Local Commentary

Editorial: The Lesson of Merrifield’s Strides

Out in nearby Merrifield, they’re doing what only a few visionaries in the City of Falls Church have hoped for. According to Washingtonian magazine, the 31-acre “Mosaic” mixed-use mega-project, going onto the site of the former Merrifield movie complex at the intersection of Route 29 and Gallows Road, will become overrun with specialty, high quality restaurants. They will complement the presence of a new Target store and a more chic movie theater presence in a project that is now slated for completion by the end of 2012.

How ideal to the best advice given to Falls Church leaders by economic development experts over the years. Rather than pitching to the big-box or chain retailers and restaurants, “Mosaic” has taken the different path of appealing to smaller, high quality enterprises, figuring that by creating a “critical mass” of them, the location would become a highly-desirable destination attracting dollars from throughout the region.

Falls Church used to be ahead of Merrifield in the development game, especially as the “Mosaic” ran into its down stall brought on by the Great Recession. Falls Church had its $314 million City Center plan all approved and ready to go (and it still does, as all the approvals remain in effect). This was despite all the jumping up and down by all-too-typical “Nimby” (“Not in My Back Yard!”) types, but the only practical outgrowth of that was a major shift in the makeup of the City Council.

So, Merrifield now appears poised to rob Falls Church of more potential revenue than Fairfax County wants to extract from Falls Church’s water system. It’s just up the road, after all, and there’s only so much development the region can effectively absorb.

But is that true? If anything, the latest news about the “Mosaic’s” imminent success should serve as yet another wake up call for the business-as-usual types at the Falls Church City Hall. Desperate for economic development revenues to allay the pressures bearing in on the crafting of the next fiscal year’s budget, all the usual lip service is there, but the passion, commitment and talent to effect change may not be.

Atlantic Realty officials indicate they’re ready to relaunch the City Center plan, and this Saturday, the Arlington County Board will determine the fate of a master plan for development of the East Falls Church Metro area.

In this context, the F.C. City Council was right to decide this week to delay implementation of a commercial tax overlay for some nebulous, minor improvements. The City needs to think and act big, thrusting its weight behind getting the City Center going, and of finding a meaningful way to connect the East Falls Metro to downtown Falls Church.

Falls Church has fallen behind Merrifield for the time being, but if it gets moving, it can benefit from the degree to which Merrifield draws major attention to this neck of the woods.