In case anyone didn’t already know, developer Todd Hitt of Kiddar Capital, who has three major real estate development projects going on in the City of Falls Church right now, made plain his passion for Falls Church to the over 200 sets of intently focused real estate developer eyes that concentrated for better than an hour on all things City of Falls Church at the luncheon of NAIOP, the Commercial Real Estate Development Corporation, at the fancy Ritz Carlton in Tysons Corner yesterday.
Hitt joined three other powerful advocates for the City and its economic development potential – Mayor David Tarter, City Planning Department chief James Snyder and the City’s Economic Development Authority (EDA) chair Michael Novotny – for the intense focus session on the Little City yesterday.
“Falls Church is a great place to be developing,” Hitt told his colleagues in the real estate development business. “The right leadership is in place and it’s predictable. (That’s one of the most important things for a developer to hear – ed.).
Hitt described the “very complicated process” that it took to get one of his premiere projects going, the 301 W. Broad (with over 300 rental apartments and a world-class 60,000 square foot Harris Teeter soon to be operational), he said.
With a good working relationship with the city manager, city attorney, the City Council, boards and commissions and the public, the process worked smoothly, he said, and from start to finish the process was all approved in nine months.
“Of course, the City was no pushover,” he added, but he reiterated, “I believe in Falls Church,” noting that growing up nearby in Arlington, “I kissed my first girl at the State Theater in Falls Church, and to prove that location matters, I was able to do it in the balcony.”
Among other praises Hitt sang about Falls Church were that “it is terrific for living,” its density ratio targets “make sense,” it is close to the Metro, has a small city charm and is driven by a demographic that sports the highest percentage of its population under age 18 in the region.
Mayor Tarter began the panel discussion by noting the City is the second fastest growing in overall population in the region with a high “walking score” of 90, lots of improvements now underway, including LED street lights, bus shelters, a downtown pocket park coming, sidewalk improvements, bike racks and the “Little City” brand adding to the environment for economic development.
He added special and unique features like the historic live music venue the State Theatre, the Eden Center with its 165 mostly-Vietnamese-American owned businesses the largest center of its kind east of the Mississippi, the Creative Cauldron live theater center, the nationally known Quinn Auctioneers and its own community newspaper, the Falls Church News-Press.
He said there are challenges represented by the need for a renovated City Hall and public library and a new high school, underscoring the City’s need for a lot more economic development, but the City is moving forward “while maintaining a sense of place.” Among its unique features, he said, is the City’s development of its own fiscal analysis tools to assess the impact of proposed new projects.
Snyder, praised highly by the host organization’s moderator Allen Hanson for his work in Arlington before coming to Falls Church, described the City’s in-house project for defining “planning opportunity areas,” with a series of “small area plans” developed by his planning staff in collaboration with boards and commissions and the public.
He described the vision for and development potential of the North Washington and South Washington, Downtown and West Broad plans that have already been approved, and of such opportunity areas yet to be considered for this, such as the Gordon Road area, the Eastern Gateway area encompassing the Eden Center, and the 36-acre school-related property that was annexed into the City as part of the deal to sell the City’s water system to Fairfax County.
Ten acres of that 36 acres located adjacent the West Falls Church Metro can be dedicated to commercial economic development, he noted, and Novotny added in his comments that the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) has another 10 acres at that spot that it is considering committing for economic development, as well.
Location is the key to Falls Church’s potential, he said, and the development of clearly delineated steps for a potential developer has been designed to encourage submissions.
He said a manual is now being authored on “how to get your building built and open in Falls Church.”
Novotny noted the 95 restaurants in the City, and 165 medical practices, with only a two percent vacancy rate for retail. He summarized the 11 new projects and their $500 million in investment that have sprung up in Falls Church in the last decade.
In the audience at the luncheon event were Falls Church City Manager Wyatt Shields, Rick Goff and Becky Witsman of the City’s Economic Development office, Falls Church City Council members Phil Duncan and Letty Hardi, Planning Commissioner Ruth Rodgers, and a full table of movers and shakers from the Falls Church Chamber of Commerce.