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Metro Seeking Developers For Alexandria Bus Garage Site

WMATA is looking for a private company to buy and develop a two-acre bus garage site in Old Town Alexandria as private developers move forward with several other projects in the neighborhood. 

WMATA Real Estate Director Nina Albert at Bisnow's Alexandria State of the Market in 2017

The transit agency plans to issue a solicitation later this month for the site at 600 North Royal St., WMATA Real Estate Director Nina Albert announced Wednesday at Bisnow's Alexandria State of the Market.

Albert said the solicitation will be released later this month, and bids will be accepted for about two and a half months. She said the agency plans to hold a public conference in Alexandria on Sept. 19 to discuss the solicitation with interested developers and neighbors. 

The two-story garage, built in 1945, was the target of a previous WMATA solicitation in 2015. Since that solicitation fell through, the agency has moved the buses from the site to another location in Fairfax County, allowing it to sell the property outright rather than having to do a ground-lease transaction. 

WMATA's bus garage at 600 North Royal St. in Alexandria

The other important change since the last solicitation was the adoption of the Old Town North Small Area Plan, which was approved June 24

The plan identified the bus garage as a redevelopment site and recommended increasing the allowable density and uses on the site. It calls for the site to be classified as mixed-use with commercial and residential space, and the floor-to-area ratio should be increased from 1.5 to 2.5. This would allow for 217K SF of development, a big step up from the existing 45K SF warehouse and the site's previous maximum allowable density of 130K SF. 

"What’s going to be different this time about how we’re putting it out is that we’re providing greater flexibility and actually offering it under an option agreement to purchase," Albert said. "So I think it will make it easier for developers who are interested in that property."

EYA partner AJ Jackson and Carr Hospitality President Austin Flajser

As WMATA waits for developers to bid on its bus garage site, several other Old Town projects are in various stages of development. 

EYA plans to break ground this fall on Robinson Landing, a waterfront development on a 3.2-acre site bordered by Duke, Union and Wolfe streets. The developer plans to build 70 condos and 26 townhouses with ground-floor retail and public space. It plans to open a waterfront restaurant, repurpose the pier with a café and seating areas, and create a 20-foot-wide green promenade along the water. 

"It’s really going to help transform the waterfront in Alexandria," EYA partner AJ Jackson said at the event. "Not into what’s in D.C. or not into what’s in National Harbor, but into a more attractive, inviting place that’s consistent with the community feel of Old Town."

Directly to the north of that site, Carr Hospitality opened its 120-room Hotel Indigo in May. That project, which includes chef Cathal Armstrong's Hummingbird restaurant, is the first completed portion of the Alexandria's waterfront development pipeline that was envisioned in a 2012 zoning change. The Old Dominion Boat Club two blocks north is also undergoing a major redevelopment that will include an outdoor patio and public park. 

Carr Hospitality President Austin Flajser said the hotel and restaurant have had a busy first few months, and he believes the additional development planned on the waterfront will only add to its success.

"All of a sudden, you’re going to bring a lot of vibrancy and activity to the waterfront there," Flajser said.

Carr also has two future development sites in Old Town North. At its Crowne Plaza property, it plans to build 40 townhouses around an arts retail center. That project is going through the entitlement process. At 1201 North Royal St., it is looking to build 80 condos over a ground-floor arts use. It is still in the early stages of planning for that project and has yet to submit an application.

“There has been a progression of high-quality retail marching down into north Old Town," Flajser said. "We see a very bright future in Old Town North." 

Asana Partners Managing Director Robin Hilliard speaking next to Alexandria Economic Development Partnership CEO Stephanie Landrum and Fibre Space owner Danielle Romanetti

Meanwhile, on the King Street corridor, Charlotte-based Asana Partners has recently made a major investment that promises to bring new retailers and activity to Old Town.

The company has acquired 18 retail properties, Asana Partners Managing Director Robin Hilliard said, adding that it was drawn to Alexandria because of its demographics, building style and the synergy between locals and tourists.

Hilliard said Asana hopes to bring in new food and beverage options, suggesting ideas such as a sushi restaurant or a cidery. 

“Being able to control a sizeable amount of square footage, we feel like we can come in and really enhance the already pretty good tenant mix here," Hilliard said. "We can come in and bring different types of food and beverage from all over, maybe from around the country or maybe just regionally." 

She also said Asana hopes to bring in high-end soft goods retailers to complement King Street's existing shopping environment. 

"We can create more high-level tenants and bring more people into the area to shop," Hilliard said.