City Team Busy Deciding on Paring 6 West End Project Bidders Down to 3

AMONG OTHER THINGS, the town hall meeting at the Falls Church Community Center on Sunday was one of the first days of spring where citizens could sport their Bermuda shorts. The event was an update on the West End development and new high school project. Citizens have been urged to weigh in with their thoughts about those who’ve bid so far, and what the content of a more detailed request for proposals should include.. (Photo: News-Press)

The six heavyweight bids for the economic development of the 10-acre West Falls Church site submitted at the beginning of the month are being carefully scrutinized by a powerhouse team of City of Falls Church leaders as we speak.

Using detailed and challenging criteria developed by the City’s consultants, Alvarez and Marsal, the team is tasked with pouring through over 400 pages of bid submissions with the goal of reducing that list of six to three by June 11.

The brisk schedule is required by the need of the City to press ahead on two interrelated tracks to get a new high school built by 2021 and the economic development component ready to go as soon as that is achieved.

Challenges include the ability of all the right people to have input on this process, which the City has determined will be as transparent to the public as possible.

Will the City Council, for example, have input on the down-selection process, or will it be restricted to the specially-appointed evaluation group (that includes Council and School Board members)? How much will the public be allowed to weigh in, given that all six preliminary bids are posted on the City’s website for everyone to see?

These issues apply not only to the down-select process, but also to the City’s work developing a new, follow-on request for detailed proposal (RFDP) that it will hand to the group of three development finalists by mid-June.

The draft of the still-evolving RFDP is also online, and City Manager Wyatt Shields stressed at Monday’s City Council work session and Tuesday’s meeting of the City’s Economic Development Authority that he’s hoping for as much citizen input to come as soon as possible.

At Monday’s Council work session, Councilman Ross Litkenhous urged Shields to make sure a component is included in the follow-on RFDP asking the bidders to provide their plans for inclusion of surrounding properties in their development plans.

With the Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority indicating to Fairfax County that it wants to develop the 14 acres it owns adjacent the Falls Church 10 acre site, and the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech also interested in doing more with its graduate center site of eight acres also immediately adjacent, the prospect of combining the sites in some fashion for an even more lucrative overall development is what Litkenhous’ comment referred to.

At the Economic Development Authority (EDA) meeting Tuesday, Shields and members of the EDA quipped that if Apple decided it wanted to bid on the West End site, the City remains in control and could make any changes that it wanted. (It is reported that Apple is looking for two million square feet in the region for a secondary headquarters to employ 20,000 people).

It also remains to be determined whether the City will set a height limit on the site. It has been suggested to be 15 stories, but there are those who suggest there should be no limit at all.

Relevant meetings this week include a meeting of the City’s Environmental Sustainability Committee Thursday night (tonight) to hear from three experts on sustainability issues for the 10 acres at the Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School library.

That same night, the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission meets to decide whether to grant Falls Church’s request for $15.7 million in funding to improve the intersection of W. Broad (Route 7) at Haycock Road needed to make the economic development there, as well as student safety for the new high school, feasible.

Then, the City’s Campus Coordinating Committee composed of Council and School Board leaders and others will meet again this Friday morning at 7:30 a.m. in the School Board conference room, 800 W. Broad, to mull the fast-moving process.

In the draft RFDP still being worked on, it was discussed at the EDA meeting Tuesday that questions about quality and quantity of “significant and compelling commercial uses” including Class A office space, “place-making” features, urban design, a full service hotel and conference spaces, affordable housing components (at six percent of the total), interconnections, sustainability and transportation plan (including walkability) are included.

Meanwhile, the School Board is working on the down-select of its three finalist bidders for the construction of the new high school. In that process, Superintendent Peter Noonan told a public forum at the Community Center Sunday that a team had visited school development products of their three finalists (down from the original five submissions), including a middle school in Frederick County, Maryland, a Prince William County high school and Dunbar High School in D.C.

Noonan showed slides of all three schools which exhibited highly creative and novel components in the service of optimal learning and security.
The economic development evaluating team (which will be different from the group currently evaluating the six bidders now) will seek responses to the RFDP by late August, with an eye to the selection of the final group by mid-October.