If City of Falls Church leaders danced a jig, either individually or collectively, in the last week, it was done out of sight of the press. But they’ve not withheld expressions of extreme delight at the roster of six official bid submissions made last week by top-tier development firms seeking a shot at building out the 10 acres of City-owned land designated for dense economic development at the City’s west end.
Local developer and Economic Development Authority board member Robert Young told the News-Press, “Six is a very good response, and they are all high quality, very credible and highly qualified. This is very, very encouraging.”
Having done an initial review of the bid contents, consultant Jennifer Boss told the F.C. City Council at its work session Monday that they should celebrate. “These are great respondents of the highest quality and there are some great ideas there,” she said.
Following an initial discussion of the proposals, the Council also mulled a change to the zoning at the site that would permit up to 15 stories, although some balked at any height limits at all.
On the bids, the City has not hesitated to move quickly on taking the process to the next level. A high-powered evaluation committee has been assembled by City Manager Wyatt Shields to move with dispatch to review and evaluate the bids, looking to “down select” from six to three by the end of this month, pending a vote by the Council. Meanwhile, work is well underway to develop a request for significantly more detailed bid proposals from the three finalists, with the plan to select the final winning bidder by October, again requiring a Council vote.
The evaluation committee will have its first meeting later this week and the six preliminary bids, minus proprietary components, will be posted to the City’s website for all to see by next Tuesday, May 15. (It was announced earlier to be later this week, but that has been adjusted).
The evaluation committee is composed of F.C. Schools Superintendent Peter Noonan, School Board rep Erin Gill, Planning Commission rep Russ Wodiska, Economic Development Authority rep Young, City consultant Bob Wulff, City Planning Director Jim Snyder, a City Council member to be named, and Shields. Working with the group in advisory capacities will be the City’s project manager Lee Goldstein, City Attorney Carol McCoskie and the Alvarez and Marsal consulting team of Ted Risher, Jennifer Boss and Jay Brown.
They will sign non-disclosure agreements so they can view the proprietary components of the bids, and study them assiduously until they come together on May 29, the day after Memorial Day, to seek a consensus among them on who the three finalists should be.
As an added incentive, the City has found itself in the last weeks confronted with two new competitive elements. First, it was learned that the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) has not only submitted plans for the commercial and residential development of its 20 acres at the West Falls Church Metro Rail station site adjacent the Falls Church land, but that it plans to push ahead on this plan immediately. The disappointing unwillingness of WMATA to work in tandem with the Falls Church project notwithstanding, Falls Church retains a significant edge in terms of timing, if it can proceed apace in the coming period.
Secondly, as Mayor Tarter pointed out at Monday night’s work session, should Amazon select Northern Virginia (presumably Arlington) as the location for its monster second headquarters, the implications for the entire region would be huge, and could modify, to the good, the potentials at the Falls Church site.
Tarter suggested a certain open-endedness to the development process here to take that contingency into account.
In his comments to the News-Press, Young credited the work of the City’s consultants, Alvarez and Marsal, for the strong initial response to Falls Church’s West End project.
The six initial bidders for these include:
1. Comstock WFC, LLC (with a team of Davis, Carter, Scott, Ltd, the James G. Davis Construction Corporation, LandDesign, Inc. and Gorove/Slade Associates),
2. EYA, LLC (with the team of PN Hoffman, Regency Centers, Torti Gallas and Partners, Walter L. Phillips, Inc., MuniCap, Inc. and Baskin, Jackson and Lasso PC),
3. Fivesquares Development (with the team of EDENS, Cunningham Quill Architects, LLC, Wiles Mensch Corp., Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP and the Clark Construction group),
4. Mason Greens LLC (Republic Family of Companies with the team of Perkins Eastman, James G. Davis Construction Corporation, Stanmore Associates, McGuire Woods Consulting, Lee and Associates, Walter L. Phillips, Inc., Toll Brothers, Nova Ventures, Inc., Wells and Associates and Capstone Development),
5. Rushmark WFC, LLC (with the team of Hitt Contracting, Gensler Architecture, Design and Planning, P.C., Dewberry Engineers, Inc., Gorove/Slade Associates, Inc., Jones Lang LaSalle Inc and Walsh, Colucci, Lebeley and Walsh, P.C.), and
6. SCD Acquisitions Mid Atlantic LLC (Skanska USA Commercial Development, Inc., with Antunovich Associates).
Much of the discussion at the Council work session Monday dealt with the relationship between the evaluation committee and the Council itself. Rather than just being asked to sign off on the evaluation committee’s recommendations, the Council needs to be more fully engaged, Council member Ross Litkenhous insisted. “If I am going to be asked to cast a vote on a decision that will define the City’s next 50 years, if I am going to vote my conscience I will need to be educated, informed and fully ready to vote,” he said.
Mayor David Tarter concurred, saying, “There are going to have to be more Council meetings on this,” and Councilman David Snyder agreed.
“There is going to have to be a level of trust between the Council and the evaluation committee,” Shields said. “I think this process will work pretty well.”