The Falls Church City Council this Monday pressed ahead with the next stage of its complicated agreement to advance the development of the extraordinary mixed use development project at the site of now demolished George Mason High School. It OK’d a series of moves to convey the property to the City’s Economic Development Authority (EDA) and open the way for the West Falls Partners group to commence with work on the 10 acre site.
The steps also involved, in a separate action, the conveyance of 7.5 acres of City owned land that Virginia Tech had been leasing for 25 years adjacent the City’s 10 acres and that plans to be folded into a massive plan for over 40 acres to link the City-owned site, the Virginia Tech site and 23 acres owned by WMATA at the West Falls Church rail station into one seamless whole.
While this much bigger plan proceeds apace, a lot of its many moving parts will take years to properly sort out and get going. But one of its central features is not going to wait, Shields revealed this Monday.
He told the News-Press in an aside at the meeting that the central spine connecting all three properties, being now known as the agreed-upon name of the “West Falls Station Boulevard,” that will run from Leesburg Pike through to the West Falls Church Metro station, is already well into its planning and with money from the City’s Smart Cities grant, will be put ahead of the rest of the effort to be ready for public use by 2023.
Meanwhile, all the documents required to convey properties on the site, with F.C. City Attorney Carol McCoskrie spearheading the effort with help from a battery of seasoned land attorneys, are being readied for a comprehensive 2023 closing, even as work on the “West Falls Station Boulevard” linkage proceeds.
The overall effort is proceeding as area media reports of the problems facing WMATA and the overall regional Metro system are being reported. Ridership on the long troubled system nosedived during the Covid crisis, and has not rebounded, down over 80 percent, according to reports.
So the ability to manage a rebound is key to everything being proposed for the West Falls Metro station site, where ridership dropped precipitously prior to Covid, due to the opening of the Silver Line that will link the Dulles Airport with points to its east, spurning off at the East Falls Church station and leaving the West Falls Church station like an abandoned step child.
So the effort to revive the West Falls Church station also preceded the pandemic, and Falls Church is in the middle of that effort, offering the biggest portion of the 40 plus acres with its own dense mixed use effort.
As terms of the new deal with Virginia Tech are hammered out, it is noted that the City’s original deal to lease the property to the school (which originally included the University of Virginia, as well) was considered by many here as a giveaway by the City, the lease terms being $1 per year for 25 years, if at any point the tenants decided to buy or sell the land, the expected value was set in the early 1990s at $2.5 million.
Now, however, the sale price has ballooned to $25 million, and terms of its conveyance by the City render a third of the sale price to the City, or about $8.5 million.
That sum is not encumbered currently, so it will come to the City as an acquisition when the deal is closed.
In addition to Virginia Tech, which has plans to operate a National Center for Innovative Construction Technology there, and along with the corporate headquarters of Hitt Construction (a subset of Rushmark developers), there will be some 400 rental apartments built on the site.