Future Looks Bright At Dulles Expo Center

Future Looks Bright At Dulles Expo Center

The Capital Expo Center is no more; but the Dulles Expo Center is alive and well. And developer Bob Pence is sitting in the catbird seat.

In 1988, he and Howard Friedel formed a partnership, Pence-Friedel Developers Inc. of McLean, with Pence as president. The new entity then bought 50 acres at Willard Road and Route 28 in Chantilly and constructed all the buildings on it.

Today, it's the site of the two, expo center buildings and a slew of fast-food restaurants, plus a sit-down restaurant, Applebee's. And a new hotel there is rapidly nearing completion.

Pence-Friedel originally leased what later became the expo buildings to K mart, which subleased one structure to Builder's Square and the other to Pace Warehouse — both of which eventually went out of business.

Then in 1995, K mart subleased both buildings to the Capital Expo Center. But when K mart filed for bankruptcy, this January, said Pence, it "rejected the two leases with me and with the Capital Expo Center." As a result, Pence-Friedel now needed a new operator to run a business in those buildings.

"So we decided to form a new company, Dulles Expo LLC, to go into the convention and conference-center business," explained Pence. "We did not buy the business from Capital Expo, we're not its successor and we're not related to them in any way."

As of April 15, Dulles Expo closed the deal with Pence-Friedel, the landlord, to operate its new business there. "It made sense to open a conference and exposition business," explained Pence. "We knew the other business had been a success, and we thought we could be, too."

Most of the shows that were there before have been booked again, in addition to 10 new ones that will join this year's lineup. Said Pence: "We've already had a gift show and a quilt show there, so we're off to a good start."

And a hotel will make things even sweeter. About three years ago, Pence and others determined that this site in western Fairfax County would be a great place for a high-end hotel. The Pence family and McLean's Robert Oremland — who's already opened 30 Holiday Inns — formed a different company to build a six-story, 233-room Holiday Inn Select right near the Dulles Expo Center buildings.

This business/resort hotel will also have a Houlihan's restaurant and is scheduled to open around the end of June. "We think we'll get a lot of tourists," said Pence. "It's close to Dulles Airport and the entrance to the [National] Air and Space Museum" Annex, under construction off Route 50 in Chantilly.

There's also another practical reason that the hotel is being built at that location. "A lot of exhibitors [at the expo center] generate a lot of room nights," said Pence. "[But] over the years, a lot of exhibitors wouldn't come here because there wasn't a hotel on the premises."

Firmly believing that both Dulles Expo and the Holiday Inn Select will do great here, Pence attributed his optimism to all the businesses in the Route 28 Corridor. Besides, he added, "This property has proven itself to be a good spot. This has been a hot area for development and it's continuing to develop. We're ecstatic about the way this [expo] business has taken off already."