Akridge Ditches ‘Gateway’ Plan, To Sell N. Washington Property

The Akridge real estate development company began formally marketing the sale of its 2.6 acre property on N. Washington St. in Falls Church last week, ditching its plans for a dense mixed use development of the site dubbed, “The Gateway.”

The plans for two buildings of four and five stories, with 200 residential units of 700 to 1,200 square feet, 76,000 square feet of retail and commercial and 500 underground parking spaces had received the full, unanimous blessings of both Falls Church’s Planning Commission and City Council in January 2011.

But despite a recovering regional economy, Akridge could not obtain the financing needed for the commercial component of the project, and the City made it clear that it did not want residential construction to proceed without commercial getting underway at the same time.

“For it to work, we needed to have a pre-lease, a core tenant committed in advance,” Akridge Vice President Mike Gill told the News-Press in an interview yesterday. He said if it was only residential, the project would be getting built already.

He said the decision to drop the project and sell the land came over a month ago, and that key City officials in the Economic Development Office, the Planning Department and on the Planning Commission were informed then. However, no one at City Hall, including candidates in the upcoming municipal election, revealed the news publicly, instead continuing to tout achievements in economic development.

Economic Development Office chief Rick Goff told the News-Press yesterday that when he was told by Akridge of its plans, no effort was made to talk them out of it. Instead, he said, “The outcome could be the same if a buyer comes in who wants to act on the existing approvals.”

He said that a new owner “could be looking at it in a different way, by converting the office space into a hotel, for example.” However, he said, no discussion of such options occurred with Akridge.

The news is the latest step in an agonizing process that began with Akridge’s purchase of the property at 500 N. Washington St. in 2005, seven years ago. While the Great Recession stalled earlier plans, Akridge was back with its upgraded proposal in the fall of 2010, and it won swift and unanimous Council approval, with support also from neighborhood groups in the vicinity and the Planning Commission.

But clearly, Gill and Akridge senior vice president Joe Svatos told the News-Press, “The regional office market has slowed its pace.” Federal contracting is slowing, and the private sector is being very cautious about the future.

But they suggested that a sale could attract an office user that wishes to own its own building. “A sale is a good method to reach such a user,” they said.

In a statement, they said, “We have had a positive experience with the City of Falls Church; we look forward to a sale that will capitalize on the property’s mixed use redevelopment potential. We will continue to pursue future opportunities in Falls Church.

Akridge, a Washington, D.C.-based firm, has a long, frustrating history in Falls Church, beginning over a decade ago with a temporary role in what morphed into The Spectrum at 444 W. Broad Street, and then with an unsuccessful shot of developing the City Center plan that remains moribund to this date.