 40-year site of Anthony’s Restaurant within days.
In two years or so, on the site will be a 60,000-square foot mega-Harris Teeter that will be the chain’s largest in the region, with 286 residential rental units above, and additional 3,000 square feet of retail, and three levels of underground parking.
Invited by Kearney to make brief remarks were Mayor David Tarter and City Manager Wyatt Shields. Members of the City Council, Planning Commission and Economic Development Commission were on hand and invited to stand for applause. Recognized for their willingness to engage with Rushmark in its development planning were members of the Winter Hill Neighborhood Association with residences right behind the project.
“This is a great morning for the City of Falls Church,” Shields said, citing the projected $1.4 million in annual tax revenues coming to the City, the $2 million gift to the city schools that was offered, $100 million in investment in the project, itself, and the fact that it will serve as a “catalyst for further economic development.”
Mayor Tarter said the project “will make for a more vibrant downtown as all the cars you now see driving by will stop and shop here.” He said the project is the first with the City’s new 20 foot setback policy, making for a more walkable access, and added that about half the City, with its 2.2 square miles, will be within walking distance of the Harris Teeter.
Shields, Tarter and many dignitaries present, both on the City and the developer side of the project, when moved behind a prepared mound of soft dirt, donned hard hats and shovels, and on the count of three lifted and tossed the soil as cameras snapped.
A virtually identical event has been set for Tuesday, April 8, at the site of the Reserve at Tinner Hill four blocks away. With the old Saab dealership and Midas shop having vacated the site, some demolition and preparations of the site have already been underway.
Like the Rushmark development, Lincoln’s Reserve at Tinner Hill is slated to be ready for occupancy by June 2016.