There Is A Mixed-Use Renaissance Happening In Falls Church
Falls Church, Virginia, the Washington, D.C., suburb once overlooked by developers for Loudoun County and Tysons, has seen a new wave of mixed-use projects.
The redevelopments have the potential to reshape the city’s main intersections into walkable, urban destinations that capitalize on the area's high median income, Rappaport Executive Director of Leasing and Brokerage Jim Farrell said.
When ranked against counties, Falls Church is the second-most affluent in the U.S. and has some of the highest-ranking public schools in Virginia. It is also known for its quality single-family housing stock, Farrell said. Developers attempted to change its perception as a low-density community with the construction of The Spectrum, a seven-story luxury condo building on West Broad Street, in 2007. After the Great Recession, additional projects were put on hold.
The lack of new projects also stemmed from the complexity involved in developing infill projects in denser communities like Falls Church.
“In a compact town like Falls Church, it’s not like the outer suburbs where there may be land lying fallow, owned by a single party that a developer can buy,” Farrell said. “You have to put together assemblages of properties and it takes time, diligence and focus.”
Kiddar Capital President Todd Hitt partnered with Rushmark Properties to take on that challenge when they developed West Broad. Plans called for it to be a Class-A, mixed-use project with 286 luxury apartments and retail space.
Rappaport was brought on as the leasing agent for West Broad's retail space, with Farrell and Alex Shiel as the landlord's representatives. Hitt knew through his long-standing relationship with the principals of Insight Property Group that Farrell had worked on The Apollo project on H Street NE in D.C, where Rappaport leveraged its expertise to secure Whole Foods as the lead retail tenant.
Rappaport signed grocer Harris Teeter to a 60K SF space at West Broad. It also consulted on the redesign of the project to accommodate the larger tenant, and leased a smaller space to CycleBar, an indoor cycling gym.
Where there was once a restaurant and an old post office there is now a 500K SF hub of retail space, offices and multifamily residences. Hitt’s West Broad project has been a catalyst for future development in Falls Church, Farrell said.
Hitt called on Rappaport again to help transform the corner of East Broad and North Washington streets into another mixed-use community. Insight Property Group will serve as the multifamily expert for the proposed six-story apartment building, while Rappaport will handle leasing for over 26K SF of ground-floor retail across a seven-story mixed-use building. The project is still in the approval process.
Older shopping centers in Falls Church have also been upgraded. The Tower Square Shopping Center off Hillwood Avenue has served the community since the 1960s under the same local owner. The 39K SF center is within a five-mile radius of a 490,000-person residential community that is expected to grow to 532,555 people by 2019. The owner enlisted Rappaport to consult on how to match the center’s retail tenants with the demands of an evolving community.
Tower Square’s largest tenant was a 12K SF specialty grocer, which draws from a narrowly defined customer base, Farrell said. At the expiration of this tenant’s lease next year, Aldi will start building a new store and will open later this year. Farrell and Shiel represented the landlord on the deal.
The Tower Square store will be the second new-concept Aldi store inside the Capital Beltway, following the first in Alexandria. It will not only draw more nearby residents, but also will take advantage of high car traffic along Hillwood Avenue and Annandale Road.
Rappaport’s repurposing of retail comes as developers realize the city’s potential. The company signed Target to Lincoln at Tinner Hill this year, marking the third major retailer brought to Falls Church since 2015. Rappaport broker Susan Bourgeois represented the landlord.
For Farrell, Falls Church is a sleeping giant that is just now waking up, and will see more high-density redevelopments. Retailers and grocers like Harris Teeter are paving the way for a mixed-use renaissance.
“Developers and property owners are recognizing that the time is right to do what other developers have done in other cities," Farrell said. “Falls Church has some of the best demographics in the country, with a super-educated consumer. We need to take advantage of that and deliver compelling new projects.”
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