Developers, Restaurateurs Hope New Projects Can Revitalize Arlington's Restaurant Scene
From Rosslyn to Clarendon to Ballston, Arlington County has seen dozens of restaurants close their doors in recent years, but major redevelopments along the corridor could breathe new life into its struggling dining scene.
Since Regency Centers acquired Market Common Clarendon in spring 2016, two of the restaurants in the 393K SF mixed-use development have closed. Mexican restaurant Fuego announced in October 2016 it would be closing after four years on the corner of Clarendon Boulevard and North Fillmore Street. Indian restaurant Zaika, sitting on the second level of Market Common Clarendon, closed in July.
Regency Centers Vice President Devin Corini is working to re-lease the retail center as the REIT prepares to launch a $50M-plus redevelopment of the property. He said he is being very selective about the restaurant operators he brings in, and he is limiting the second-level space to non-food users, such as fitness studio Barre3, which signed on in November.
"The original developer thought he would put all his restaurants overlooking the common areas above and they’d have these grand outdoor seating areas to look down at all these people playing in the playground, and it just didn’t work," Corini said. "The customer doesn’t want to walk up to a restaurant. The visibility was lacking."
Arlington County recently approved Regency's first phase of the redevelopment, adding a fourth floor to the former Sears building in the retail center to bring it from 110K to 140K SF. The third and fourth floors will be loft office space that Regency retained Lincoln Property Co. to lease, and the first and second levels will be retail.
Corini said he is close to finalizing a deal with a 30K SF retail anchor for the property, and he said Lincoln Property is in talks with multiple office tenants that could take a majority of the space. For its next phase, Regency will renovate the common areas of the retail center, which is anchored by a Whole Foods Market. He hopes these improvements will help attract well-respected restaurateurs to open new concepts at the project.
Restaurateur Scott Parker, who owns Clarendon's Don Tito and The G.O.A.T, said he has been surprised to see the string of recent closings, specifically naming Boulevard Woodgrill and Fuego as two he did not see coming.
"From an outsider perspective, these places look very well put together and very successful, and then next thing you know, they close," Parker said.
But Parker said he still has a strong outlook on Clarendon's future, given its nightlife atmosphere and popularity with millennials.
"I do think it’s going to maintain a young, bar-hopping demographic," Parker said. "There are so many bars in such a short distance that if you’re someone that’s looking to head out for the night and party with your friends, it makes perfect sense to take the Metro there or Uber into Clarendon and check out all the spots."
The investment Regency is making in Market Common could help boost the overall Clarendon market, Corini said, bringing more foot traffic and supporting restaurants throughout the neighborhood.
"I’m a believer that our investment will beget other investments,” Corini said. “I’m hopeful that what we do will continue to spur additional investment up and down the R-B Corridor. I believe it will make that area more attractive to live, work, shop and play.”
Further down the R-B Corridor, Ballston has also experienced a large string of restaurant closings over the last two years. Among the spots that have shuttered are Front Page, Tara Temple Thai, Carpool, Rock Bottom and Republic Kitchen & Bar.
"There have been so many concepts that have closed," said Parker, who owns Ballston's A-Town Bar & Grill. "It seems like everyone is waiting on the new mall and all the development in Ballston. In the meantime, a lot of the old concepts have shuttered because Ballston right now seems to be a neighborhood where no one wants to hang out."
Forest City is preparing to deliver its $330M overhaul of the Ballston Common Mall, rebranding it as Ballston Quarter. The developer in December unveiled nine of the 18 dining options that will open in its Quarter Market food hall, such as Mexican restaurant Bartaco, Italian eatery Cucina Al Volo and Timber Pizza Co.
The development will also feature four experiential retail concepts, including a 25K SF Punch Bowl Social, live-action entertainment venue 5 Wits, recreational culinary school Cookology, and indoor play and learning space Nook. Forest City Senior Vice President Will Voegele believes bringing all of these concepts together will create a regional destination that will benefit the entire Ballston neighborhood.
"Critical mass, the synergy of proven tenants, connectivity and a sense of place are all critical to a successful development, and together they serve as a magnet drawing people to the project and the surrounding district," Voegele wrote in an email. "Ballston Quarter and the surrounding development currently underway are also contributing to enhancing the perception about the progressiveness and vibrancy of Ballston, which drives additional value to the community and the stakeholders."
Parker said he has met with Forest City and the Ballston BID to get a sense of what the development will look like, and he thinks it can be a catalyst for a major revitalization of Ballston's restaurant scene.
"I’m a huge believer in the mall and what Forest City is doing and all of the development in Ballston," Parker said. "I truly believe in a couple years, Ballston is going to be maybe the hotspot of the Orange Line. I do deeply believe it’s going to be [the] next big thing. I think they’re going to knock it out of the park and I think people are going to be blown away by how busy Ballston gets and the type of hub it becomes in the next couple years."
Corini, Parker and Voegele will discuss these developments and more at Bisnow's Future of Arlington County event March 8 at Market Common Clarendon.