Movie House in F.C.? Developer Targets a Younger Demographic

It wasn’t in the revised plans presented to the Falls Church City Council and Planning Commission Monday night, but when the subject came up, the spokesman for the Spectrum’s massive new mixed use plan for the corner of W. Broad and N. West Streets confirmed that an underground drafthouse movie theater is being seriously considered as an add-on feature to their project.

F.C. Councilman Nader Baroukh broached the subject Monday, which had apparently been included in some of the hush-hush meetings with the developer and the Council’s economic development subcommittee.

Asked by Baroukh if they’d ditched the idea, Spectrum’s Peter Batten told the work session, “It’s not off the table yet,” although no further details were offered up at the meeting.

Batten made it clear that his company is looking to appeal to a younger demographic with its proposed project, including 320 residential units, a 150-room hotel and 47,000 square feet of retail.

How to grab those elusive, tightwad millennials became the focus of the discussion Monday night. Millennials are those in the age range of 22 to 35, roughly, and they’re the opposite in many of their tastes to the baby boomers who generally run things these days and are just hitting the retirement age and the Generation X in between the boomers and millennials.

Millennials, according to the experts, have been profoundly impacted by the Great Recession of a half-dozen years ago, and have taken to heart the idea of the “new normal,” of living and being happy with much less of the consumerist focus of their parents and elders, in general.

Not as eager to spend money, or to obtain the trappings of status and success as their parents, they don’t value big cars and big homes and other fancy, expensive stuff. So, how does a developer, or any business person, squeeze value out of them?

Batten said the Spectrum group is very interested in this question, and has geared its big, four-acre Broad at N. West Street project at providing answers. They think that the proximity of the project to the W&OD Trail and the West Falls Church Metro make it a natural for millennial lifestyles, and they could be right. Thus, at least the thought of a draft house-style movie theater in their project.

In an article for Time magazine last week, Jacob Davidson listed a dozen things that millennials are not interested in, even if by 2017 they will have amassed more wealth than any generation before them, and are way ahead of any of them in terms of preparations for their retirement.

According to Davidson, millennials aren’t interested in pay TV, investments, mass-marketed beer, cars, homes, warehouse bulk goods, weddings, children, health insurance and “anything anyone tells them to buy.”

For the Spectrum project, this means a focus on apartments that can be shared, for one thing, which is a strong trend among millennials, and something, Batten said, is already happening at Falls Church’s new Northgate project on N. Washington St., which has an appeal to millennials due to its proximity to the East Falls Church Metro station.

The Spectrum project, if approved, will be similarly proximate to the West Falls Church Metro station, and, even better, will be right in the lap of the W&OD Trail.
So, the current iteration of the project is centered on an interior promenade which will have a “union market” feel, with boutique, gourmet shops offering fresh seafood, cheeses, breads, wine and a butchery.

Batten made a point that millennials will not go into the suburbs for the kind of micro-unit apartments that are gaining popularity in urban inner cities, but prefer the larger living unit that can be shared.

Fairfax County recently tabled a plan to permit micro-units, running into a lot of blowback from traditional residents worried that they will be an invitation to low-income dwellers.

But with the kind of commercial development that is contemplated for Tysons Corner in the coming years, with Metro’s Silver Line beginning service through four new stations there this weekend, suddenly Northern Virginia will become an urban center, and there could be a lot of interest in the micro-unit housing option, after all.

Nonetheless, the Spectrum project, if it gets out of the gate this Monday with a preliminary “first reading” approval from the F.C. Council, will be a “work in progress” in the coming months that hopefully not too many baby boomers in positions of influence in the City will contaminate with their worn-out old ideas and preferences.