The City of Falls Church’s positioning in terms of current commercial marketing trends couldn’t be more ideal from a number of standpoints, a seasoned regional professional expert outlined to this Tuesday’s meeting of the F.C. Economic Development Authority.
Lisa Benjamin, for 34 years a senior managing director at Newmark, being a D.C. area representative of the major New York based real estate advisory and services firm under contract with the City of F.C.’s Economic Development Office, spelled out her best take on current trends in the post-Covid commercial markets and her analysis could not have fit better the way the City of F.C. sees itself going forward.
Present at the meeting, held at the downtown F.C. offices of Viget, a digital tech solutions firm, to hear Benjamin’s analysis were members of the F.C. City Council (Vice Mayor Letty Hardi and, remotely, Council member Phil Duncan), City Manager Wyatt Shields, City Senior Planner Jim Snyder, and members of the EDA chaired by local developer Bob Young.
Benjamin’s thought provoking presentation and the subsequent discussion appeared to dovetail almost perfectly with how the City of F.C. has come to see itself positioned for future robust growth in its small but highly strategic niche in the DMV (District, Maryland, Virginia) regional area.
This was in part due to her experience working on large scale Falls Church mixed use projects dating back to the Byron almost 20 years ago.
But it has been post-Covid trends that she focused on most in her presentation Tuesday, and her analysis of them, reflected her firm’s overall approach and generally conceded as true within the industry. They include the fact that there is a distinct demographic trend of migration out of urban centers into close-in suburban locations (i.e. such as Falls Church) that she predicts “is here to stay.”
Still, there will also continue to be a role for more traditional “bricks-and-mortar” retail, as “people want the retail experience” and retailers are tending more to look at their stores as places to showcase their products, which consumers may wind up buying online.
“People are wanting contact with others outside their homes or offices, places to socialize and experience community interaction,” she said. This has led to the development of indoor playground spaces, for example,
They also like having residential spaces anchored by grocery stores, and Falls Church is looking at an abundance of those – including the Harris Teeter currently below the new West Broad Apartments, the giant 55,000 square foot Whole Foods slated to go into the Insight Group’s large mixed use project currently rising out of the ground at Broad and Washington, and the large as yet officially an identified store due to go into the massive West Broad project at the corner of W. Broad and Haycock (right across the street from the existing Giant Food store there).
Medical uses are also rapidly on the rise in traditional retail spaces, as also seen in F.C. and around the area, despite the growth of tele-health uses during the Covid pandemic, and market uses range from drop-in clinics to suppliers of exercise equipment and anti-aging products and regimens. The overarching term is a takeoff on retail, known as “medtail.”
With Falls Church sandwiched between two of the largest medical campuses in the U.S., Inova to the west and Mayo Clinic to the east (the Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington now an affiliate of Mayo) and a lot in between, it is not surprising that a lot of retail spaces in Falls Church are being taken up by “medtail” uses.
These also include sports training facilities, medical spas and other welllness uses, not to mention unique food uses, such as butchers, bagel, ice cream and cheese retailers.
The trend is toward smaller footprints for retail spaces, with less expensive build-out costs, inclusive of smaller, local retailers who will be more likely to want to give back to their local community. They also include day care, educational, pet related uses and design studios.
EDA chair Bob Young, a local developer, said he thinks Falls Church, by virtue of these criteria, “is in a prime location” to both offer and benefit from all the trends.
The trend is also toward younger adults, and Vice Mayor Hardi noted that the data shows 32 percent of adults in F.C. are now between 18 and 39 years of age, and over half now live in something other than the traditional single family home.
All of this, still, begs the question of the City’s commitment to affordable housing, on the one hand, and commitment to providing for its elderly, on the other, the EDA’s Jim Coyle noted.