Local Commentary

Editorial: How to Proceed At the West End

The massive development plans for the 24.5-acre campus of Capital One in Tysons Corner, containing what will become when completed in 2018 the tallest building in Northern Virginia at 447 feet, establishes a goal for development at the West Falls Church Metro in Falls Church. That goal should be 448 feet.

Such a building should house, as the tallest building overall in Virginia does, the Westin Town Center in Virginia Beach (at 508 feet could also be an even more ambitious goal for Falls Church), a mix of retail at the bottom, luxury tourist hotel in the middle and pricey luxury condos on the top floors with unimpeded views of the nation’s capital.

Such a structure would not gum up or require a lot of new roadways in the region, as its access would be primarily by Metro. With upwards of 20 million visitors to the D.C. region annually, the hotel would offer a special service catering to vacationing families who’d prefer to stay just outside the region’s inner city center. If Metro land is combined with Falls Church’s for this, both jurisdictions would make a killing, and there is very little residential impact. You don’t have to name this after our editor. You can name it after his late feline companion of 20 years. Call it “The Mimi.”

The Falls Church City Council and School Board came through a lengthy joint work session this Monday night once again frustrated by the lack of progress in designing a workable plan for development of the 36-acre West End property ceded to the City as part of the sale of the City’s water system to Fairfax County.

How to proceed to renovate or rebuild and expand the high school there when the cost could exceed $110 million? How to convince voters to approve bonds for that amount? How to bring on the 13 acres permitted for commercial or residential development? How to have revenues from that offset the new high school?

The question of pressing ahead seems to have everyone grinding their teeth over the loss of time (when the high school’s needs are so imminent). Here’s our two cents on how to go forward.
1. Establish what the market will tell you is the highest and best use for the commercial component and where (i.e. “The Mimi”).

2. On that basis, design an optimum high school model, probably in the $110 million range. Have it established ahead of time that proffers from developers of “The Mimi” will include world class swim and performing arts centers that will be located in the school portion of the project for their educational uses.

3. Future revenues from the commercial development would be used to offset bonded costs of the school.

4. Convince voters of what their dollars will be getting them. In our view, they’d be more likely to vote for something of real substance than a measly $40 million patchwork school fix.

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