By Bob Young
Falls Church’s Economic Development Authority (EDA) has for many years been responsible for working with City Council, City staff, the business community, the Falls Church Chamber of Commerce and many of our Boards and Commissions to maximize responsible economic development in the city. The most significant goal has been to greatly increase the commercial proportion of the tax base. The City Council, the EDA, and other boards have worked together over the last decade to make great progress in this endeavor.
In addition to growing our commercial tax base, recent and ongoing EDA projects are several in number. The EDA’s Wayfinding project is currently being completed and consists of 45 new signs around the city.
The goal of this project is to improve a situation which was at best confusing for visitors and instead create a coherent “wayfinding” signage design that would help visitors find their way around town to specific destinations. The majority of the signs are designed to guide people driving vehicles. This project also includes two specially designed Tinner Hill pedestrian walking signs that include a map and QR code.
Using funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) national grant program, the EDA is in the process of providing up to $450,000 in small business grants to local businesses to help in their recovery from the Covid pandemic as well as a new Parklet program to support the creation of new outdoor dining and activity areas in the city. One of the new Parklet locations is likely to be adjacent to the already very popular Mr. Brown’s Park where some additional outdoor dining area could be created in our downtown area and which is adjacent to public parking.
Another major ARPA initiative for the continued Covid recovery of City businesses we will undertake this summer will be to engage a professional marketing firm/consultant to help us better market the city restaurants, local businesses, and historic landmarks. The EDA has been aware for some time that the marketing of the city, particularly from an economic development perspective, could be improved with adequate resources and effort. With assistance from our marketing consultants, we hope to identify how best to cost effectively spend our ARPA funds to assist in Covid business recovery.
In addition, via both ARPA and City funds, we have also just on boarded a new staff member who will focus on marketing, including efforts such as increasing customer interest in the City via social media posting, updates to the choosefallschurch.org website, creating and updating a landing page with listings for city attractions on the Virginia Tourism Commission’s web site and many other new initiatives.
The EDA/EDO (Economic Development Office) team has worked hard in an effort to assist in both preserving and retaining affordable housing in the city. This work included the acquisition and preservation of affordable units in Virginia Village on South Maple Street, 1940’s vintage brick “quadplexes”, as well as through encouraging developer voluntary concessions to provide new affordable units in perpetuity. Eventually, we hope redevelopment of the Virginia Village’s approximately five-acre site will occur and will include new affordable housing units, market rate units and new public use areas.
We also currently are finishing work on an update of the city’s fiscal model which is used to assess the net value to the city of proposed new economic development projects.
The EDA also actively and regularly participates in reviews of new City development projects; the EDA then provides their recommendations and suggestions on those projects to the City Council. The recently approved Founders Row 2 project was reviewed twice in the last year by the EDA and we likewise anticipate continuing reviews of One City Center project as well. In the upcoming month we will also continue to work with city staff to complete the land transfer/lease of the 9.7 acres in the proposed new West End redevelopment project next to the new Meridian High School. This extremely exciting 1.5 million SF project includes new senior housing units, market rate apartments, condominium units, office space, civic/public space, hotel rooms and over 100,000 SF of retail.
Suffice it to say that the EDA had a very busy and successful 2021 and looks forward to continuing to be involved in numerous important City initiatives in 2022!