In addition to what he’s already done and announced he wants to do, at least three new projects in Falls Church are in the planning mind of Todd Hitt, the Northern Virginia native and energetic real estate visionary.
Hitt, the principle force behind two major mixed use projects within blocks of each other in Falls Church’s center city – the Harris Teeter building now well under construction in the 300 block of W. Broad and the proposed major development on 2.3 acres reportedly to include a Whole Foods superstore on the southeast corner of Broad and Washington – has still more in store for the Little City.
He has the Stratford Hotel property under contract, located directly across the street from the Harris Teeter project, wants to help with an expansion of the State Theatre, now a live music venue located adjacent the Broad-Washington property, and talks of the merits of a downtown walking mall somewhere nearby.
Be assured that there will be more, too, because he has impressed us as having a genuine liking for Falls Church, due partly because it was a childhood stomping ground for him, partly because of the high regard he holds for City staff and officials, and partly because the demographics and other factors of the City that make it prime turf for development success.
Hitt, who graduated from nearby Yorktown High School in N. Arlington, used to be all over Falls Church, buying sandwiches at what was then the only Subway store in the area, and sitting in the balcony at the historic State Theatre for the premier of the first “Star Wars” and many other films.
A Parade All-American in soccer at Yorktown, he played the sport for the University of Virginia before graduating in 1987 and getting into the family business in this area.
Officially, he is the chief executive officer of Kiddar Group Holdings, Inc., an investment firm specializing in business acquisition and management, real estate acquisition and development, real estate brokerage and hotel and resort investment management with projects in Denver, Miami, Puerto Rico and more, and he works from a new office building named for him in Fairview Park.
But more generally, “I am a deal maker and visionary,” he told the News-Press in an exclusive interview at that building this week. The News-Press wanted to get his story because of quotes he made of his special commitment to Falls Church made in press releases when he announced the plans that are already underway.
High profile public involvements are unfamiliar to him, and he almost never has to sit through lengthy City Hall meetings and hearings, tasks that he leaves to the “execution teams” he partners with to get his projects actually on the ground and built. In the case of the Harris Teeter project, for example, that “execution team” is Rushmark, the name that is most often used with the project, while his family’s construction company, Hitt Construction, is actually building it. His partner on the Broad-Washington project is Rick Hausler’s Insight Properties.
But with Todd Hitt’s visionary role, he said, “I follow my heart. I want to know I can make an impact. That’s my philosophy. I don’t just chase the dollar.”
An advantage with that is his company’s ability to use its own cash, rather than having to secure a loan from a bank. Because of this, he said, “There is no outside pressure, and we can be flexible and look to the long term. We’re not a pinch hitter for someone else’s money. We are doers.”
The Hitt family’s real estate operations began with his grandfather in 1937 and Todd’s father and brother are in the construction business, while he remains on the “venture capital” side of the industry.
He said he looks for areas that include the right demographics, where the land and the product can work, and a political environment exists that can make it work, not in chasing the dollar, but in increasing the value for everyone.
“All of these elements come together in Falls Church,” he said. “That’s what I love about Falls Church.”
“There is good management, a city manager (Wyatt Shields—ed.) with strong business skills, a director of planning (Jim Snyder—ed.) with a very good reputation, who is very straight-forward, is creative and who really cares,” he said. “Also, the City Council members are smart, fair minded and really care about Falls Church.”
“I want to help to Falls Church grow,” he said, “to be a good private business partner.” He praised the City’s “authenticity factor.”
He still has two years to decide what to do with the Stratford property, and muses about the merits of a pedestrian mall, where people can congregate and a farmer’s market and other features could be located.
With all this, he praises the role of restaurants like Clare and Don’s Beach Shack and Argia’s on N. Washington, adjacent to where the Whole Foods project is slated to go.
Business like them, and La Caraquena restaurant, Spacebar, Mike’s Deli at Lazy Sundae and others, he hopes to be included in future plans.
Hitt said he’s been impressed by how well the City made out in the water sale deal with Fairfax County, although he does not plan to respond to the City’s request for proposal on the 38 acres of school land at the west end of the City. Falls Church “negotiated a real good deal that came out well for them,” he said. It makes sense to use eight to ten acres for economic development by the West Falls Church Metro station, he added. “and they will get it.”
“I want to focus on the other end of the City,” he added, to make the State Theater the anchor of the area he’s interested in. The State’s owner, Tom Carter, “has done a fantastic job and he cares,” he said. “I want to help them expand economically and continue to grow.”
Similarly with Clare and Don’s and Argia’s, right by where he wants to build, “I am concerned to avoid negative consequences for them of the construction process, but I want especially for them to have a positive impact from my project when we’re done building it. I want to help them expand.”
Overall, in Hitt’s opinion Falls Church’s City Hall staff is superior. “They’ve been one of the smarter governments I know. They’ve got to be in first place. In the period since the financial crisis, they’ve had a lot to handle, including the water issue, the falling apart of a big downtown development plan that had been approved, and ongoing financial pressures.”
“They’ve excelled in business management, and have done excellently through trying times. They’ve done a very good job. They get an A.”