At meetings of the Falls Church Campus Coordinating Committee and Economic Development Authority in the past week, Evan Goldman, the chief master plan coordinator for EYA, Inc., the team chosen by the F.C. City Council to develop the 10.3-acre West End commercial site on the grounds of George Mason High School, announced that his company is already in negotiations with five entities on “letters of intent” to build on the site, having secured two already.
“I have been in on 12 Falls Church project-related meetings today,” Goldman told the EDA board at its monthly meeting Tuesday night. “This is a very cool, exciting project.”
That’s putting it mildly from the standpoint of what he, and his counterparts from PN Hoffman and Regency chosen to build the $500 million project, have presented to date, and with the ink barely dry on the preliminary $44.5 million 99-year lease agreement with the City to light up the site in a big way, he’s already lining up the first of the new businesses: the grocery store, the hotel, the music venue, the music school and the senior living apartments.
A mood of excitement pervaded both the Coordinating Committee (the City’s team of representatives from its City Council, School Board and City staff) meeting last Friday morning and the EDA Tuesday night.
Work on the project is still over two years away, following the construction and occupancy of an all-new George Mason High School complex just to the west of the location, but according to Goldman, no time will be wasted getting to work on the construction of the buildings, including ones topping 15 stories, on Phase 1 of a two-phase process.
He said that experience has taught his company, citing its work on the Pike and Rose project in Bethesda and Santana Project in San Jose, California, that making a big splash in the first phase of a big project is a key to its success.
So work on all the buildings in the first phase here will begin simultaneously once the “go” sign is given, prospectively in the beginning of 2021. (The school construction, if all goes according to plan, will commence next May 2019 and be completed within a year and a half by December 2020. The current school will then be demolished, and that ground cleared for the economic development portion to commence in early 2021).
The first challenges to be met will be to address the varied elevations on the land, to work on optimizing the site’s access to the West Falls Church Metro station, and to establish with the grocery store right at the intersection of W. Broad and Haycock Road the site for frequent visits by shoppers.
Another early key is interface with the new high school, and this involves at least two major things, the prospect of a parking deck with shared parking for use by residents and shoppers at the site, and by the school, especially for big events.
The plan will be to optimize the retail in the first phase, to include a civic building with a music venue with a capacity of 500 adjacent a hotel that can use the venue for special events.
It is no accident that the proposed music venue, and music school, are planned to be located close to where the auditorium and black box theater spaces are set to go in the new high school.
Goldman said this is planned to enable a series of special events, such as a music festival, to be held in a proximate space. It will also be adjacent the wide boulevard that will run through the middle of the project with a full acre dedicated to a central park between traffic lanes running each direction.
Phase 1 will include the hotel with 150 rooms, 300 apartments, 240 condominiums, an office and a community building (housing the music venue), and the parking structure if it is agreed to go with that (the developers will pay the City an extra $5.3 million if this option is chosen).
Phase 1 will also serve as a buffer for the school from Phase 2, which will be office and condo buildings, with an option down the road for the City to reclaim a small portion of the land on Haycock Road.
EDA member and local developer Bob Young, who was on both review groups that evaluated the initial submissions and then the two finalists, said “This has been good to me from the very beginning, and these people can bring promises to reality to deliver a place. I couldn’t be more for it.”
Goldman said his team has also responded to the Virginia Tech proposal to redevelop its land adjacent the site with a plan that includes three or four academic and student/faculty housing buildings for a campus with a different focus than the one being planned for down by the Amazon HQ2 in Crystal City.
He said that his team also plans to respond to a request for proposals due next year from WMATA for its 25 acres at the West Falls Church Metro site, reiterating the vision of the boulevard in the middle of the project running from W. Broad through to the Metro station.
An article spelling out the overview for the project by Evan Jones, a Mason High student representative on the EDA, was published this week in the latest The Lasso Magazine, Mason’s student publication.