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Developers Support Water Taxi, Gondola To Connect Arlington And Georgetown

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With major waterfront developments happening all over the DC area, from The Wharf to Capitol Riverfront to Alexandria and National Harbor, some in Arlington are beginning to feel left behind. 

Evan Pritchard Michael Gribbon Will Voegele

Developers at Bisnow's Arlington and Alexandria State of the Market event said the county should find new ways to utilize its waterfront. 

"The river is obviously an asset in the Washington metro area that, in some places, is just really a dynamic attraction, and in other areas, it's just woefully underutilized," American Real Estate Partners principal Michael Gribbon, in the center with moderator Evan Pritchard and Forest City Washington's Will Voegele, said. "I think the next logical step is Arlington, it's a resource that needs to be utilized."

Arlington doesn't have the same development potential along the water as some of the other submarkets, since the George Washington Memorial Parkway, controlled by the National Park Service, tracks along its riverside. The developers advocated building a boathouse to connect Rosslyn with the water taxi system that will service Georgetown, The Wharf, Alexandria and National Harbor. 

John Shooshan Dave Bevirt Tim Helmig
John Shooshan, Dave Bevirt and Tim Helmig

Monday Properties owns several Rosslyn buildings near the water. Monday president Tim Helmig said workers in the buildings will often leave during their lunch break, cross the bridge and enjoy a paddle boat ride on the Georgetown waterfront. 

"There are very few markets in the world where you can do that," Tim, on the right, said. "Rosslyn certainly has the accessibility to the river. The taxi is one means of using it, but certainly we need to leverage the lifestyle attributes the river has. This could be a differentiating dynamic." 

He noted that the implementation of a boathouse could be difficult, given the number of constituents and agencies that would need to be involved. 

"But I think if there's a will, there's a way," Tim said. "And we need to find a way."

The developers also supported the idea of a gondola to connect Georgetown and Rosslyn, a concept deemed feasible in a recent study.

"We embrace any study that would enhance pedestrian in-and-out flow within Rosslyn to have greater connectivity to Georgetown, a world-class retail corridor with tons of amenities," Tim said. "There are a lot of details to work out, certainly funding would be the tipping point, but we would be enthusiastic supporters of an endeavor like this."  

Brookfield's Dave Bevirt, center, said with thousands of cars crossing the bridge daily, even getting 10% of those drivers to ride the gondola would make a noticeable impact on traffic. He did note one potential negative impact: that a gondola could obstruct the view of the Key Bridge. Dave also supported a boathouse, which he said he has discussed with Rosslyn BID president Mary-Claire Burick, another speaker at the event. 

Shooshan Co's John Shooshan, left, emphasized the problem of funding a gondola, especially in the current fiscal situation.

"We're going to have $20 trillion in debt," John said. "So gondolas and things have got to be things that you need and not things that you want."

Stephanie Landrum Victor Hoskins
Alexandria Economic Development Partnership CEO Stephanie Landrum and Arlington Economic Development Director Victor Hoskins

It's not just developers who want to activate Arlington's waterfront. The county's economic development director, Victor Hoskins, expressed similar sentiments in his fireside chat with his Alexandria counterpart, Stephanie Landrum.

"From the standpoint of Arlington, we’re actually waterfront-challenged," Victor said. "We envy Alexandria and DC and Prince George's County because they have the opportunity to develop right on the water." 

Stephanie said Alexandria has three development sites along the water, which used to be warehouses, that will soon have a mix of residential, retail and public spaces. She remembers how 10 years ago nobody would go to the waterfront spaces in DC and National Harbor that are undergoing development booms.

"For us, the ability to connect to National Harbor and to Southwest via water taxis and commercial boating and to really activate the actual water is great opportunity," she said. "We can link them and market them jointly, so now as a region we can talk about our active and vibrant waterfronts." 

Fred Rothmeijer Jeff Zell Anthony Chang

The waterfront isn't the only area in Alexandria with tremendous development potential. Speakers on the Alexandria panel discussed the development happening at Potomac Yard, where a new Metro station will soon open, and along the booming Eisenhower Avenue corridor

JM Zell is building a 34-story residential tower along Eisenhower Avenue and CEO Jeff Zell pointed to the MGM National Harbor, which opens today across the bridge, as a potential catalyst for the area.

"We're hoping that with MGM we’re going to see more job growth," Jeff, in the center with MRP's Fred Rothmeijer and WashREIT's Anthony Chang, said. "We’re the closest Metro stop to the casino, which may add to the Eisenhower volume and people wanting to live there."

Doug Firstenburg David Kitchens

One thing that Eisenhower lacks, StonebridgeCarras principal Doug Firstenberg said, is a strong retail presence. That will change when his company brings 200k SF of grocery-anchored retail with 750k SF of residential on top, a project Bisnow reported on Monday

In pitching retail tenants on the site, Doug says he takes them in the car to show them the ease of access to Eisenhower Avenue from the Beltway. 

"We’re really big believers in the Eisenhower/Carlyle area," Doug, in the center with Fred to his left and moderator David Kitchens to his right, said, referring to the eastern section of the corridor where his and Zell's sites are located. "I think Alexandria has a chance to be dynamic." 

Arlington Alexandria event crowd

The event, held at 1301 South Joyce St in Pentagon City, was packed with nearly 600 real estate professionals. Edge Commercial is marketing the 31k SF open space at Pentagon Row on behalf of the owner, Federal Realty Investment Trust.