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$1 Billion in Developer Investment In F.C. Called

 10 New Projects Said ‘Visionary, Ahead of Curve’

Usually when the word “billion” is used with a dollar sign, it’s in reference to some big spending in Washington, D.C. Seldom is it relevant to anything pertaining to little Falls Church. But that’s what they were talking about at the Greater Falls Church Chamber of Commerce Tuesday.

 

Five major developers, now at work in the slim, commercially-zoned corridors of the City of Falls Church’s 2.2 miles, showed up at the same time to take turns sketching the outlines of their work to a sold-out luncheon crowd. The Chamber’s annual “Developer’s Showcase” event included all of what’s been done since 2002, what’s underway, and what’s in the pipeline into just one hour. It added up to nearly $1 billion of new investment in the City, and this is just to prime the pump.

 “What we have here are 10 different large commercial or mixed-use projects in process that represents almost $1 billion of risk that developers have been willing to take in Falls Church in this immediate period,” said Jan Zachariasse, president of Waterford Development that built The Broadway and is now working on The Spectrum. “But this represents only those of us in the development industry who have had the vision to be ahead of the curve.”

Rick Goff, the economic development czar for the City, said that of the 215 acres of commercially-zoned land in the city, only 12 was taken up with the first wave of developments. In other words, as impressive as the 10 projects discussed on Tuesday are, there’s plenty of room for more.

Goff said that among the five sites already built out, or in different stages of construction, the combined assessed value of those properties grew from $15 million in 2003 to $250 million now. It will continue to grow to $500 million when they’re completed, he added, noting that in addition to property taxes, the projects will yield business license, sales, meals and personal property tax revenues as well.

Once the wider development community catches the wave, grasping that Falls Church is “open for business” at its ideal position on the Metro, adjacent an interstate and the Beltway, much more can be expected.

Still, what was presented Tuesday as currently in the works was genuinely awesome, according to the true, and not common teen or soccer mom, use of the word. Here’s what was presented, in the order they were heard:

* The Hekemian Company’s Northgate project recently approved for construction on the old Pearson Funeral Home site on N. Washington at E. Jefferson. Chris Bell outlined the 105 rental housing units, 23,000 square feet of retail and 15,000 square feet of office space that will go there. “It took us over three years to get this approved, but the effort improved the project and we thank the Chamber for its support,” Bell said.

* The Broadway, already up and running, and The Spectrum, which is moving toward completion at 444 W. Broad, were presented by Zachariasse, who always has a penchant for framing the big picture. The Spectrum, with 189 condo units, 32,000 square feet of retail, and two 15,000 square foot office buildings facing onto Park Avenue, had its “topping out” party recently when the roof was put on the top floor. The plan is to have it fully enclosed by July, and the selling of residential units will begin again in earnest this fall. He added that there is “twice the interest” in the project’s office space than there is room to fill.

* The Gateway on N. Washington was presented by Mike Gill of Akridge. On the 2.6 acres already acquired by Akridge, where three smaller office buildings were built in 1984 but now sit 50% vacant, the new project will bring three new buildings with mixed uses including a village green and mews street. They will include two four-story buildings of either condo or rental units and an increase from 64,000, currently to 81,000 square feet of commercial and retail space. The project will sit between The Westlee, now completed just outside the Falls Church border in Arlington, and the Hekemian project. According to Gill, it will bring $800,000 in new tax revenue to the City annually, the equivalent of lowering an average homeowner’s tax bill by $120.

* Pearson Square and the first phase of the City Center Redevelopment plan were presented by Adam Shulman of Atlantic Realty. The office building at Pearson Square, site of the old duckpin bowling alley, is already occupied by Tax Analysts, which bought it, and relocated over 200 employees there. The residential component of Pearson Square, now well under construction, will include 230 units, and the News-Press has learned that Atlantic Realty is considering converting them from condos to rental units because of the current glut in the condo market. There will also be 20,000 square feet of retail space, and 3,000 dedicated to an arts center.

* On the City Center project, Shulman said his company has been working on the plan since 1999 and hopes to bring a million square feet of new development. Phase One will include a 160-room hotel with conference center, 70 age-specific condos (for adults age 55 and older), an office building, a new bowling alley and 600 to 700 underground parking spaces. Phase Two will include a 55,000 square foot Harris Teeter grocery store, 15,000 square feet of retail and 500 rental residential units. “We already have all the land under our control,” he noted. This project still awaits official approval from the City before it can get started.

* Three smaller projects on the north side of W. Broad in the 400 to 800 blocks were presented by Bob Young of the Young Group. The first, the Read Building at 402 W. Broad, with its distinctive art nouveau architecture and provision for teacher workforce housing, is nearing completion, with a bank and fitness center slated to occupy it next month. In the 800 block, Young plans to develop “by right” 50,000 square feet of all commercial use that he plans to have include a wine bar, restaurant and wine and cheese store. It will come to the Planning Commission within weeks, he said, and construction could begin by July or August. In the 700 block, his plan is for a 110-room hotel with a conference center and three floors of office space in the rear. Within two weeks, Young said, he will come to the City for a special exception permit. He said he’s coined the stretch between the 300 and 800 blocks of W. Broad as “Broad Walk,” and that it will be “a very focused part of our city.”

Ed Novak of Nova-Habitat, the developer of yet another project, the nearly-completed Byron in the 500 block of W. Broad, arrived too late to get penciled into the line-up, but there were numerous references to his building anyway.

Two members of the Falls Church City Council were present, Vice Mayor Lindy Hockenberry and Hal Lippman. Hockenberry spoke, addressing her interest in affordable commercial space. “We want the businesses that are here to be able to stay here and grow with us,” she said.

Afterwards, she said she felt like cheering out loud as she heard all the plans reprised together.

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