Broad and Washington LLC, a venture of the Arlington-based Insight Property Group, announced Monday that it has signed a 20-year lease for a 50,000-square foot Whole Foods Market to anchor its redevelopment of the corner of E. Broad and N. Washington Streets in Falls Church, the central intersection in the City’s downtown. The new special exception request was submitted to the F.C. City Hall yesterday.
Maury Stern, a principal with the Insight Group, notified the News-Press of the development early Monday. In a press release, Insight said that the proposed mixed-use project is currently estimated to result in additional net fiscal revenue, including inflation, of more than $40 million in tax revenues to the City over the 20 years and also “will help to create a new and compelling connection between this critical intersection and the City’s adjacent Arts and Entertainment District.”
As with its earlier approved zoning modifications, the project will also include 5,000 square feet for the City’s popular non-profit Creative Cauldron theater.
The project had been approved with a set of unanimous votes by the Falls Church City Council in April 2018 that included the Creative Cauldron space and 100,000 square feet of Class A office space.
But that plan was derailed a little over a year ago, when developer Todd Hitt pleaded guilty in November 2018 to investor fraud and is now serving a prison sentence. Hitt had been a partner in the project, although Insight was always the majority interest. Hitt had committed to lease an extensive space in the new project.
So the Whole Foods replaces the Hitt office space commitment, and other changes in the new submission involve a large plaza space in front of the store right on Broad and Washington, 350 residential units, 8,400 square feet of retail and 5,000 square feet for Creative Cauldron.
Falls Church City Manager Wyatt Shields told the News-Press this week that while there have been low-key ongoing conversations with the Insight people over recent months, City Hall officials were surprised to learn this week that the lease had been signed with Whole Foods.
The 50,000 square foot store will substitute for a lot of the Class A office space approved in Insight’s earlier submission, and sources indicate that the store will replace a considerably smaller site in the Pimmit Hills section of greater Falls Church to play a much larger role in shaping the environment of downtown Falls Church.
In addition to the Whole Foods, the earlier approved project, which came after three years of negotiations with the City, including with residential neighbors behind the site on Lawton Street, covering 2.46 acres at that central Falls Church intersection will include the 350 apartments, 613 parking spaces and a pocket park facing onto Lawton Street.
As with the earlier approval, the project will be anchored by outdoor eating areas and highly landscaped public spaces. The project, according to Stern, “is also being designed to help reinforce pedestrian and vehicular links in the neighborhood by expanding connections between existing park spaces or upgrading traffic safety features at intersections and curb cuts.”
Stern described this new opportunity for the development saying, “We spent the last year rethinking the project and could not be happier to have signed a lease with the leading natural and organic grocer in the country. Whole Foods Market will bring an incredible amount of activity to downtown to both complement and help support the existing and longstanding businesses that make Falls Church so unique.”
A Falls Church Economic Development Authority (EDA) official told the News-Press that, despite the proximity of the planned new store to the three-year-old, 60,000-square foot Harris Teeter market two blocks away, “We have to trust that Whole Foods folks have done a lot of homework to establish that this location will prosper for them.” He added that a major advantage to the City of the new store will be impact of the brand on other retailers who love to follow Whole Foods into neighborhoods.
The case of the Whole Foods on P Street near 14th in downtown Washington, D.C. is a prime example, he noted. It sparked a revitalization of the entire neighborhood.
As for the Creative Cauldron space, Laura Hull, founding director of the program, told the News-Press that she is “thrilled and excited” to learn the project is moving ahead now.
She said she was notified by Insight’s Rick Hauser and Stern on Monday and that all the parameters of the earlier-approved plan remain as is. She said that at their current S. Maple St. location the lease is good through June 2021, but that everything is up in the air after that.
If everything goes according to plan, a groundbreaking could come by this summer and the move-in date at the Insight project will probably be mid-2023. Stern told the News-Press he hopes to get a date at a work session of the City Council before the New Year. He said that a preliminary meeting with residential neighbors was held recently and discussions are ongoing with neighboring restaurants, Clare and Don’s Beach Shack and Thompson Italian, about parking and related issues during construction.
As for Insight, according to its press release issued this Monday, “the firm has become a local leader in developing iconic residential communities in the Washington Metropolitan area.”
Its recent projects includes the nationally acclaimed and award-winning Apollo, a 431-unit, mixed-use project that also is anchored by Whole Foods Market, The Lockwood, an 145-unit boutique apartment building embracing the rich history of its Capitol Hill neighborhood, and the overhaul of the Falls Green apartment community (formerly Oakwood Apartments) next to the Eden Center in Falls Church.
Insight is currently partnered with Carr Properties on the development of The Elm, a 28-story, 456 unit top of market apartment project in the heart of downtown Bethesda, above the Red and new Purple Line metro stations which will open in Fall, 2020.