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Town Center Emerging in Springfield?

A developer is proposing a major mixed-use development for central Springfield

A big-name developer has stepped up to the plate and is prepared to pitch the home run project for which Springfield revitalization leaders have been waiting.

Vienna-based developer KSI Services, Inc. is preparing to file papers with the Fairfax County Office of Planning and Zoning, the first step in the process of creating what it is calling "Midtown Springfield," a large-scale, mixed-use project that would transform the skyline of Springfield by, most notably, tearing down the Springfield Tower office building.

"We’ve worked all this time on designing what our ideals were, and what the kind of mix we wanted was in that area. And they pretty much came up with what we asked for," said Elizabeth "Skeeter" Scheid, president of the Central Springfield Area Revitalization Council (CSPARC).

The project is still in its formative stages, with formal presentations having been made to CSPARC, the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce, and a few community groups.

"We think this is a unique opportunity to create a real signature type of downtown oriented, mixed-use development area in Springfield," said Matt Slavin, director of project planning for KSI, which is working in cooperation with Federal Realty Investment Trust to put the project together.

The development would occupy an 8.8-acre site in Springfield north of Old Keene Mill Road and west of Interstate 95. Other boundaries include Brandon Road and Commerce Street. Slavin said KSI has "assembled" the site and current plans call for complete leveling and redevelopment of the site, which includes the Springfield Tower office building.

"We did what many people have been reluctant to do for some time in Springfield. We went out, evaluated what we thought would be a well-suited revitalization project for the area, and then we went out and made offers to property owners to purchase their property," said Slavin.

THE SITE also includes a Holiday Inn Express, Bob Evans restaurant, and a veterinary clinic. All tenants, according to Slavin, would be willing to move to other locations, should the project be approved.

"To think that we could change the skyline of Springfield is very exciting. This is a great opportunity for Springfield to finally get itself on the map," said Ron Devine, who has owned the 15-story Tower office building since the mid-1990s.

The area in which the project is proposed is part of the Springfield Commercial Revitalization District, which means it contains flexible language under the Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan.

Supervisor Dana Kauffman (D-Lee) said his staff has received preliminary plans from developers and is encouraged by the proposal.

"I think this could be a fine project for central Springfield, but we certainly are wanting to make certain the community is heard from and that we follow the normal Lee District process of citizen-directed development," said Kauffman, who said he anticipates working with members of Supervisor Elaine McConnell's (R-Springfield) office to get further input about what the project would mean for the greater Springfield area.

"Done right, this is a significant benefit for a larger area," said Kauffman.

Jeff McKay, Kauffman's chief of staff, said as the project is currently proposed, it wouldn't need any amendments to the county's Comprehensive Plan, since it fits within the more flexible plan language that was rewritten several years ago to accommodate potential uses under Springfield's status as a Commercial Revitalization District.

"It will match what the Comprehensive Plan calls for," said McKay, who noted that in addition to county staff, private citizens participated in the task force which helped re-write the plan language for development similar to what KSI is proposing.

"Here you have a case where the people have said 'This is what we want.' The real question is how it goes over with the larger community and how they still feel about it," he said.

KSI is currently involved in development projects at Reston Town Center and One Metropolitan Place in Arlington. The project in Springfield would include a mix of commercial retail, commercial office, hotel, multi-family residences, and civic uses, according to Slavin.

Scheid said she was also encouraged by the attention to other desires by CSPARC, such as wide sidewalks, on-street parking, and plazas for public gathering places. The hope is, said Scheid, that the attention of a developer like KSI would spur other developers to take an interest in other areas within the Springfield Revitalization District.

"This is the piece that would do it. If this doesn't do it, nothing will," she said. "Once that happens, and it's a success, I'd look for it to happen all the way around."

Slavin said law firm McGuire Woods, which is handling the zoning application process, was planning on submitting the paperwork within the month.