Our Man in Arlington

April 11, 2018 6:13 PM0 comments

clark-fcnpLike many who venture to the kingdom of Ballston, I am impatient for the never-ending renovations to be over.

Tina Leone, CEO of the Ballston Business Improvement District, was happy to promise me that the rewards for us patrons of Arlington’s most central community will unfold in September—with staggered openings continuing through May 2019.

Sept. 2018 is the target date I see posted every time I hit the Sport and Health gym (don’t ask how often), one of six commercial establishments bravely staying open during Ballston Common’s “pardon our dust” renovation. Others include the nationally embattled Macy’s, the persistent Regal Cinema, the basic CVS, the well-capitalized CapitalOne Bank and the unique Kettler Capitals Iceplex. (Lenscrafters endured the disruption for a while but bailed.)

I must offer three cheers for those lonely Ballston Common parking attendants.

But keep in mind that this sad-sack Ballston mall lies at the heart of the larger Ballston Quarter. The neighborhood has roots as an Arlington crossroads dating to the 18th century (there was a tavern, a polling station near today’s Macy’s). By 1907, there was a trolley hub at Fairfax Dr. and Glebe.

Today’s Ballston is a 25-block neighborhood with more than 8.3 million square feet of office space, 1 million square feet of retail footage and 8,000 residential units. The Rosslyn-Ballston Metro corridor has the highest concentration of 18-34-year-olds in the United States, the BID claims, with an educated, affluent population of 42,683 within a square mile.

Pardon the hype: Ballston’s planners bill it as a space “with untraffic, unaggravation, unsuburbs, unboredom and a totally uncommon way of life. Ballston Quarter is a true urban village filled with people who want to live where they also work and play—people who want to live life to the fullest,” the BID says modestly. “This is the new American Dream.”

Construction has permeated life in Ballston since the 2008 Great Recession. We watched the demolition of the Wilson Blvd. pedestrian bridge and chunks falling from the Ballston Mall parking garage. We lost a key tenant in the National Science Foundation. Now the old Mazda dealer at Glebe and Wilson is being replaced with a Target, 2,000 new apartments are in preparation in the area, and the Jefferson retirement community is completing renovation.

Driving around, you’ll spot orange-and-white plastic standards that brand the area and offer the wifi app’s slogan: “To find all things Ballston, Ballston Connect.”

Inside the 360,000 square-foot mall itself, Leone points to a roster of planned new eateries and 21st-century entertainment outlets that grows almost daily. Names like Cookology, Nook, the Punch Bowl Social, 5 Wits. Forty percent of it is food, she said, and the hope is to create “Instagram-worthy moments.”

The Target store differs from [nearby] Macy’s in that is more for household goods,” she told me. There are still vacancies, and “We’re a little short on service, such as nail salons, dry cleaners.”

The only setbacks in the race toward renewed Ballston civilization are a few communications lapses in warning residents of construction noise and blocked thoroughfares, she said.

There are plans to add more trees in areas such as the Fairfax Dr. entrance to I-66. And yes, you can also expect more “placemaking,” perhaps some festival lighting.

“Once we get through this,” Leone assured her restless interviewer, “people will be happy with the results.”

***

A graduate of Yorktown High School class of ’83 was fortunate recently to recover his old school ring. He posted a photo of it on the Facebook page “I Grew Up in Arlington, Va.”

Several of us noticed that if you look carefully at the jewel, you can see what clearly is a Confederate flag. I queried Mike McClain to find out what prompted that custom-ordered design.

Said he, “It was battle flag of Northern Virginia history and heritage.”

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