Waterford Offers to Continue Search For Alternative to Bank at Spectrum

In a surprise Monday, a key developer in the City of Falls Church’s downtown offered to “go the second mile” by announcing at the City Council meeting it will respond to Council concerns with a redoubled effort to secure a prime retailer for its new West Broad St. site.

A potential clash was averted between Waterford Commercial and the City Council over Waterford’s need to put a bank at The Spectrum, progressing towards completion at 444 W. Broad St. Chris Ciliberti, president of the company controlling the commercial component of the large, mixed-use project, said he’d decided in favor of a “collaborative approach” resulting from listening to the City’s concerns.

He announced that his company will launch a new, concerted effort to find a retailer more amenable than a bank to the hopes and dreams for the new site of Falls Church residents. Earlier, he’d told the Council in a work session that an exhaustive search had failed to produce a better tenant for the spot, even though some attractive retailers are slated to move into other space on the ground floor of the project.

“This is good news. It means this developer has heard what the Council is saying and is responding positively,” said F.C. City Manager Wyatt Shields.

Ciliberti said his company will work diligently for an alternative until June 1, when retailer decision-making on such matters grinds to a halt over the summer.

Meanwhile, on a very similar matter involving The Byron, another large-scale mixed use project just completed across the street, the Council voted 5-1 in favor of an amendment to the special exception granted to that project in October 2003 that would permit a small community bank at that location.

A final approval of that is set for mid-May. The amendment involves a clarification of language in the special exception to include service-related uses under a general term of “retail.”

The difficulty of finding prime soft good retailers for either The Spectrum or The Byron was spelled out at Monday’s meeting by Lisa Benjamin of the Newmark Group, retained by Simon Lee, owner of the retail space on the ground floor of The Byron, to attract prime tenants.

She said that beginning last summer, an exhaustive canvassing effort produced only a half-dozen serious leads for the 2,700 square feet component of the space that a bank is now showing a serious interest in.

As for other retailers at the site, Cosi signed a 10-year lease in the only part that permits the kind of ventilation that restaurants require. It is now open. Pezni’s Spices, an upscale spice and cooking sauce store, has committed to 2,500 square feet there, and Verizon Wireless will take 1,100 square feet.

But among the inquiries about the site, she said, there were no bites from the kind of boutique women’s clothing and related retailers some city officials hoped for. She said the proximity of Tyson’s Corner, in particular, made that unfeasible for Falls Church at this stage of the City’s redevelopment.

Ciliberti, in talking with the Council at work sessions on the subject earlier, expressed the same frustration, although he’s indicated there will be some excellent tenants at The Spectrum. In particular, a high-end steak house looks like it will get included in the mix.

Ciliberti noted that marketing the retail space at The Spectrum has been three years and counting, so far. But Monday he said his group will take another serious crack at it.

Councilmember David Snyder, one of the harshest critics of the request for bank use on both The Spectrum and The Byron sites, responded to Ciliberti Monday by saying, “I appreciate the extra effort and hope it will be successful.” Snyder was the only “no” vote on granting first reading in The Byron’s case Monday.

Shields confirmed Ciliberti’s wish to collaborate with the City’s economic development team and its Economic Development Authority in the renewed effort to land a prime tenant for The Spectrum location. “We will share our constructive ideas,” Shields told the Council.