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Founders Row Site Loses Movie Theater Commitment

WITH LESS THAN A YEAR before the first wave of people move into residential units, the Founders Row project is left looking for a new movie theater tenant. (Photo: News-Press)

CORRECTION: The original version of this article said that members of the West End project development team of EYA, Hoffman and Regency were involved in the Falls Church City Council’s closed session. No developers were involved in the closed session between City Council members. The language of the article has been updated to reflect the correction.

To many observers, it or something like it was bound to happen as a consequence of these extraordinary times.

Even as the largest development project in the history of the City of Falls Church has continued to be under construction at the intersection of W. Broad Street and N. West Street anticipating residential move-ins to begin late next summer, one cornerstone of its plans has fallen victim to the economic fallout from the current pandemic.

The Studio Movie Grill that promised to bring multiple movie theater screens to the project has declared bankruptcy and won’t be filling its much-anticipated role in the center of the Falls Church commercial district.

Although sources tell the News-Press the news was circulating around City Hall for weeks, it was broken publicly for the first time last Thursday at one of Mill Creek’s periodic public updates provided to neighbors and other stakeholders related to the project.

The briefing by Mill Creek’s public face to the City, Joe Muffler, also included the news that the City Works eatery, under lease to open in Founders Row, has closed its Tysons Corner location until further notice.

Muffler stressed that City Works is still under its lease and it is hopeful that a recovery from the pandemic in the coming months will allow it to reopen in Tysons and be ready to launch its new site in the City.

As far as the Studio Movie Grill is concerned, it is well documented how the pandemic has had a particularly devastating impact on movie theaters nationwide. Muffler insisted that Mill Creek “will leave no stone unturned” to find a replacement movie theater company to move in at the Falls Church site, even though he said that almost no new movies are being released in theatres now due to the pandemic.

In remarks exclusive to the News-Press this week, Muffler said he is very bullish on prospects moving forward in the Little City, pertaining not only to the Founders Row project, which at 4.3 acres is the biggest development ever undertaken here, but his company is also still planning to move ahead with the acquisition and development of the large parcels that will be combined across the street from the Founders Row, being the currently vacated Rite Aid and carpet store sites.

And as construction of Founders Row continues to advance, Muffler said that Mill Creek has contacted “more than a thousand potential commercial tenants” and is currently in lease negotiations with “five or six of them.”
He said as far as potential new retail clients for the Founders Row location, his company will “see who is still standing” after “we make it through the winter.”

“There is tons of interest in the active seniors community that is part of this project,” he continued.

He added that the work of constructing Founders Row project is “proceeding well,” with the first residential move-ins expected in late Summer 2021. Traffic signals will be installed and other transportation improvements will be finished in 6-8 months. A design for a mural on the east side of the main building will come to the F.C. Planning Commission for review next month.

Meanwhile, the F.C. City Council is busy coping with requests that have to date remained behind the scenes of the Gateway Developers chosen to begin the construction of the massive 9.4-acre West End mixed use development shortly after the new year.

In short, there have been a number of closed sessions of the Council, the most recent being this Monday, in response to requests for changes to the terms of the agreement reached last year.

One Council member, David Snyder, voted against going into a closed session to discuss the matters, saying the public should be made aware of what’s going on, but as long as the matters involve negotiations over financial terms, it is proper for considerations to be mulled behind closed doors.

The third large scale mixed use project, the Insight project at the intersection of Broad and Washington that includes a mega-Whole Foods market, is now being reviewed by an array of City boards and commissions, whose recommendations will come back to the Council in January, with a final vote on the project due at the end of January.

Two local restaurants adjacent the site — Clare and Don’s Beach Shack and Thompson Italian — have been given assurances about parking options during the construction phase of the new project, changed their earlier objections and now become supporters of the project, along with the Ireland’s Four Provinces just down the street who look to the expanded customer base that over 339 new residential units there will bring to the immediate area.