We are encouraged by the optimistic, can-do posture of the Alvarez and Marsal group that has been retained to work on the economic development component of the Falls Church Campus Process Working Group. In their comments to the economic subcommittee of the group last Friday, they indicated a willingness to be outspoken telling the City what it ought not to do to squash a deal in a market that is as strong as what exists in this area now.
Without knowing all the details, the consultants concluded that the City had too many complications with earlier efforts, including the bad idea of suggesting the same developer build both the new high school and the economic development part. Bad idea. “We don’t know what was wrong with the last request for proposal (RFP),” they said, “But this is a very strong market and the RFP has to be something the market can see the value of.” The City officials were advised that it should offer the ability to make adjustments if needed to work better for a developer.
Among other things, the City should not predetermine where it thinks the 10 acres of the 36-acre site that can be dedicated for economic development should go. There has been an unsubstantiated assumption that the economic development component should be on the corner of Haycock and West Broad. But a developer may have a different idea, something closer to the West Falls Church Metro station for example, and such options should be welcomed.
“The baselines need to be comfortable to both the market and to the City, and be economically feasible,” they were told. “Don’t require a ‘vision’ or it will get too narrow in the first phase.”
We concur with all the above. If anything concerns us it has been City Manager Wyatt Shields’ insistence in reporting on the meeting subsequently that the so-called “highest and best use” might not be what the City will want.
Why start with that negativity? That’s the first thing a prospective developer will look at when trying to decide if it’s worth the very considerable amount of money and effort they will have to plow into even a preliminary response to the City’s request.
“We want your best shot, but then again, maybe we don’t,” is what that kind of approach suggests.
What appeals to developers the most is the idea that they want to make a profit, and the City wants them to, as well.
In this case, at this point in the City’s history with all the capital improvement demands that currently exist, it is no time for petty naysayers to be allowed to bollix up the works. It would be one thing if the City was dependent on non-enthusiastic rival Fairfax County or other interests, but this is not the case now.
How quickly, how aggressively, the City can move forward is entirely up to us.