Virginia Tech Alters Course On West End Development

Shock waves were felt throughout the Northern Virginia region last weekend when Virginia Tech suddenly announced it was dropping its agreement to be a part of the massive 9.6 acre West End Gateway project in the City of Falls Church.

A two-year planning effort with HITT construction to fully develop the 5.6 acres where it sits adjacent to the City’s own project site is now no more.

Plans had been emerging to meld the development efforts of the City’s West End project, the Virginia Tech development next to it, and next to that, the development of over 20 acres owned by Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) right at its West Falls Church Metro station.

Combined they would involve over 40 acres of contiguous development centered around a wide and (perhaps) yellow road that would run through the center of all three as a glorious boulevard linking Route 7 where the “Central Commons” of the Gateway project proceeds from the intersection of Rt. 7 and Chestnut St. all the way to the West Falls Church Metro station.

The City of Falls Church, WMATA and Virginia Tech have all been in talks about this grand plan, and the concern is that Tech’s decision will effectively throw cold water over the whole thing.

It is true that the City and Virginia Tech have been in negotiations for some time concerning the terms of its lease on land owned by the City of Falls Church. That lease includes an option to buy the land after 20 years.

While Falls Church City Manager Wyatt Shields confirmed to the News-Press that negotiations over the sale of the land are, indeed, ongoing, he said he did not feel that has anything to do with Tech’s most recent decision.

In a statement to the News-Press in light of the news, Shields said, “I was sorry to hear the announcement that Virginia Tech and HITT will not be moving forward on a public private partnership. The City of Falls Church and Virginia Tech have a long and productive history together, and we believe that a strong Virginia Tech presence here is needed and good for our region. We will continue to be very interested in and supportive of Virginia Tech’s plans for its West Falls Church campus.”

For its part, Virginia Tech, through its spokesman Michael Stowe, issued a statement to the News-Press that said the following:

“I will reiterate Virginia Tech’s commitment to Falls Church and to working with Fairfax County, the City of Falls Church, and other partners to create a vibrant district around our campus.

“One great example of that is the plan by the City of Falls Church and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, in partnership with the Virginia Department of Transportation, to develop a Smart City test bed on and adjacent to the university’s campus off Haycock Road. The state budget recently approved by the General Assembly includes $10 million to support the project, thanks in large part to the support of Senator Dick Saslaw.”

It’s true, Shields told the City Council Monday, that the $10 million designated from the State legislature to the City and Virginia Tech for the Smart City test bed will happen, also thanking Sen. Saslaw.

The brief press statement made through Virginia Tech’s online Daily News feed announced the new development. It said a mutual agreement between Virgniia Tech and HITT Contracting resulted in the decision after a lengthy review process of proposals to expand Tech’s site on Haycock Road near the West Falls Church Metro and adjacent the site of the City of Falls Church’s 10-acre West End mixed use development plan.

The proposed project would have added a new academic building and a research center for design and construction to the center, which currently houses administrative offices and a handful of graduate-level academic programs. It would have also featured a new headquarters for HITT, which is currently located about three miles away on Fairview Park Drive.

Virginia Tech originally announced an intention to redevelop its Falls Church property in July 2019 after it received an unsolicited proposal from HITT through Virginia’s Public-Private Education Facilities and Infrastructure Act (PPEA) process, which allows private entities to develop certain public facilities and infrastructure projects.

Virginia Tech Senior Vice President and Chief Business Officer Dwayne Pinkney was quoted saying the university will continue to work with HITT to advance building construction research. “Virginia Tech has a long history in Falls Church,” Pinkney said. “We are committed to being there and working with Fairfax County, the City of Falls Church, and other partners to create a vibrant district around our campus.”

HITT still plans to develop a new headquarters building and a school focused on design and construction. The company said it remains interested in collaborating with Virginia Tech on those projects.

“While the redevelopment project isn’t moving forward, we believe deeply in the partnership and our work together,” HITT Vice President of Research and Development Megan Lantz said in an interview with the Tysons Reporter.

Rushmark Properties had also partnered with Virginia Tech on the Northern Virginia Center redevelopment but according to reports is no longer involved.

The Northern Virginia Center expansion was part of an ambitious redevelopment plan for the West Falls Church Transit Station Area that Fairfax County has been coordinating with the university and WMATA.

The next meeting of the task force appointed to develop recommendations for the West Falls Church TSA study is scheduled to take place virtually on Mar. 16.