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8-Screen Dine-In Movie Complex, 9,500-SF Diner-Brewery on Board for Founder’s Row

A Founder’s Row concept drawing from WDG. (Photo: WDG)

After a long, two-and-a-half year silence since winning an unanimous approval by the Falls Church City Council to move ahead, the Mill Creek Residential developers of the 4.3-acre Founder’s Row project on the northeast side of the W. Broad and N. West intersection of Falls Church are back with some big news. The firm announced to a joint session of the F.C. City Council and Planning Commission Monday night that a unique theater-dining operation, Studio Movie Grill, has signed a lease to bring eight screens and 815 seats to the site.

It also announced a signed lease for a 9,500 square foot restaurant and brewery, City Works, and an arrangement for the departure of the 7-Eleven on the site. It is back with all this in hopes the City Council will OK its one major revision, which is to replace the promise of a hotel with over 70 age-restricted (ages 55 and up) apartments.

The Studio Movie Grill (SMG), which has 30 locations across the U.S., will operate a full-service kitchen and 90 seat restaurant on the ground floor of the movie complex, which will show a range of first-run and independent films, Sean Caldwell of Mill Creek announced Monday night.

Last Friday, breaking its long public silence with a letter to the City, Mill Creek announced that a lease for City Works was signed, along with other aspects of its plan. It delayed the announcement of the movie component to the meeting this Monday night.

The project had been held up pending signed leases for the theater and major retail components and a way forward developed on the hotel option. Caldwell said his group explored the hotel option with over 30 companies and came up empty, thus revising the plan for the age-restricted housing, which like a hotel will have a very limited impact related public services, such as the school system.

An arduous three-year process preceded the series of unanimous votes in January 2016 involving numerous changes and the near-termination of the plan. Turning points included the original Spectrum Development Group bringing in the formidable Mill Creek group (formerly Trammel Crow) and a watershed November 2015 City Council election when two supporters of the project joined the Council and three did not seek re-election.

The project was voted down by the Planning Commission, thus requiring a super-majority of the Council to gain approval. That came in the form of three 6-0 votes in January 2016 (Councilman David Snyder abstaining).

These issues will come to a Council work session on June 4 and then for a preliminary vote by the Council June 11 and a final vote in mid-August. Mill Creek has said it wants to begin construction on the site by September, and says it has made a deal with the 7-Eleven on the site that has the convenience store departing by Sept. 30.

During the long delay since the January 2016 approvals, speculation abounded whether the project would proceed at all, even as a number of retailers on the property — including the Mike’s Deli at Lazy Sundae, Bikenetic and the long-standing Panjshir restaurant — have since relocated to other sites in the City. Ken Currle’s Sunoco station has remained operative on the site, but Currle has acquired another site in the Pimmit Hills area in the event he will have to relocate.

The news of the Studio Movie Grill, which Colville said is a step up from the Angelika theaters in Merrifield’s Mosaic District, carried the day Monday. The meeting was scheduled to review new formal submissions by Mill Creek Residential.

Concerning the restaurant, in its letter to the City, Mill Creek announced it has executed a lease with a restaurant that will occupy approximately 9,500 square feet along Mason Avenue.

It states, “The restaurant is City Works Eatery and Pour House, which currently has nine locations throughout the country, not including their “sister” concept Old Town Pour House which has an additional four locations, including one in Gaithersburg, Maryland. City Works is an upscale restaurant and bar featuring modern American classics with brilliant twists, including 90 craft beers on draft.”

The theater and City Works leases total approximately 45,000 square feet, which amounts to nearly fifty percent of the total retail in the Founder’s Row project already under lease commitments (contingent on approvals).

On the timetable for proceeding with the overall project, the Mill Creek letter says: “We have worked with City Staff to respond to Site Plan comments; establish a schedule for the Special Exception Amendment; and put together a strategic plan for permitting the project. It is our hope that if all proceeds according to the milestones we have set, and that all approvals are received, that we could begin construction on this project in late August of 2018.”

Yet another component of the Founder’s Row application is a request by Mill Creek to switch out the earlier-discussed 127-room hotel in favor of a same-sized, six-story building with 72 apartments “that will be managed and operated to provide housing for active adults 55 years of age or older.”
Each apartment, Mill Creek says, will be required to have at least one resident over age 55, and all other residents must be over age 18, as allowed by fair housing laws.

The age-restricted building will provide street-level retail space, it will be designed to Silver-level “green building” standards, and it will include four apartments designated “affordable dwelling units,” as required by the City.

With all these changes, Mill Creek says the Founder’s Row project will provide more than 97,000 square feet of commercial space.

Thus, the net new revenue to the City that Founder’s Row would generate annually at full build-out and occupancy is projected to be at least $818,578 and possibly as much as $1,761,568, the equivalent of 2 to 4-plus cents on the current property tax rate.