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New Hilton Hotel in Downtown F.C.? Council Smiles on Plan

Tons of Revenue, But Needs Better Design, It Says

A new plan to bring an upscale Hilton Garden Inn to the blossoming West Broad Street corridor central to the City of Falls Church met with unexpected enthusiasm from the F.C. City Council and Planning Commission Monday.

A joint work session held in the Community Center marked the first official unveiling of developer Bob Young’s latest project, and while almost everyone on the Council spoke favorably of it, they made it clear they want no cookie-cutter Hilton off-ramp architecture.

 The proposed six-story, 110 room hotel would fit into the center of the 700 block of West Broad, next to the Burger King where a temporary parking lot now sits and right across the street from Stacy’s Coffee Parlor.

Local businesses would benefit from the hotel, as it will have small meeting rooms for rental but not include a public restaurant, sending its guests into the surrounding neighborhood to eat and shop. But it is the real estate and transient occupancy tax potentials of the development that will make the biggest difference to the City, bringing in what Young predicts will be net tax revenue of $733,000 a year. The City staff, estimating a significantly-lower average cost of a room rental per night, projected the annual revenue would be less than half that total.

But Young argued the hotel company with the franchise on this Hilton Garden Inn would never launch a project like this unless the rooms would command rates of $200 a night or higher, rates comparable to other similar hotels in the region. He added that 110 rooms is the “absolute minimum” for a viable project from an investor’s standpoint.

The revenue-conscious Council, knowing it’s facing one of its toughest budget cycles ever next spring due to the downturn in the housing market, appeared nowhere near looking this particular “gift-horse in the mouth.”

Currently, the undeveloped property brings about $25,000 a year in tax revenue to the City, and the proposed use on the 1.14 acre site — even at the City staff’s low estimate — would bring an annual tax yield of $316,000 per acre. That rate is far higher than any other property in the City, with the exception of Atlantic Realty’s planned City Center.

“This is a spectacular revenue generator,” crowed Councilman David Snyder, after hearing an opening presentation. “This deserves our urgent and prompt attention. I am anxious to do this.”

Councilman David Chavern said, “It is well thought out in terms of massing, and Councilman Dan Maller said, “I share my colleagues’ enthusiasm,” adding its size “is in keeping, in terms of size, with what is now going up on West Broad.”

Councilman Dan Sze said “I like the economics of it a lot,” and noting Young’s intention to make the building an environmentally-friendly “LEED Certified” structure, urged Young to consider making it an even higher-standard “Gold LEED” project.

Vice Mayor Lindy Hockenberry said, “I like it in conjunction with the other projects in that corridor.”

Mayor Robin Gardner noted that Falls Church “is becoming more urban,” such that traditional suburban “buffer zone” issues “should not hold up projects of benefit to the City.”

Among the Planning Commissioners present, Melissa Teats said, “Sixty-five feet is no big deal,” and Maureen Budetti and Ruth Rodgers weighed in on the design.

As it turned out, so did everyone else on the Council, too. Noting that “everyone in the City is pleased” with art nouveau design that Young employed on his just-completed Read Building, in the 400 block, and plans for his new office building in the 800 block of West Broad, Chavern challenged Young to come up with a creative design for the Hilton Garden Inn, too.

It led to a growing crescendo of howls against the design model that Young put up on his slide show, reminding folk, some said, of the kind of hotel designs that greet motorists as they exit interstate highways. “The fact that it will be right next to a Burger King doesn’t help, either,” Budetti quipped.

While the Council ignored a lot of the City staff’s reservations about the project, in terms of its massing, its buffers and impact on the block, it gained a swift consensus that design could be a determining factor in granting a special exception to allow the project to rise 10 feet above the current limit.

The project would also require a zoning modification to permit a much smaller, three-story, 6,600 square foot office structure to fit on the Park Avenue end of the property.