Local Commentary

Editorial: Calling All Big Time Developers

We can hope that private developers will not sit on their hands waiting for the Falls Church City government and School Board to give them the cue to step forward and propose an ambitious project by the West Falls Church Metro station that would merge 10 acres of the City’s land with as much of its 36 acres of land that WMATA may be willing to combine for something that huge.

It will be a very important project for both the City and its schools and for WMATA, which is sorely in need of cash, as its board chair Jack Evans told the F.C. City Council on June 27. Ironically, WMATA may need the money even more than the City of Falls Church, which at least funds its pension fund. Evans told of billions in shortfalls for the aging Metro system, including $2.5 billion in unfunded pension liabilities. At the June 27 meeting Evans said he’d be eager to collaborate with Falls Church on a joint effort to develop that highly-valued land.

But follow up contact with WMATA has found no evidence there has been any concrete effort in that direction.
Falls Church is at a standstill on this right now because having expended nine months working with two competing development entities before realizing that approach was not cutting it, it is now unsure what to do next. It has to balance the interest in a new or renovated high school with some idea of an ability to pay for it from the commercial development of a portion of its land, and then get City voters to go along in a referendum.

Since the cost of a new high school is projected at $112 million or so, officials are not confident that voters will approve a bond referendum for such an amount, especially with needs for City Hall and library renovations also pressing. So, who will be able to say authoritatively how much the commercial development can bring?

Clearly, if a project were to include some of the WMATA land, it could be much greater, and more profitable, in scale. The undeveloped land by the West Falls Church Metro, in that condition because unlike the District, Arlington and Maryland, Fairfax County frowned upon Metro station commercial development for many years, has been called “the most valuable real estate on the entire eastern seaboard.” Indeed, it may be, but the question is whether or not its maximum potential can be realized, and how.

So, let this editorial serve as an appeal to big time developers to swoop in here and break this current impasse with some major vision, resources and clout. What, after all, could go on 45 acres right by the Metro station? A Disneyland? A new Empire State building? A new stadium for the Washington professional football team? Another Mosaic?

This is a unique opportunity whose window will be closing fast. A mediocre alternative will simply not suffice.

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