It’s as true for businesses as it is for people: moving brings new opportunities, but saying goodbye to neighborhood friends often proves difficult.
Strayer University opened the doors of its new building in Courthouse last Tuesday, Oct. 2, after spending the last two decades in its old home at 3045 Columbia Pike. The move means increased opportunities for the county, Strayer and its students, officials say. But it also leaves behind the university’s home on the Pike just as the Pike revitalization process is getting a jump start.
"It's just like any other family [entering] into a community. Ours just happens to be the business community," said Mike Williams, Strayer University's Regional Director. "Our family has grown. Just like any other family, when your family grows, you need a bigger and better house."
Strayer's new "house" is a three-story, 54,000 square foot facility at 2121 15th St. N., just across from the county government center, and directly above the Courthouse Metro station.
"It's a giant development project with Metro and the county," said Chris Zimmerman, chair of both the County Board and the Metro Board of Directors.
The facility was designed around the "unique conditions of the site," he said, and will serve as a centerpiece to the Courthouse area. He noted that Strayer is an ideal match for the site because the university "will draw heavily from the Metro," rather than bringing cars during peak traffic times. Because the building is located directly on top of a Metro station, developers were unable to any underground parking.
<b>CONVENIENT METRO ACCESS</b> is a selling-point for the new facility. But Peter Owen said he hopes students and visitors to the Strayer building will also be aware of the off-peak parking available in the county lot across the street.
Owen, president of the Clarendon-Courthouse Civic Association, said the Courthouse area will benefit from Strayer's presence. "The addition of Strayer University to Clarendon is a positive development," he said.
Courthouse is home to a growing night life, Owen said, and students working at night will be a "moderating influence" on the hum and buzz of the neighborhood.
The addition of university students to an already active nightlife would ordinarily be cause for concerns among neighborhood residents. Strayer’s student body, however, is made up primarily of working adults, completing their education while earning a living and raising families.
Williams said the Clarendon/Courthouse area is home to many who could take advantage of Strayer's educational opportunities, and that Metro's availability will allow easy access for students from elsewhere.
Williams called the move to the new location "consistent with our mission...to make postsecondary education achievable for the working adult."
<b>STRAYER’S MOVE AWAY</b> from their Columbia Pike home comes just as efforts to revitalize the area are gaining steam.
Zimmerman says he was never happy about the timing of Strayer's move, since he expects upcoming revitalization to make the area appealing, for businesses or for the college. "I would have preferred to have kept them in the Pike corridor," he said. But university officials had decided that Metro access was necessary for their operation, and the Pike will not offer transit access in the near future.
Strayer’s move to be near Metro emphasizes the need to add a transit line to the Pike, Zimmerman said. "This underscores why we have to do some of the things we have to do on Columbia Pike," he said. Nevertheless, he says he is confident that the vacated space presents a prime opportunity for development options.
A number of businesses have expressed interest in the former Strayer site, but no deal has been finalized yet, said Joel Tornabeni of Donohoe Companies, Inc., the company managing the site. Some potential investors have proposed tearing down the old building to make way for homes, condos, or a new office complex.
<b>REDEVELOPMENT</b> of the Strayer building, located several blocks west of Walter Reed Drive and the Cinema and Drafthouse, could spark other projects along the Pike corridor, said Bob Rulli, community development coordinator in the county’s Office of Economic Development.
He said Strayer's move would not jeopardize revitalization efforts, and even called the timing of the move "advantageous," since it offers a chance for something new on the site without evicting the longtime tenant.
But for some in the neighborhood, Strayer's move does feel like displacement of a local institution. "We've been neighbors for so long, I feel like we're losing a neighbor and we're losing a friend," said Jay Wind, president of the nearby Arlington Heights Civic Association. "I'm going to miss the students; the neighborhood is going to miss them."
Wind said he also worries how Strayer's relocation will affect local businesses, particularly the restaurants surrounding Strayer's old building.
But the neighbors won’t miss the traffic, he added. "What we're not going to miss is 500 cars a day in our neighborhood. We're not going to miss the cars that come on Ninth Street to the Strayer parking lot, which is very poorly designed."
Tornabeni said that lot is likely to be sold along with Strayer’s old home and the building next door, which will be vacated soon by research firm Altarum. Rulli said that he and the county look at the open space as an opportunity for redevelopment, and hope that plans for that section of Columbia Pike will be finalized in the near future.