When the Richmond Highway-Springfield bus tour pulled out of the MetroPark development two weeks ago, it was packed — full of developers, real estate brokers, elected officials and county personnel. They were there to look at the sites available for commercial development along Richmond Highway or Springfield near Fort Belvoir.
Coordinated by the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority (FCEDA) in cooperation with Fairfax County Supervisors Gerry Hyland and Dana Kauffman and the Southeast Fairfax Development Corporation, the tour focused on the Richmond Highway (U.S. Route 1) and Springfield areas. These areas are likely to attract more development interest if Fort Belvoir gains 18,000 or more jobs as proposed by the Federal Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission.
About 50 individuals participated in the tour, including FCEDA staff, Fairfax County supervisors Dana Kauffman (Lee District) and Gerald Hyland (Mount Vernon District) and top officials of the county departments of Housing and Community Development, Planning and Zoning, and Transportation, and the Southeast Fairfax Development Corporation.
ATTENDEES GATHERED in the morning at 6359 Walker Lane, a building that is part of the MetroPark office campus near the intersection of the Franconia-Springfield Parkway and Beulah Street. Developed by Fried Companies Inc. and managed by Cushman & Wakefield, MetroPark was the first site available for viewing and guests were treated to a continental breakfast before the tour.
Ivy Richards, director, FCEDA Market Research and Real Estate, introduced Kauffman, who said, “To picture all these brokers and reporters at this hour of the morning, you can see how hungry they are [for development]. What you’re going to see [on the tour] is that this is where all the interstates come together. If you don’t buy the dirt now, you won’t be able to afford it later.”
Kauffman offered incentive to developers by adding, “Whatever you find today that you like, I promise that I will expedite the processing.”
Dave Millard, senior director of Cushman & Wakefield, said that you can get a flavor of what the Fried family has known about the Springfield area — “It’s a fantastic place for development. They have enjoyed great success here at MetroPark — it’s very convenient and serves client’s and employee’s needs. It’s near a hundred plus restaurants, 300 stores and the Metro. The new building will have the same kind of great amenities.”
BEFORE THE TOUR, Lara VandeWalle-Fritts, executive director of Southeast Fairfax Development Council (SFDC), said that she was very optimistic about the turnout, adding, “There are a number of brokers who have never spent time on Richmond Highway.”
Rick Neel, president of the SFDC Board of Directors, said, “In light of the BRAC decision, this is well-timed to showcase to development companies the opportunities for office space on Richmond Highway and Springfield. The BRAC relocation to Fort Belvoir will be a major transitional event for Southeast Fairfax County and we will easily see office property on Richmond Highway double.”
Neel estimates that there is currently about a million square feet of office space on Richmond Highway and thinks that they will see another million square feet at a minimum.
“We want to position Richmond Highway to take full advantage of the opportunities and to have properties that are properly planned for development,” Neel said. “We will work with leaders to expedite the installation of transportation options.”
Neel said that now they’re talking about 19,000 additional Department of Defense employees. Given the fact that Fort Belvoir’s current population is almost 22,000 that means that the base will almost double in size. It is believed that a significant number of clients will follow these employees to the base and need office space.
“Some have talked about a 1-to-1 correlation,” Neel said. “That’s a significant amount of office space. The introduction of significant office space is good for the whole community because a daytime population will spur a greater variety of restaurants and retail opportunities that we have long desired to have. It will also provide a commercial tax base and provide employment opportunities.”
AFTER BREAKFAST, the group went to view 12 other properties, including Franconia-Springfield Metro, GSA Warehouse, Engineer Proving Ground (EPG), Kingstowne Center, Huntington Metro, Kings Crossing, Groveton Heights, Mount Vernon Gateway, Smitty’s Lumberteria, IMP Building, Agape Christian School, and Gunston Commerce Center.
After the tour, VandeWalle-Fritts said, “I was very pleased with the response we have received from the EDA bus tour. Many meetings have been scheduled with brokers and developers on the tour to follow up on properties highlighted during the tour. There was an overall interest in Richmond Highway, and since many of the properties highlighted were near Fort Belvoir, those were of particular interest.”
Hyland said that he thought the tour was a plus but thought that next time it should be restructured to have SFDC or the supervisors talk about the properties.
“I don’t think the true flavor of the area came out as loud and clear as I hoped,” he said. “We didn’t have the interaction we had hoped for and I don’t think we engaged the group as much as we could have. I do think we can and should do it again.”