Just in case anybody thinks that nothing is being done on Richmond Highway, the Southeast Fairfax Development Corporation (SFDC) has a number. It's $816.7 million — the amount of money private investors have poured into the highway since 1990. Just in the past two years alone, investors have spent $433.5 million.
These numbers were touted and explained at The Mount Vernon-Lee Chamber of Commerce dinner held Monday evening at the Mount Vernon Inn. The subject was Economic Revitalization in Southeast Fairfax County. Speaking at the event were Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerry Hyland, Lee District Supervisor Dana Kauffman and Fairfax County Executive Tony Griffin. Chamber President Dan Rinzel moderated the meeting, noting the close relationship that the chamber has had with SFDC. He pointed out that several of the chamber members, such as Rick Genuario and Doug Jones, serve on the SFDC board as well.
"What a farsighted move it was to create the SFDC," said Rinzel. "The investment has brought returns above and beyond."
Before the featured speakers came on, SFDC President Rick Neel gave a brief introduction. "We have a lot to be proud of; there has been great progress in the area of economic development and renewal. There are tremendous opportunities and this promises to be another banner year. We have to thank our two superb supervisors who have made revitalization in Fairfax County a priority. We also thank Tony Griffin.
"The challenge is the future, where to go from here and make sure we balance our uses and strike the right balance," said Neel.
As would the other speakers, Neel talked about the importance of the new Army museum at Ft. Belvoir. The fact that it will bring in an estimated million visitors should give rise to new hotel and restaurant opportunities.
HYLAND THEN TOOK the podium, saying that some people had complained that there was too much residential development on the corridor. He explained that the residential development that occurred over the last 10 years was part of a comprehensive plan created by the Comprehensive Plan Task Force. He said several times during the course of the evening that this plan could be changed. Hyland also said that he had requested $250,000 for the development of the new Army Museum as part of the 2 percent Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT) increase; he hopes that this will be an annual allocation.
Hyland wrapped up by saying, "We need to look at where we were and where we are. It's an exciting feeling, an eclectic feeling. I feel that businessmen and developers are finally looking upon Richmond Highway as a place to make money. This didn't happen just because of the supervisors or planning commission; it happened because people on both sides wanted change. I am also happy to announce that there will be a vote for a bond referendum in 2006 to fund the revitalization effort."
Kaufmann recalled the three challenges he faced when he first came on as supervisor in 1995: the boarded-up buildings, Section Eight Housing and rundown motels. On display at the meeting were some of those blighted spaces. Projects Coordinator Stephanie Landrum had prepared displays with 'before and after' photos of Richmond Highway. Kauffman said that he was pleased to report that there are no longer boarded-up buildings, most of the old motels are gone, and Section Eight Housing has been spread throughout the county.
Kauffman then spoke about some of the opportunities that are coming to the Mount Vernon area: Kings Crossing, Hybla Valley and Buckman Road. He spoke about Fort Belvoir; how they are a huge employer and continues to grow. He also cited Inova Mount Vernon Hospital.
"Both sides of the highway rallied; now we need to leverage the property around the hospital," he said.
Kauffman was pleased to announce that Huntington was listed as number 10 of the 52 best neighborhoods in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. Also, that Jefferson Manor, which was one of the worst neighborhoods years ago, has now benefited from capital improvements and become a desirable place to live.
"This has become a community of choice; we have a lot to be happy for," said Kauffman.
GRIFFIN SPOKE about how he was a long-time resident of Northern Virginia and very familiar with Richmond Highway.
"Clearly, progress has been made. We've done some of the easy stuff, now we have to do the heavy lifting. There is a large vacancy rate for office space in the county. We're looking to make big things happening. You are very competitive. Believe it or not, we've held our value better than Dulles of Tysons Corner."
Rinzel addressed some of the questions that had been submitted prior to the meeting. The question of too much residential development was raised, and Hyland reiterated that the comprehensive plan could be changed.
A question about turning lanes and sidewalks was addressed by Hyland, who said that they are committed to doing the improvements. Kauffman said that there will be no major projects; instead things will be done in bits and pieces.
Sharon Kelso, executive director of United Community Ministries (UCM), had more of a comment than a question. She wanted the audience to know that they shouldn't be getting rid of public housing because "affordable housing respects and supports our workforce."
Another audience member asked about the Centerline Study. Hyland said that they are still working on the footprint. There was some discussion about the service drives, which Hyland said are basically ineffective because of the way they begin and end and have so many Stop signs.
As most people already knew, the opening of Old Mill Road has been approved as an alternative to the closing of Woodlawn Road. Hyland said, "It's not our preferred alternative, but we can live with it."
Fred Haynes, who is a new Chamber member, asked why there was not more focus on nanotechnology given the fact that the county has such a high-level workforce and income. Kauffman said that the Central Springfield Medical Campus was built to focus on biosciences and information technology.