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Can Loudoun Overtake Fairfax?

Loudoun has seen $1.3B in commercial investment in the last year, surpassing all of NoVa, according to Loudoun County Economic Development director Buddy Rizer. In spite of the capital infusion, however, there are still a few hurdles to overcome. 

Buddy kicked off our Loudoun Boom! event, part of the United Bank Neighborhood Series, last week to a crowd of 300, interviewing longtime Loudoun developer Bob Buchanan of Buchanan Partners. Buddy says five big corporations are also eyeing Loudoun, but Bob warns that momentum will stall unless the county adds more mixed-use nodes, especially to attract Millennials. The county has its share of office parks, which are losing their luster with workers. Marriott’s recent announcement that it would move from its Montgomery County office park should be a litmus test for Loudoun, says Bob. 

Bob also warned the crowd at Smokehouse Live that the political environment needs to stop teetering between anti-growth and pro-growth for future development to continue. Loudoun isn’t seen as a corporate address around the Beltway, but that could change with more cheerleading about the county’s schools and quality of life outside of its borders.

Loudoun also needs to think about diversity, especially as the definition of mixed-use changes, says Kettler Management president Cindy Clare. She says mixed-use now means that projects need to have more than just office and retail. They also need restaurants, apartments and single-family homes, especially if the county wants to retain residents as their lives transition from young families to empty nesters.

Knutson Cos CEO Don Knutson (holding the mic) says projects also need to create a sense of place, where people can go carless and have less home maintenance. He points to his Crescent Place project, which is walking distance to downtown Leesburg. He’s building four-story townhomes with rooftop terraces and townhome condos with elevators over retail. He says 34 of them have already sold in eight months, with 35% of buyers coming from Fairfax. The beauty of walkable communities is that they attract all ages, he notes. Walsh Colucci shareholder Andrew Painter (left) moderated the panel. 

Comstock Partners director Maggie Parker also says attracting specialty retail to Loudoun is important because it’s viewed by tenants and office workers as an amenity. One Loudoun has done well with its Alamo Drafthouse theater, Commonwealth Center should thrive with Topgolf, and our venue, Smokehouse Live, is a live music and barbecue place that has become a draw for the Village at Leesburg. Property owners need to incentivize more specialty retailers to come, she adds.

Akridge SVP Mike Gill says bringing in memorable stores should also be the priority in office projects. Many DC office buildings, like Gallery Place, are known for what’s sitting on the ground floor and office will grow in Loudoun if more of those recognizable buildings are created. But first Mike says developers need more county incentives to come. Officials are working on comprehensive plan amendments to allow for high-density, mixed-use development. Mike says real estate taxes in those metro hubs also need to be tweaked

Stay tuned for more coverage of Loudoun County Boom! tomorrow.