Christmas came a little early for Fairfax County and the Virginia Department of Transportation this year. Like a stocking, the state's coffers were filled with nearly $2 million from Plaza America, the Sunset Hill Road commercial office complex in Reston.
Supervisor Catherine Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill) was on hand to accept a check for $1,845,000, on behalf of the department of transportation, at a ceremony Friday morning.
Hudgins thanked representatives from the ownership group, calling Plaza America, "a vibrant center for commerce" in Reston and said the proffers were a "welcome addition to the county coffers."
While the state will hold on the money until it is allocated, eventually, the funds must be spent on projects in and around the Reston commercial complex.
<b>"THE GREAT THING</b> about these proffers is that they are tied to the surrounding area," said Christopher M. Fencel, the development manager for Atlantic Realty Companies, one of the two joint venture developers of Plaza America. "We were able to negotiate a boundary around the plaza so that the money we were investing went into improvements in the surrounding neighborhood. With this payment the county gets all the money up front, so we are all happy."
David A. Ross, the president of Atlantic Realty, said it was important to keep the money close to home. The original proffer was agreed to in 1989 and then reorganized in 1995. At that time, the owners and the county finalized a deal that would assure any proffer money would stay within "the neighborhood." "We made it clear that we wanted it to stay within the vicinity of the project," Ross said at Friday's ceremony. "Let's fix our neighborhood, let's not fix Springfield."
The deal worked out specified that proffer payments would be used within specific local boundaries between Fairfax County Parkway to the west, Hunter Mill Road to the east, Temporary Road to the north and Sunrise Valley Drive to the south.
<b>THE CHECK REPRESENTS</b> the fourth and final portion of approximately $4 million of zoning proffer payments for local transportation improvements by Plaza America since 1992. Earlier payments helped fund the park-and-ride facility on Wiehle Avenue and the widening of Sunset Hills Road.
Hudgins said she is working with staff to determine the best use for the $1.8 million. "We want to fund the most critically important transportation improvements in the area," she said, adding that she knew of a few walking paths and sidewalks that were incomplete. "When we talk about transportation improvements, people always assume we are talking about roads or trains, but that is not always the case."
In 1994, the Plaza America site was re-zoned for mixed-use development to provide "synergy," according to Ross. Currently, the retail component has 165,000 square feet, anchored by Whole Foods and Michael's. "It has worked out great," Ross said. Employees can park their cars in the covered lots and they don't have to get back in them until they leave that night. They can just walk over to the many restaurants in Plaza America for lunch."
Hudgins agreed. "Plaza America is an excellent example of a mixed-use project," the Hunter Mill supervisors said. "It is demonstrated well here every day, especially at lunch time. It is a reflection of what we can do."
Approximately 10,000 employees work on the 27-acre lot that houses more than one million square feet of office space, according to Ross. "That is why we are one of the most successful retail centers in the entire metro-area," he said.
The Plaza America management group said it was pleased to make the final payment in one lump sum, ahead of schedule, rather than incrementally as the third and fourth towers continue to get close to full occupancy. Currently 95 percent of the office space is leased, said a spokesman for Plaza America. Ross said he hopes to announce a new "big" tenant in the next 30 days. If that happens, he said, Plaza America will be 100 percent leased, at a time when vacancies are popping up all over the Reston-Herndon core.
Hudgins, in turn, was happy to get the payment up front, because, she says it will give her and the county staff ample time to determine the best use of the money. "In light of current budget shortfalls, developer contributions to local transportation improvements are increasingly important," said Hudgins. "We are pleased that the developers of Plaza America decided to fulfill their proffer contributions ahead of schedule, so that the county can make optimum use of these funds."