You've Been Thinking About Crystal City All Wrong
Are Pentagon City and Crystal City two different places? This isn't a philosophical question. We really want to know. And when we want to know something, we hold big events on the subject, as we did at Bisnow’s Tale of Two Cities event Friday morning. New office tenants, growing interest from residents and retailers, ridiculously good access to DC and National Airport, and a thriving social scene laid out why Crystal City and Pentagon City are experiencing the best of times.
Cooper Carry principal David Kitchens has been helping turn Crystal City into a walkable, urban environment since 1999, when Charles E. Smith asked his firm for ideas. Crystal City was a suburban office park that had some semblance of an urban grid and location. There were hundreds of residential units embedded in Crystal City but they were like islands in an office park. Residents kept to themselves and office workers came and went during the day.
Thanks to all of you who braved the rain and cold for Bisnow’s Tale of Two Cities event at The Westin in Crystal City. David says communities need a public realm, or no one will come. He feels public parks in the '60s were very designed and thought out. Aside from more restaurants and retail, David says Crystal City’s parks need to be more usable for casual and formal gatherings. Streets are also becoming more walkable instead of forcing visitors to run from cars. (Now everyone runs 5k races together every Friday.)
Crystal City BID CEO Angie Fox, our morning keynote, says Crystal City and Pentagon City shouldn’t be thought of as two cities, but one growing together. Angie moved to the area in 1991, when Pentagon Row was a field and Costco was an old AT&T warehouse. In the over eight years that Angie’s been running the BID, tons of activities and events have attracted scores of people: 5K Friday running races, bike races in parking garages, a farmers market, 200 pieces of art, 200 individual bike stations, and an up-and-coming tech ecosystem.
Boeing manager Todd Yeatts explains why the defense contractor bought a facility in Crystal City (its first owned-facility in Virginia). It plans to be in the space for several decades, and it only made sense financially to own it. Projects and programs come and go but the company’s government operations and international sales are constants and both are housed in the Long Bridge Park building. Todd says proximity to the Pentagon was also a factor. ($40B of the company’s $90B in revenue comes from Pentagon business.) The US Marshals Service is taking Boeing’s old space at Crystal Gateway.
The office market in Crystal City, where Vornado owns 8M SF, has changed more in the last five years than the last 20, says Vornado SVP Mitch Bonanno, whose firm recently entitled Penn Place for 1.8M SF of office, hotel and potentially residential. Changes in the office market mirror the changes going on in residential over the last 10 to 15 years. Units are getting smaller and more efficient and people don't want to pay for space they're not using. It's a similar trend in office, with true open space plans, fewer offices and work stations. It's resulted in some older building floor plates that didn’t work well before working better now for some tenants, Mitch added.
Many Crystal City and Pentagon City office buildings were developed in the '60s and '70s, so the area gets a bad rap for being outdated, says Walsh Colucci shareholder Evan Pritchard (panel moderator on the left). Lowe Enterprises took on a 15-month renovation of its older, pre-BRAC stock at 1400 Crystal Dr. Managing director Mark Rivers (right) says it was an opportunity to repurpose the building to compete against the Class-B space in the market. It’s been able to attract associations and tech firms, which the Class-B product could never do before.
When Todd was assistant city manager in Danville, VA, there was a lot of waiting for the economy to improve. But Crystal City, in the face of BRAC, moved forward on plans to transform the submarket. He’s lived in Crystal City for seven years and says the process for getting approvals in Arlington isn’t perfect, but having a BID has made a difference. He also urged the crowd to get involved or be supportive of those who do.
Stay tuned for more coverage of our Tale of Two Cities event tomorrow!