The redevelopment of Old Town Fairfax, decades in the making, has begun.
In March 2004, the City Council selected a bid from Trammel Crow Company, J. Donegan Company and Walnut Street Development, who had teamed up to take on the redevelopment project. On July 26, the City Council, meeting jointly with the Planning and Zoning Commission and Board of Architectural Review, approved the conceptual plan for redevelopment.
"This is not where we’ve started, this is where we’re ending the formal process so that we can roll up our sleeves," said Mayor Rob Lederer at the meeting.
The project has several parts. First, utility lines in the Old Town area will be undergrounded. Once that and some road improvements along Main Street are finished, said city manager Bob Sisson, Main and North streets will become two-way streets. Currently, Main Street runs eastbound while North Street runs westbound. This stage of the project should be finished by late fall, said Sisson.
After utilities are placed underground and the two-way switch is complete, said Sisson, buildings will go up. The Logan-Sipan site, which consists of five lots, including the former site of the post office, flanked by Chain Bridge Road, North Street and University Drive, will become a walkable mixed-use area called Old Town Village. These buildings will surround a four-to-five-story parking garage. The Webb parking lot, just off North Street, will become a mixed-use building, and the site of the Fairfax City Regional Library will become condominiums. Groundbreaking for new buildings is slated for Sept. 23, said Sisson.
"It’s unbelievable. It’s been trying to happen for 30 years," said Bobby Montagne of Walnut Street Development. "No one’s been able to get a real vibrant pedestrian, restaurant, outdoor stuff to happen."
The redevelopment project will cost $100 million and would add 60,000 feet of retail and 75,000 feet of office space, said Montagne. The developers will sell this space rather than lease it, he said.
The project has no large anchor, such as a movie theater or hotel, but such a project would not be in keeping with the City of Fairfax’s character, said Montagne.
"It will look really nice, and enhance the downtown area," said Councilmember Jeff Greenfield. "[The plan is] trying to make the buildings look like they have always been there."
Sisson described the city’s vision of the redevelopment as "a more pedestrian-friendly environment downtown, with more vibrancy, more opportunities for people to dine and get entertainment … one that is not so visually dominated by the automobile."
"This process has involved lots of creative thinking," said Lederer.
"One of the challenges is working to make sure that we still take care of the businesses on Main Street, because those businesses have been there for a long time," said Greenfield.
Matt Stoeckel, who runs Executive Press on Main Street, echoed many of the merchants’ fears, foremost among them parking. "Along with all the new parking spots, the new businesses are going in and they’re going to fill those spots," he said.
THE PARKING situation also worried Poppy Tsaderakis, who has owned the Have-A-Bite deli for two and a half years. It is very difficult to park near Main Street, she said, especially on Friday and Saturday evenings.
"We don’t have parking in the city," said Tsaderakis. "They try to take parking from the back, and I don’t know why they’re putting it on the other side. Now we pay all this, and they don’t do nothing for us."
"I hope the city takes that into consideration, that some businesses need to be provided parking," said Anna Marlow, who owns the Marlow Ink tattoo shop on Main Street.
"More people in downtown will increase foot traffic everywhere," said Greenfield.
With redevelopment, however, comes growing pains, such as traffic delays during construction, and confusion when Main and North Streets switch to two-way.
"The biggest thing right now is that everybody has got to be patient with us," said Greenfield. "A lot of construction means a lot of delays. This is just the beginning, but in the end, this will be a project that will enhance the downtown and bring more people to it."
Sisson urged travelers to visit the city’s Web site [www.fairfaxva.gov], where information on construction projects and traffic delays are updated daily.
"Things are going as anticipated," said Sisson. "We’re pleased to be finally underway and trying to make sure to keep the residents and travelers informed of all the traffic changes."