Bigger Than Mosaic, Dig At West End Begins

Mark your calendars now! September 2024, just over two years from now, the Grand Opening of the biggest development, by far, in the City of Falls Church, will be held. The massive West Falls mixed use project promises to be bigger and more prosperous than the recently-completed Merrifield-based Mosaic a couple miles down the road.

Robin Bettarel, the young and dynamic executive in charge of the development for Hoffman and Associates, told the News-Press this week in an exclusive interview that although there’s a huge amount of building that is just now getting underway on the more than 40 acres involved at the west end of the Little City, the biggest challenge was met last month when the financing for the entire undertaking was secured.

She didn’t diminish the fact that construction cost and supply chain issues will continue to be challenges going forward, but there is tremendous optimism among all the developers – Hoffman and Associates having joined with EYA and Rushmark, and in conjunction with Hitt – tasked with sewing together three adjacent sites, the 10 acres in the City of Falls Church, another seven acres leased to Virginia Tech and over 20 acres owned by WMATA at its West Falls Church Metrorail station for an seamless development of the 40 acres.

Last week, a flag and balloon-laden groundbreaking for the 10 acres in Falls Church was held after a lengthy lease signing process at the F.C. City Hall that wore out the wrists of all the parties involved. It kicked off this latest construction stage of a process that dated back a decade to when the City of F.C. acquired the land in a swap with Fairfax County that exchanged ownership of the City’s water system for the land and cash, a deal cut in November 2012 that was subsequently approved by a public referendum.

That deal followed years of contentious disputes between the City and Fairfax Water that arose when the county began competing directly with the City for water services in the county a few years earlier. Despite being challenged by the much bigger Fairfax County, the Little City of F.C. came out of the negotiations with a veritable gold mine in hand that is now being put to development by some of the nation’s most reputable and experienced large-scale developers.

Bettarel noted that the West Falls project, while comparable to the Mosaic in geographic size, is expected to do considerably better overall because of its superior location, being at the intersection of a Metrorail station, the I-66 Interstate highway and the I-495 Beltway nearby.

She added that it would also have more of an “outward focus” toward the City of Falls Church and environs and praised the involvement of the Falls Church citizenry in advancing the project by its engagement with the process from the beginning. The “community effort and impact” have played major roles in the project’s success so far, she noted.

Bettarel told the News-Press that a dominant feature of F.C.’s 10 acres of the project will be its “wellness focus,” with up to 50 percent of a 125,000 square foot office building on Route 7 being occupied by a major health care provider. It will be equidistant between two existing major wellness institutions, the Inova and Virginia Hospital Center operations. Also, a 400-unit residential building will begin construction in the earliest phase.

The earliest stages of construction will see “a lot of earth work going on” as the basis for parking at what will be two major buildings that will mark the opening stages of the construction. “A lot of dirt hauling trucks and bulldozers will be active” right away, she said.

This will include work on clearing before the start of classes at the new, adjacent Meridian High School along what has been dubbed as Mustang Alley to be a route into the site. It’s the first project of this scale that Bettarel has been in charge of, and she said she’s very excited about it. Under her in major roles are Caroline Crawford, Andrea Dudney and Charles Battle. It’s not been lost on her, she said, the major role that women are playing as leaders in the effort. “Innovative development practices that put the community first preceded last week’s groundbreaking,” it was noted.

According to a Hoffman statement, “The transit-oriented neighborhood will be pedestrian friendly and offer bike paths in addition to being conveniently located near the West Falls Church Metrorail station as well as Leesburg Pike (Route 7) and Route 66, both are key connectors of the DMV region.

Upon completion, the neighborhood will serve as a gateway to the City of Falls Church, which is known for its dynamic culture, strong educational system, vibrant local retail, commitment to sustainability and welcoming community.” The project will feature The Commons, an activated park at the center of the neighborhood that will provide almost an acre of open space for community use as well as public art and activation, apartments, condominiums, senior living, retail, hotel, a medical office, and cultural space. The expansive project will feature 1.2 million square feet of development across nearly 10 acres.

West Falls is the first component of a larger 40-acre community-focused development of the area between Leesburg Pike (Route 7) and the West Falls Church Metrorail Station that is intended to add to the vibrant neighborhood with an active and pedestrian-friendly area that fosters community, sustainability and innovation.

“The West Falls project will create a vibrant, walkable destination for the community and region to enjoy, while generating the tax revenue to pay for the new Meridian High School next door. It’s a win-win for our community and I congratulate all on reaching this important milestone,” said David Tarter, Mayor of Falls Church.

Building connectivity in the community is a core focus of the project. The heart of West Falls will be The Commons, offering 18,000 square feet of outdoor community gathering space. This central gathering space will offer ample outdoor seating, flexible spaces with moveable furniture, fire pits and a fountain for children to play in, while also serving as a welcoming space for seasonal community events and programming.

The residential component of the project features three buildings including apartments, condominium residences and senior living, offering over 800,000 square feet of residential space in total.
The 371,000 square-foot mixed-income apartment building includes 400 apartment residences. The 174,000 square-foot condominium building includes 126 condominium residences. West Falls will also feature a 260,000 square-foot, 215-unit, best-in-class senior living facility, operated by a nationally recognized senior living operator which will be developed by Trammell Crow

Company. The first phase of development will also include 125,000 square feet of medical office space, providing a best-in-class healthcare use, also developed by Trammell Crow Company.

Retail will also be a key focus for the neighborhood with 123,000 square feet of ground-floor retail carefully curated with the community in mind. Offerings will include a 40,000 square-foot nationally recognized grocer and a mix of national and local concepts including personal care, fitness, shopping, dining and a daycare.

Centrally located within the neighborhood, West Falls will also feature a modern 146-key hotel, Home2 Suites, an extended-stay Hilton-brand offering spacious rooms in a dynamic setting.

West Falls will be built by a group of best-in-class general contractors that were tailor-selected for their areas of expertise and abilities to perform. Clark Construction will build the project’s site work, one garage structure, two TCC panels and the condominium. Coakley Williams will construct the hotel, and Bozzuto Construction has been selected as the contractor for the apartments and a second garage.

Hoffman and Associates secured investments, closed on two large loans and executed a 99-year ground lease with the City of Falls Church for West Falls.

Through Hoffman and Associates’ multi-faceted approach, the developer has assembled debt and equity capital totaling nearly $400 million for the apartments, condominiums, retail, hotel, public space and parking, including over $260 million of construction debt, over $107 million in equity and other sources and over $24 million in public financing.

Mack Real Estate Credit Strategies provided $200 million of construction financing, and an affiliate of Rockwood Capital made an equity investment, capitalizing nearly half of the development. This includes 123,000 square feet of retail, as well as the 146-key hotel, an apartment building, 964 garage parking spaces and The Commons.

EagleBank served as the lender for a construction loan of over $60 million and Grosvenor, through its Structured Development Finance business, provided financing for the condominium with ground floor retail.

Trammell Crow Company will be developing and sourcing financing for the medical office and senior living buildings that are a part of West Falls.