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Ka-Boom! 1st Phase of New F.C. City Center Unveiled With Bang

Harris Teeter, Tall Office Building, a Big Hotel & More

In a special City Hall briefing Tuesday afternoon attended by top Falls Church City officials and this newspaper, top representatives of Atlantic Realty company unveiled the parameters of the long-promised first phases of the Falls Church’s city center redevelopment.

The plans for areas on the south side of the 200 block of W. Broad and extending down to the current Bowl America site call for a nine-story, 115 foot office on W. Broad adjacent the post office, a 10-story, 180-room hotel at S. Maple and Annandale, a 55,000 square foot Harris Teeter grocery store at the current Bowl America location, arched over by 500 rental apartment units, a relocation of the Bowl America to an adjacent new site, a 67-unit condo project for 55-year-olds and up, a major restaurant, a total of 25,000 square feet of retail and 1,500 parking spaces.

If all goes according to plan, everything should be done by 2011.

Tuesday’s announcement marked the culmination of over two years of concerted planning and negotiations with seven parcel owners on the 5.3-acre site, according to Atlantic Realty partners David A. Ross and Adam B. Schulman, both present at the briefing.

In conjunction with the plans, the City hopes to acquire the site of the small Mailboxes store at Maple and W. Broad, to demolish it and straighten Maple Avenue. At Maple and Annandale Rd., it wants to remove the stoplight there and replace it with a “roundabout” in the center of the street. Atlantic Realty is also promising to make major improvements to the Big Chimneys Park next to their massive project.

This represented the first concrete look at the plans of Atlantic Realty, the Vienna, Virginia-based company that owns George Mason Square and the Pearson Square project currently under construction further down on S. Maple.

Yesterday, they were to be formally submitted to the Planning Department at the Falls Church City Hall. Atlantic Realty will seek a comprehensive zoning change to accommodate the project, along with special exceptions for height.

Falls Church’s acting city manager, Wyatt Shields, who was present at Tuesday’s briefing along with Mayor Robin Gardner, Vice Mayor Lindy Hockenberry, Economic Development Authority board chair Ed Salzburg, City Economic Development Division chief Rick Goff and the Planning Staff’s Elizabeth Friel, said the first public meetings to look at the project could be by late January. That’s when it would first be unveiled for a more formal perusal in anticipation of some major votes by the City Council and Planning Commission.

This Tuesday’s briefing did not violate any Virginia’s “sunshine” laws, since only two member of the Council were present.

Goff noted that the project represents about a $280 million investment and that it would yield $2.8 million per year in tax revenue to the City. Sales tax alone from the Harris Teeter would generate $250,000 or more a year, equal to a full penny on the residential real estate tax rate.

The project, if approved, would be built in two phases, although Atlantic Realty will seek all the zoning changes and exceptions it will need for the whole effort right away. Construction on Phase One could begin by next September.

Two phases are needed to relocate Bowl America in a seamless fashion. The current site of Bowl America in Falls Church is one of the most successful of the company’s 19 total locations and it would come to the table, so to speak, only if a plan were devised to keep it operating without a hitch while the property reverted to a much “higher and better use.”

So, if it’s all approved, above three levels of parking, a new Bowl America site will be built across the street on the north side of Annandale Road. Next to it will be the hotel and the condo project, both facing onto S. Maple, and behind it, facing onto W. Broad, will be the office building.

Bowl America will furnish its new site with materials taken from among its 19 other locations, so that the day it opens to the public will be the day the current location closes.

Then, Phase Two of the project will commence on the current Bowl America site, with its demolition and the construction of the full-sized Harris Teeter and the 500 rental apartment units. The apartment building above the grocery store will be nine stories at the intersection of S. Maple and Annandale, and will drop back to six stories as it abuts the residential neighborhood behind.

Ross and Schulman noted that this will not be the first time their company has worked projects with Harris Teeter. It’s been done two previous times, and they noted the Charlotte, North Carolina-based Harris Teeter is on an aggressive growth trajectory in the region, opening 23 new stores in Northern Virginia. They added the chain is “very community friendly.”

Schulman said that the construction goals for the residential component of the overall project will not be subject to trends in the regional housing market. On the other hand, he noted that sales of condo units at his company’s Pearson Square project, still under construction, “reflect the current housing market’s climate.” In other words, they’re not doing well.

The company, however, is very bullish on Falls Church moving forward. Ross noted the intense interest exhibited in retail space at the Pearson Square project, and said that much of that would spill over to be accommodated by the new plans.

 “There’s a tremendous interest in office spaces in Falls Church that are somewhat bigger than the City now has,” he said. The nine-story office building facing onto W. Broad will offer 12,200 square feet per floor, for a total of 110,000. That’s the size many associations, seeking to relocate out of the District of Columbia closer to where there employees live, are looking for.

The office building would go onto the City-owned so-called Podolnick site, acquired by the City in the mid-1990s to play just this sort of role in downtown redevelopment. The City also owns the parking lot to the U.S. Post Office next to the site, which would also be used for the building. The post office would have to cease retail activity at the location, with no parking, but is talking to developer Bob Young about moving to one of the new by-right office buildings he’s planning for the 700 and 800 blocks of West Broad. The 2 Sisters drive-through coffee shop, leased by the City to its proprietors, would have to relocated by next summer.

The proposed hotel will be 10 stories, but roughly the same overall height as the office building. With 180 rooms, it will be larger than an average hotel and will include 3,000 to 5,000 feet of conference facilities. A major chain restaurant will be on the ground floor, but operated separately from the hotel, which will have its own food operations for its tenants on the second floor.

Shields stressed that a lot of effort on the City’s part will go into ensuring the design aspects of the project meet expectations. The architect for the project, George Dove of WDG Architecture in Washington, D.C., was present at Tuesday’s briefing. He designed the residential component of the Pearson Square project on S. Maple.

As what would become the largest building in Falls Church, the office structure on the Podolnick site would need to be a “signature” structure for the City, it was noted.

Meanwhile, progress toward the redevelopment of West Broad’s north side remain stalled by the astronomical asking prices property owners currently want. But Tuesday’s unveiling also followed on the announcement by Bob Young last week of his two office buildings and hotel slated for the 700 and 800 blocks of West Broad.