Inside The Proposal To Build The Region's Tallest Tower In Tysons
Motorists and Metro riders entering Tysons today see a slew of cranes around new Silver Line stations as the area undergoes an urban transformation. Tysons' Spring Hill Station remains quiet, but the developer pitching the area's most ambitious project, the tallest structure in the D.C. region's history, hopes to create a "wow" moment for travelers coming in from the west.
In May, Clemente Development proposed a 2.8M SF mixed-use development at the intersection of Leesburg Pike and Spring Hill Road, highlighted by a 48-story, 615-foot tower, taller than any other building south of Philadelphia and north of Charlotte.
The development team has the financing in place, funded jointly by the Clemente family and Saudi investor Khaled A. Juffali, and is ready to move forward as soon as it gets the green light.
The proposal, which calls for about 1.8M SF of residential, 567K SF of office, 412K SF of hotel, 44K SF of retail and a 25K SF performing arts center around a four-acre public plaza, is in the earliest stages of the entitlement process. Under its ideal scenario, Clemente hopes to break ground by 2019. It still has many hurdles to clear before getting there, but Clemente President Jacqueline Cheshire gave Bisnow her vision behind the numbers.
While the developer has received some pushback about the 615-foot-tall building, which eclipses the 400-foot maximum height set out in Tysons' comprehensive plan, Cheshire said it would be good for Tysons to have a skyscraper.
"To be an iconic building, you can’t be just as tall as all of the other buildings," Cheshire said. "We hope people will recognize this building nationally and it will put Tysons on the map."
The 48-story, vertical mixed-use building would feature retail on the first two floors, a hotel on the next 13 stories and condo units in the upper portion. The developer is "working very closely" with a five-star hotel to anchor the building, Cheshire said, and it has gotten strong interest for the project's other components too.
"We have been flooded with calls and emails from brokers and users of the retail, hotel, condominiums, office and the arts," Clemente said. "They've all gotten really excited about the opportunity they'll have in this community."
Despite this excitement, some county officials remain skeptical about the proposal to build the tower that would eclipse the Washington Monument in height. Fairfax County Supervisor Linda Smyth, the member of the County Board who represents the Tysons area, said the height maximums were put in place for a reason.
“The community vision embodied in the comprehensive plan sets a maximum height of 400 feet, that's very different than 615,” Smyth said. "If we took the ceiling off of all the buildings, we would get much more density than we could possibly accommodate in our transportation plan.”
In defending its proposal, the team points to other projects where the county has been flexible on the height maximum, such as Capital One's under-construction 470-foot-tall headquarters near the McLean station. While 615 feet is significantly taller, Cheshire said the board should take the entire project in context, and look at other ways it closely fits with the comprehensive plan's vision, such as the central public plaza.
"We studied the comprehensive plan and embraced it," Cheshire said. "We said 'here are the things that the planners set out that they want in this type of development,' and I think we gave it to them."
Cheshire also said that some of the development's other buildings, such as its office component, are shorter than the height maximum. The two connected office buildings on the western portion of the site would reach 310 and 335 feet. The two rental apartment buildings on the northern portion of the site would reach 388 feet and 420 feet.
Designed by Gensler, the development's buildings ascend in height like a spiral winding from the shorter 22-story office building to the 48th floor of the condo tower, intended to create an appealing visual cohesiveness for those looking from the outside.
Holland & Knight partner Michelle Rosati, the attorney helping Clemente move through the entitlement process, acknowledges that projects rarely are approved without some changes and she expects it will be a back-and-forth conversation.
"The devil is always in the details," Rosati said. "We feel very strongly that, in its broad strokes, it is exactly what this site needs and exactly what the county wants to see in Tysons."
While no public hearings have yet been held, Rosati points to early signs of public support, such as an online poll conducted by the Washington Business Journal, a paid subscription asking if the county should approve the 615-foot-tower proposal. Of more than 1,200 respondents, 80% answered yes, 13% answered no and another 7% said it depends on the final design, which Rosati notes means they are open to the idea.
Smyth remains skeptical that county planning staff would recommend approval of a project with a 48-story tower.
"I think it would be a very big stretch," she said. "Staff does not get to waive the comprehensive plan. It has supported some of the previous requests for minor adjustments on heights, but 615 is more than a 50% increase in height. I would be surprised if staff recommended approval of that height."
While the vertical mixed-use tower would allow people to live higher up than anywhere else in the region, Cheshire is more excited about the opportunities people will have on the ground level. Walking out from Spring Hill Station, pedestrians would enter the wide, four-acre central plaza with sculptures, fountains, trees and green space.
The plaza would include a performance area connected to the 25K SF performing arts center, which sits at the base of the 36-story apartment tower on the site's eastern side. It would have a fountain that could be covered with a stage to allow for outdoor functions. The performing arts center would also have a seasonal ice rink and bocce courts on its roof.
"What makes this project so special is being able to have the plaza areas, and have them so large, and be able to activate them at night as well as during the day," Cheshire said. "It will become a vibrant urban development that people want to come to."
Smyth likes the idea for the open space, but said it will be important to take a close look at the details.
"The big public plaza is wonderful," Smyth said. "But are we sure it has easy access for the public to get there? That’s part of the question. What sort of amenities are they providing for the public and what are we doing for public facilities and playing fields?"
In addition to the Metro exit leading out onto the plaza, Clemente also plans to create a new street cutting through the development's plaza, Boyd Pointe Way. A second-level pedestrian promenade would cross over the street on the west side and include a sculpture garden and landscaping.
As for retail, each building would have two stories, totaling about 44K SF. The developer is not seeking a grocery anchor, but intends to have several food options from high-end restaurants to fast-casual spots to coffee shops. Cheshire said the team has talked to several big-name restaurateurs who have shown serious interest.
“We do envision being very heavy in the restaurant uses so people can sit outside and enjoy whatever is going on in the plaza and have dinner and go to show without having to drive anywhere,” she said.