2024-05-21 6:29 PM

Shovlin’s Historical Rehash Sets Record Straight

News of the major deal by the City of Falls Church to sell a 7.42 acre property that has been home to the Northern Virginia campus of Virginia Tech since 1995 was this paper’s lead story for its July 28 edition. It is part of a massive overall deal to convert three separate properties by the West Falls Church Metro station into over 40 acres of one of the biggest multi-use business and commercial campuses in the entire region.

HARRY SHOVLIN, the City’s ‘unofficial Mayor.’ (News-Press Photo)

The story elicited for those with longer memories here a recollection of what many felt at the time was a ridiculously lopsided perceived giveaway by the City of a big chunk of what some of the most potentially lucrative real estate in the region.

It was a misperception the News-Press inadvertently took part in, not having been given access to the important details of the arrangement at the time. When last month’s historic deal for $25 million, of which portion $8,300,000 comes to the City, it accrued far, far more than the $1 a year many had been led to believe by virtue of the City’s apparent commitment to secrecy at the time.

So, as local historian and unofficial mayor Harry Shovlin has now documented, and as his recent research into the matter has so confirmed. Shovlin is a ubiquitous man about town and leader of a local veterans group, former high school teacher and still the best handyman in the business. If he can’t, he knows who in town is the most reliable person to fix just about anything.
His research confirms the following:

The City originally purchased the 7.42 acres, known as the Kisling Tract, for $283,000, and used the site as garden plots for F.C. citizens for a number of years and as a buffer between the West Falls Church Metro station and the then-George Mason High School.

Then, in leasing the land to Virginia Tech (and the University of Virginia jointly at the time), the City received $500,000 up front, an agreement that the universities would foot the bill on a computer room and distance-learning room at the old high school next door for $400,000 and $35,000 a year for 20 years for $700,000. Only on top of that was the much-publicized $1 a year for 20 years.

But that was not all. In addition, Fairfax County, on which the Kissling Tract was officially located and which saw considerable merit to winning the competitive bidding to get the universities to locate here, gave the City in exchange for its support a very generous deal on the old Whittier High School property on the other side of town on Hillwood Avenue.

The property included the old high school there and land across the street that became the Larry Graves Fields of today.

Originally, the county was trying to sell the Whittier site to the City for $3 million. But when it was discovered that the federal government had built the Whittier School at no cost to the county, county officials were persuaded to give it to the City as part of the deal for the Kisling Tract.

The conditions to the City were that the City demolish the old Whittier School (which as one time was home to Falls Church High School that subsequently relocated into its current location in Fairfax County and also to the private Flint Hill school that occupied the building for a number of years) and rehabilitate what became known as the Larry Graves fields, named for a popular girls soccer coach who died of cancer. The demolition included the removal of all the asbestos from the old Whittier School.

Secretive negotiations on all that were achieved at the time by then-Falls Church Mayor Brian O’Connor and then-Fairfax Supervisor (and later U.S. congressman) Tom Davis.

Also agreed to was significant traffic calming measures along Hillwood Avenue, a request from the Hillwood Association.

The City subsequently sold the Whittier site to a residential developer for $9,600,000. Minus the cost of demolition, the rehab of the fields and modest traffic calming improvements, the net to the City from that deal was $8,260,000.

The bottom line is that the City’s net of $8,260,000 for the Whittier Site and $8,300,000 as the City’s share of the recent sale of the graduate center site totals $17,580,020 to the City in exchange for the original purchase price of $283,000 for the Kisling site.

That is a $17,580,020 net return to the City.

Now, there’s no telling how much the City will gain from the sale of the 7.42 acre grad site now when it is coupled with the City’s 10 acres and WMATA’s 23 acres to build up the massive project around the West Falls Church station.

Not too shabby, it’s safe to say.


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