Local Commentary

Editorial: F.C.’s Tide Is Turning

In a game-changer development for the City of Falls Church, the Hitt family, key developers of the Harris Teeter project now under construction on W. Broad St., has closed its deal to acquire 2.68 acres encompassing four buildings at the intersection of Routes 7 (Broad) and 29 (Washington).
The developer group led by Todd Hitt, in a press release issued late last week, said, “We are believers in downtown Falls Church.”

From the standpoint of prospects for the long-term survival of this independent City, it’s as if the golden goose, egg in tow, has just alighted at the City’s most central point, signaling a desire to turn the City into a sustainable prospect beyond anything comparable to date in its history.

How the fates have turned for Falls Church in the last few years! Between the Great Recession and endless legal fees fighting Fairfax County’s efforts to grab the City’s water system, few knew, even at City Hall, that the City’s coffers were down to its last nickels in 2012. In that context, the many powerful forces who desired to end the City’s independent status and to force it to revert to control by Fairfax County were smelling blood in the air.
But the Little City has never been known for giving anything up without a fight, which was why it was in fiscal distress to begin with due to its laudable resolve to fight the powers-that-be at huge Fairfax County to repel the water system grab. The City, after all, perceived itself having a lot to fight for, including one of the nation’s most superior school systems and a general quality of life the envy of anyone.

So, as it turned out, the City’s gritty resolve accounted for a resolution that never would have materialized otherwise, with the City not giving up, but selling the water system to the county for a very attractive price. Moreover, it landed over $20 million in net profits from the sale, and most importantly, broke its land-locked disadvantage to its giant neighbors (Fairfax and Arlington) by moving 38-odd acres of county land into the City limits, including a portion that is jutted up against the West Falls Church Metro station that is, itself, a potential gold mine.

All the while, City leaders pushed ahead against a long-standing internal inertia to bring new development into its commercial corridors. One by one, the mixed-use projects began to sprout, and the lighted signage atop the brand new Hilton Garden Inn at its center now functioning to the wider region like a beacon.

While prospects for the dazzling development boom up the road in Tysons (now being billed as “The Next Great American City”), some smart folks looked at the special opportunity Falls Church represents, where relatively moderate projects could help define a very special place.
So now, the City not only has a very well-heeled new developer, but one who knows and “believes” in its downtown.