Arlington Gets Bold With R-B Corridor
Ballston cleared another hurdle in its evolution with the County Board approving a redevelopment plan for the Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor. The announcement made for some great crystal-balling from our panelists yesterday morning at Bisnow’s Future of Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor, part of our United Bank neighborhood series at the Westin Arlington Gateway Hotel.
Ballston BID CEO Tina Leone says the redevelopment plans include a letter of intent to pursue public-private partnerships and the setting up of a community development authority. It's the first time the county has used a CDA, which will establish a financing mechanism that could provide $55M for capital improvements along the corridor, including Ballston Mall. Tina, who did a lightning round of questions along with Rosslyn BID president Mary-Claire Burick, says the bold move by the county sends a message that it's open for business. The county's office vacancy has been hovering around 20%.
How to draw more office tenants to Arlington? Mary-Claire says it's things like what the county's BIDs are doing, like food trucks, pop-up events and better placemaking. Arlington has needed to be more business-friendly, and the county board's decision this week is a huge improvement, she says. Mary-Claire and Tina say the county also needs to start bringing office tenants from outside of the region, maybe even from international markets. They also suggested taking more advantage of the county's proximity to water—perhaps a gondola and a boathouse are in the future.
Over 400 turned out to listen to the top people working on the R-B Corridor.
American Real Estate Partners CEO Doug Fleit, who was one of the founders of the Rosslyn BID and a panelist, says office tenants are starting to make a comeback in the county. Arlington has the second-largest concentration of tech and communications workers and attorneys. When the government cuts back, that intellectual capital gets deployed as seen in the Reagan years and after the dot-com bust, says Doug. One of his firm's Arlington office buildings is 95% leased and rents have gone up from $39/SF to $46/SF. Shooshan Co chairman John Shooshan (right) says most of the office prospects his firm is working with are in tech. He also predicts that the next administration will increase defense spending, which will trickle down to Arlington's business community. John also called for better leadership in combating global terrorism, which has the potential to dramatically harm the US economy.
Bells and whistles will draw some of those office tenants. JBG principal Andy VanHorn says his firm's projects around the region are taking placemaking to the next level. One way to create that unique environment is finding local operators to fill up retail space, which is in the plan for Central Place in Rosslyn. Andy says the project will provide highly curated food and beverage amenities, plus the observation deck at the top of CEB's building. Gables Residential development director Eddie Meder (right) says his firm's Courthouse residential project will include smaller, but more useable units. They'll include an urban mudroom for keys and shoes.
Newmark Grubb Knight Frank executive managing director Ed Clark says buildings are going more vertical, which means that vertical transportation needs to be stepped up. He says 1812 N Moore has 18 elevators in the building, with a high-rise bank that's traveling at 1,250 feet per second. Employees don't want to leave at lunch and wait 15 minutes to travel up and down the elevator, he adds.
Penzance SVP Andy McIntyre, who spoke on the morning's second panel, says the firm's investors have had a hard time wrapping their heads around the county's cumbersome approval process. It's time to find a different way to approach entitlements and the time it takes to go through the process. The county also needs to establish more of an identity from a design perspective. Making the approval process quicker will also clear the path for more creative, even funky designs in Arlington, he adds.
Carr Properties CEO Oliver Carr III says the county also needs to relax its rules on how much parking is required for projects, which is the way that DC and Bethesda are going. People are driving less and the county needs to respond to that trend. Metro is also vitally important for Arlington, given that over 90% of all leasing has occurred within a half mile of a station. As Paul J. Wiedefeld takes over as Metro's new director, Oliver says to do anything to hurt the business that surrounds Metro would be terrible for the region. What the system does need: more accountability.
And will stable residential rents last? CRC Partners director Bereket Selassie (left) says given that people's aspirations have changed in terms of how they want to live, walkable neighborhoods with lots of amenities are under pressure. But he's bullish on rents long-term. Schupp Cos president Ray Schupp says rents will increase in value, but the environment needs to bring in more "funky" places like Northside Social where people can meet. It can't be done with more bars on the first floor of office buildings.
We like to end our events with a bang and this one ended with a panelists huddle.