Waiting For Boro
The vision for future development in Tysons is ambitious and awe-inspiring. Builders are planning dense, mixed-use communities at different nodes in the Northern Virginia suburb that bills itself as “America’s Next Great City.” But right now, everyone is looking to one development to set the tone.
The Boro is under construction on its 1.7M SF Phase 1, but its reputation is well-known at this point. It will include the region’s largest Whole Foods, a 15-screen high-end cinema, hundreds of apartments and condos, and 500K SF of offices —and that is just to start.
It will bring with it a new street grid, oriented for pedestrians like nothing before in the area. When it opens, The Boro will be the most tangible sign of Tysons' upcoming transformation from traffic-strangled office and mall destination to mixed-use urban landscape.
“The Boro is the most unique urban and transformational project happening maybe in the United States right now,” said Kettler founder and CEO Bob Kettler, whose firm is developing the multifamily portion of the project. “It’s incredibly vertical. It’s going to be almost like Manhattan, where now it’s a hole in the ground.”
Kettler and Meridian Group president David Cheek spoke on the multifamily panel at Bisnow’s annual Tysons event Thursday morning, but it was mentioned at least a dozen times in the presentations and panels about design and office before they even took the stage. It is the touchpoint for what the development and planning communities have been looking to do in Tysons for years, if not decades.
“We’re flattered to hear The Boro mentioned as many times as it has,” Cheek said.
The Boro broke ground in September, and Fairfax County Board of Supervisors chair Sharon Bulova said the project embodies the county’s recently updated Comprehensive Plan. “We’re proud of that,” Cheek said.
The 70K SF Whole Foods, which will have an on-site brewing facility, will be how most of the region will know The Boro. Originally, Cheek said, the grocer had planned something closer to its standard size store format at the location.
“They started at 45K SF, and the sales projections were off the charts,” Cheek said. “So it got bigger and bigger. It’s as big as their Austin flagship store.”
The Boro will not just be a boon to Kettler and Meridian. Its scale, location and success — Tegna already signed an office lease there, and Cheek said the firm is close to sealing the deal with a law firm and white-tablecloth restaurant — is getting the rest of the development community's gears moving on their own mixed-use projects.
Foulger-Pratt is developing Tysons Central, building a 350K SF office component first, but planning an additional 1,100 residential units, 200 hotel rooms and 135K SF of retail. The development sits right between The Boro and the Metro, and chairman Bryant Foulger said he is anticipating The Boro's delivery. He said he knows how long growth can take, but his project will benefit from its neighbor more than anyone else.
"We are the funnel through which the people from The Boro are going into the Metro stop," Foulger said. "The comprehensive plan for Tysons is very aggressive, it’s aspirational, it’s overwhelming, it’s massive. Development can only occur at a certain pace."
That is why MRP Realty, developing near one of Metro's other three stops in Tysons, is developing "the antithesis of the Boro," principal Matt Robinson said. Kettler will be able to charge more in rent than any other new multifamily project in the area, and developers like MRP have decided not to compete.
"The sense of place at the Boro is very urban, but for us, it is really more pastoral," he said. "We back up to Scotts Run and really play up that kind of thing, which is very different. I’m a big fan of different flavors of ice cream. And it’s healthy for Tysons."
LCOR has a plan to build close to 2,600 units at a 21-acre project in the pipeline dubbed The Commons. It is already approved, principal Bill Hard said, and construction on the first building has begun. But his firm will be changing its plans.
"It goes against all the things we've talked about," Hard said, describing discussions of building walkable, urban communities. "We've started a master planning process to reduce the density somewhat, and greatly increase the mix of uses."
Because of the change in process, LCOR cannot build one building every four years, the typical pace of construction, he said. "Our first phase would be around 1M SF, because we really want to take the blocks and create a central plaza."
The development Hard described sounded quite similar to the one the men sitting on either side of him, Kettler and Cheek, are building. And LCOR's main investor, the California State Teachers Retirement System, Hard said, are on board with the additional upfront cost of building more at once, just like The Boro.
"They are very excited about our plans going forward on the Commons," he said. "We are going to change the name by the way. No one wants to live in a common building."