Downtown F.C. Set to Undergo Big Dig

There is something akin to a dark shroud now covering half of the four-story Robertson Building at the City of Falls Church’s central intersection of Broad and Washington. Its appearance ostensibly marks the beginning of an extraordinary new stage in the economic development boom underway in Falls Church.

The Insight Group is getting its massive project at that corner of downtown Falls Church’s central intersection underway at last, with the anchor of the project to be a mega-Whole Foods supermarket, a new home for the Creative Cauldron theater and 339 rental apartments.

But there are still a lot of unknowns, however, as Insight has not been forthcoming with its plans even as the City is hoping for a slight delay in the plans to mitigate the impact on neighboring restaurants, especially if the developers are planning to put a chain link fence around the perimeter of the site.

It is not known, for example, if or when the Robertson Building might be demolished and what that might look like.

This project, a long time in the making, has remained controversial because of objections from neighbors on that block, including the Clare and Don’s Beach Shack, the fancy Thompson’s Italian restaurant and the live music venue State Theater.

But as problems were ironed out over time, the Insight’s kicking off of the demolition has elicited new worries that a useful cut-through way of getting to the City-owned parking lot behind the Beach Shack and Thompson’s will be cut off.

Also, another issue that still remains is the need for a left-turn option for traffic coming south out of Arlington onto Park Place that also feeds into that City lot. VDOT has agreed to make the cut, but it has yet to happen.

Still, a major positive move ahead was the announcement that the Kaiser Clinic will allow free public parking weekday evenings and weekends on the top two levels of its structured parking garage across the street.

Becky Witsman of the City’s Economic Development Office told the News-Press that eight new big signs have been prepared to steer cars looking for parking in that block to the Kaiser option. Witsman said the City is committed to doing all it can to mitigate the impact of the construction on folks trying to use restaurants and services in the area, but added that the City is not in complete control of all it would like to be.

It’s been a year since the F.C. City Council gave a final unanimous OK to the Insight project in January 2021, and the history of the plan goes back much further. It was in January 2015 that news first broke of the acquisition of the 2.5 acres at that site, inclusive of the Robertson Building and the location of the former Applebee’s.

It was even longer ago in that, prior to the Great Recession of 2008, that Atlantic Realty got the OK from the City for a major redevelopment of the corner catty-corner to the Insight location where the popular Ireland’s Four Provinces restaurant currently is. Now, at long last, a slightly scaled back project there, going under the title of “One City Center,” is approaching final approval from the Council with 268 residerntial units on 5.2 acres there.

The overall neighborhood will be impacted for the next two years not only by the construction of the Insight property, but by the Atlantic Realty’s One City Center plan too. That project is also slated to have a grocery (though more modestly sized) and its 268 residential units.

That project awaits an expected final OK from the F.C. City Council later this spring.

Add to that the impending final OK for the so-called Founders Row 2 plan for 280 residential units at the intersection of W. Broad and S. West Street (the site of the now-abandoned Rite Aid) and the completion of its Mill Creek compliment across that intersection, and the massive 10-acre construction slated to get underway at the site of the now-demolished high school further west on Broad, adjacent the newly-completed new Meridian High School, and the City is going to be rocking with construction virtually from end to end that will dominate the commercial strip on Broad Street from Washington Street (Route 29) to west all the way to the City limits for the next four years or more.

The City’s 2.2 square miles will be teeming with new construction, and the hundreds of happy new residents that will fill the new mixed-use projects, in addition to the 14,300 who already live in the City, will be dodging all the construction’s impacts for years.