Center City Set To Take Off

This Tuesday wasn’t the first time the innovative One City Center project came before a City of Falls Church body for consideration, this time at the meeting of the Economic Development Authority.

But the significantly-refined and stylish plan that puts over 100,000 square feet of retail and 246 residential units in the same downtown block as the popular Ireland’s Four Provinces restaurant took on major new significance this time, because it was presented at the same time work on demolition and development of the massive Broad and Washington project across the street – with its promise of a mega-Whole Foods store – is about to get underway.

Granted, the One City Center effort will not start right away. Still awaiting final approval from City authorities, but it is down to months now, and with the long-awaited Broad and Washington effort about to launch, the look at the central intersection in the historical center to the City of Falls Church is about to undergo a massive transformation that will provide a “true mixed use community at the core of downtown, in complement with the Broad and Washington project that will establish a “walkable urban mixed use environment” making the City’s center “a regionally significant marquis sub-market.”

So contended Andrew Painter of the local Chamber of Commerce and formal spokesman for the Atlantic Realty effort to the EDA board Tuesday.

As of this week, all the tenants of the old Robertson Building across the street, including the Compleat Strategist and Toy Nest stores were evacuated from that building as the last step before Insight’s Broad and Washington project kicks off its two-year construction phase.

The old doctor’s office building and Applebees are due to be the first demolished sometime between today and early March, followed by the big white Robertson building at the corner. The demolition will be accompanied by a plan to put a left turn for southbound traffic on N. Washington to access the Clare and Don’s Beach Shack and Thompson’s Italian restaurants there.

This amidst news also presented Tuesday by City Manager Wyatt Shields that the City is pressing ahead with the process for the closing on a 99-year lease with the Falls Church Gateway Partners at the City’s west end, not that far away, for the dense development of 9.78 acres there on ground prepared by the demolition of the old George Mason High School that is now flattened and awaiting another major two year development process.

The groundbreaking for that project is now set for May.

And, in yet another related development, the F.C. Council’s Economic Development committee (not the same as the EDA) heard last Thursday a new report on the 4.3-acre Founder’s Row project that, even as news of four new restaurants there broke last week (reported on the front page of the News-Press), now the project has a letter of intent for the much-touted and awaited movie theater complex that will go there.

Still no name of the theater complex has yet been revealed, but it will have eight screens and 750 seats.

This also comes ahead of Mill Creek’s finalization of its submission of a “Founder’s Row 2” project at the same West Broad and N. West Street intersection that will fill the idled properties formerly home to a drug store with an oversized parking lot and the iconic carpet store on that corner which finally has a “Property Sold” sign up and announcement of a clearance sale that is now a real deal.

As Painter said in an understated way Tuesday, the City of Falls Church now has developed a reputation, regionally, “as a good place to do business.” No kidding!

It’s been 15 years overall that Atlantic Realty has been working on the development of the main downtown block of the City that is home to the so-called George Mason Square and the Ireland’s 4Ps restaurant.

In a first go-around Adam Schulman of Atlantic worked tirelessly with the City to win approval for a massive development there that encompassed the Bowl America property and more that came to a screeching halt with the onset of the Great Recession in 2007.

But this latest iteration, replete with a “woonerf” alley that retailers and a 25,000 square foot grocery will front and will be the centerpiece of a wide array of public uses being planned, and the City’s first traffic circle that may form on the end of the block where S. Maple and Annandale Road meet, to give the area an amazing new look and feel.

With the State Theater right there, and 5,000 square feet being subsidized by the developer as a new home for the Creative Cauldron theater in the City, the blocks around the central Broad and Washington intersection promises to morph into one of the premiere, walkable, mixed use destinations in the entire region.

It was announced Tuesday that Atlantic Realty will be giving free of charge 30 parking spaces to the City that will be available to the public 24-7. A deal had been struck for the City to buy the spaces at a cost of $10,000 per, or $300,000 total, until Schulman announced Tuesday that they would come to the City free.

Some on the EDA board are still pressing Atlantic Realty to do more to dress up the facade of the old George Mason Square building that will remain in the core of the One City Center plan, but it appears the project is well on its way.

Bob Young, the local developer re-elected as the EDA chair this week, called it “a very exciting project” and was given the OK by his board colleagues to draft a letter to the F.C. City Council expressing just that sentiment on behalf of his board.