CORRECTION: A previous version of the article incorrectly said Hitt Contracting would build the Insight mixed-use project at Broad and Washington. The News-Press apologizes for the error.
Out of six original bidders for the dense economic development of 10 West End acres in the City of Falls Church, it was not until shortly after midnight Tuesday that the three finalists recommended by a select evaluation committee were announced publicly and approved by the Falls Church City Council.
The contending groups of Comstock, EYA/PN Hoffman and Rushmark, listed in alphabetical order, made the cut, it was announced, and will receive a “request for detailed proposal” (RFDP) from the Council, also approved in the wee hours Tuesday, by this Friday. They will have until late August to respond, with the selection of the finalist to work with the City in the development of those 10 prime acres of City-owned land by mid-October.
Council members, who were first informed of the evaluation group’s recommendations a week earlier in a closely-held closed session, hailed the process by which the three finalists were decided. They were briefed in the closed session by City consultant Bob Wulff and Economic Development Authority’s Robert Young, who made a compelling case, they said, for the arduous process the evaluators went through to come to their decision. Councilman Ross Litkenhous was vocal in his praise for the whole process and his colleagues concurred.
No real details of what went into the decision on the finalists were provided at the meeting, except that they were named in response to general criteria of what the evaluation group was tasked with looking for.
The Council was told that decisive event came when all the members of the evaluation group came together for a four-hour closed session to compare notes after completing extensive reviews of the six original applicants. The consensus met in that meeting was key.
Participating with the three winning finalists are Davis, Carter, Scott, James G. Davis Construction and LandDesign, Gorova/Stade with Comstock; P.N. Hoffman, Regency Centers, Torti Gallas, Walter Phillips, MuniCap, and Baskin, Jackson and Lasso PC with EYA; and, Hitt Contracting Gensler Architecture, Dewberry Engineers, Gorove/Slade, Jones Lang LaSalle, Walsh Colucci, Lebeley and Walsh with Rushmark.
Sources have commented to the News-Press that the three finalists will be working very hard over the next two months to meet the late August deadline for submission of their responses to the more detailed RFDP. “There is going to be a lot of midnight oil burned between now and that deadline,” one source commented.
The three bidding groups that did not make the “down-select” cut are Fivesquares Development (including EDENS and Clark Construction), Mason Greens (including Perkins Eastman, Toll Brothers and Nova Ventures), and Skanska Mid-Atlantic (with Autunovich Associates).
The RFDP, which is undergoing final modifications following another long, open session of Council deliberations before being delivered to the three finalists this Friday, will be asking for two things: the maximum economic yield from the project, aimed at ameliorating the $120 million cost of constructing a new George Mason High School, on the one hand, and components considered vital to the City’s values on the other, such as environmental, including stormwater and energy conservation elements, and affordable housing components.
As Bob Wulff pointed out to the Council Monday night, there is a financial trade off between the two contending components, as the addition of environmental features and greater demands for affordable housing will draw down the value of the project overall from the developer’s point of view.
Councilman Phil Duncan pushed hardest Monday night for the inclusion in the RFDP of variable benchmarks for affordable housing, beginning with requiring that six percent percent of all residential units on the site be affordable (as defined by percentages of income below the regional median average income), and seeking options for eight and ten percent, as well.
As the percentages for affordable housing go up, even incrementally, the cost burden rises quickly for the developer, Wulff pointed out.
So, Duncan’s proposal was not included in final edits to the RFDP made Monday night, and the affordable housing component was left at a base of six percent of total units, with the added concession that the affordable units remain that way in perpetuity, and not for only 20 years.
Duncan initially withheld his vote on the approved RFDP but when his colleagues were unanimous in their support, he switched from not voting to voting yes, as well.
Among the bonafides of the three finalists, whose initial statements of qualifications can be found on the City’s website, the Comstock group has collaborated with Fairfax County to develop the transit-oriented project at the Wiehle-Reston East Metro station, with Loudoun County to develop the Route 722 North Metro garage project, the Town of Herndon mixed-use project with municipal parking and a performing arts center, and in Reston surrounding a central plaza and full-service hotel.
The EYA team has collectively over 91 years of combined experience with over 342 projects, claiming partners “many with deep roots in Falls Church.” Included on this group’s team are those who have designed the conceptual plans for WMATA for the development of its West Falls Church Metro station site, and the desire of this group is to fully integrate the 10 acres of West Falls Church economic development with that WMATA plan and the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech property for a much larger overall project. That integration may not be ready for 10 years, while the 10 acres in Falls Church would be developed in five.
The Rushmark team’s main component is Hitt Contracting and that combination produced the recently-completed Harris-Teeter, 301 W. Broad project that has become the centerpiece of downtown Falls Church. Hitt Contracting is also deeply engaged with the current F.C. City Hall renovation and expansion. Among its interests are the development at the West Falls Church site of “a range of housing options affordable to a broad spectrum of citizens, impacting workforce recruitment and retention.”