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Why Reston Station, Decades In The Making, Is A 'Remarkable' New Stage In CRE’s Evolution

The first phase of the Reston Station development is anchored by a Helmut Jahn-designed building.

The work of late architect Helmut Jahn plays a key role in the Reston Station development in Northern Virginia, where two of his distinctive buildings will form a visual gateway along the Dulles Toll Road, midway between Dulles International Airport and Tysons Corner.

But in its sheer scale alone, the 80-acre, mixed-use and transit-oriented development could also take inspiration from the words of another great architect, Daniel Burnham: "Make no little plans."

Comstock Cos. CEO Chris Clemente said that even when his firm was starting out in the 1980s, building townhouses and single-family subdivisions, he had his sights set on something more ambitious.

“I was always intrigued by the scale of the urbanism in cities,” Clemente said. “When my wife, Tracy, and I would walk down the sidewalks in New York or Chicago, I would tell her, ‘Someday we're going to build buildings like this.’ I wasn’t envisioning Reston Station specifically, but I always envisioned developing big buildings.”

There are no little plans evident at the 30% completed Reston Station development. When fully developed, it will encompass more than 6M SF in five mixed-use districts that surround Reston’s first Metro station. Detailed information about all five districts can be found here.

In addition to the Metro station, Reston Station includes a transit bus station and multiple garages with thousands of parking spaces. Clemente said residents, visitors and the area’s workforce will have numerous restaurants, entertainment venues and retail options to choose from, all on walkable streets and civic plazas featuring public art and digital entertainment screens. 

The massive development is the realization of years of planning, but Clemente said it also represents how much the commercial real estate industry has changed in recent decades. During most of its first 20 years, Comstock focused on developing low-density residential neighborhoods in the Washington, D.C., region. 

That is no longer the case.

“I think society has evolved,” he said. “It used to be that the American dream was a home in the suburbs, which meant you had to get in your car and drive to work or shopping — basically drive everywhere for everything. This has changed for many, making city living popular again.”

Clemente said this trend has generated significant demand for mixed-use, transit-oriented developments in the suburbs. Even before the pandemic shook things up, developers noticed that people were drawn to high-density areas with easy access to public transportation, retail, dining and other amenities. 

That was also the vision of Robert Simon, the creator of the Reston planned community in the 1960s. It was Simon who encouraged Clemente to think big when the developer shared his initial plans for Reston Station more than 15 years ago.

“We were having dinner one night and he looked at our initial plans and said, ‘You could do better. These drawings look like every other building on the toll road,’” Clemente recalled. “And he was right. They were square boxes with a lot of white concrete and dark glass.” 

Simon urged Clemente to find “world-class architects” to design buildings for Reston Station and create "remarkable" places for people to live, work, play and gather. That led to Clemente working with Jahn, who designed the 365K SF 1900 Reston Metro Plaza office tower, the award-winning 17-story tower that is narrower at its base than at its roofline. Shortly before he died in 2021, Jahn designed a companion tower to sit across the Dulles Toll Road from the 1900 building.

“These two buildings will flank the Metro station and create a gateway into Reston,” Clemente said. “Helmut Jahn's remarkable architecture will create a vision in the Dulles Corridor that never existed before.”

Simon’s advice and the work of Jahn and other architects on Reston Station are also helping Comstock compete in a CRE environment where global companies are seeking top-tier properties in dynamic neighborhoods that help attract talent. A recent study predicted that this trend is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

Already, the office space at Reston Station that Comstock describes as “headquarters quality” has attracted tenants including Google, Rolls-Royce North America and Spotify, in addition to numerous other tech companies and defense contractors.

“Every one of these tenants is saying they need this kind of environment to attract talent, and post-pandemic to lure employees back to the office,” Clemente said. “Even during the pandemic, we continued to lease space here because we are creating the kind of buildings and environment that help our tenant’s workforce objectives.”

Clemente said the Reston Station project gets a significant boost from the participation of Dwight Schar, a legendary real estate developer, investor and founder of NVR Inc., and Clemente’s father-in-law. Schar recently acquired approximately 3 million shares of Class-A common stock of Comstock Holding Cos., making him an equal shareholder with Clemente in the firm that is overseeing Reston Station and other mixed-use developments in the region. Schar and Clemente also share ownership of the affiliated companies that own the real estate assets managed by Comstock.

“To create successful large-scale neighborhoods like Reston Station, you must create a sense of place and an exciting pedestrian experience as soon as possible,” Clemente said. “This requires a commitment to creating scale quickly. We were viewed as taking a big risk when we broke ground on Reston Station in 2011, but when we looked at how society and the market had evolved, it was evident that it was the right time for a contrarian play and that there was an opportunity to create something remarkable here.”

This article was produced in collaboration between Studio B and Comstock Cos. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.

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