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A Midtown Makeover

KSI, McGuire Woods outline plan for Midtown Springfield redevelopment to include restaurants, central plaza.

So long Tower Building, hello public plaza, sidewalk cafes and a long parking garage that looks like an office building.

On Friday, Jan. 20, the Economic Development Committee of the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce heard an updated presentation about the Midtown Springfield project from KSI Developers, the company contracted to design and redevelop the nine-acre property. The property is in the area where the Tower Building and Bob Evans Restaurant currently stand on Bland Avenue, near Interstate 95 South and Old Keene Mill Road.

“We’re trying to be good listeners and most importantly, we want to make sure we do this right,” said Matt Slavin, project manager from KSI. “There’s a lot of community interest in our project.”

With a plan that includes one 28-story residential building, two more over 10 stories tall, several office buildings and lots of underground parking, the Midtown Springfield project should serve as a catalyst for the revitalization of the area, Slavin said.

“What we’re doing is putting flesh on the skillet,” said David Gill from McGuire Woods, the law firm representing KSI. “This is going to be a mixed use project with lots of opportunities to put feet on the street.”

Gill said to make the contained community of office and residential space more pedestrian friendly, KSI and McGuire Woods have enlisted the help of Sasaki and Associates, the landscaping firm working on the grounds for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, to create greenscapes for the project.

Currently, KSI and McGuire Woods are in the process of having their rezoning application examined by the Fairfax County Planning Commission, Gill said. Once the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors have given the plan the go-ahead, he said it should take about another 12 months to get permits in order to begin construction.

“We hope to start working on this in summer 2007 and to have the first buildings completed in spring 2009,” he said.

THE PLAN ALSO includes a 160,000 square foot hotel, complete with a full service restaurant, and a five or six story parking garage with a "green" roof, providing residents who would look down on it a grassy view and absorbing some rain water that may otherwise cause localized flooding, Gill said. The garage will also serve as a sound barrier, blocking noise from the residential building that will be built at the end of the garage and the commercial space in the middle of the development.

“Our key for this area is ground-floor retail under residential space,” Gill said. By offering a shuttle service to the Springfield-Franconia Metro station, people who live in Midtown Springfield won’t need to rely on their cars to shop or commute, thereby cutting back on traffic, he said.

Traffic impact on the outside community has been the "number one concern from the public," Gill said. KSI has been looking into ways to abate the amount of car trips into and out of the midtown project, including an on-site Zip Car, slug line and ride sharing possibilities.

"Are we going to make traffic better? Probably not," Gill said. "We are going to try to minimize the impact outside the midtown area, plus we're working on an existing street grid so there's lots of ways to get in and out."

Still, residents will have to have a place to park their cars. KSI is planning to build a long parking garage along the outer edge of the development, to act as a sound barrier in addition to housing vehicles.

“We will make sure the parking garage doesn’t look like a parking garage from the outside,” Slavin said. “It has been stressed to us that this community needed to be aesthetically pleasing and of very high quality.”

In the center of the plan is a half-acre public plaza, lined with restaurants that will feature sidewalk seating. “We’re hoping for something similar to what Sasaki did with the Reston Town Center Amphitheater,” Gill said. “There will most likely be a water feature of some sort, wide sidewalks and a lot of green space.”

Although not included in the current drawings, Gill said an archway will be built between two residential towers on one end of the plaza, both to bring in “as much light as possible, so nine months out of the year we can have people out there enjoying the plaza,” but also to create a visual boundary to the central plaza.

The majority of the 800 residential units will be sold at “market prices,” Slavin said, but it’s too soon to estimate what those prices will be until closer to their availability.

“We do envision this as an upper quality environment,” he said. “Typically, where we’ve built our other projects, like in Reston and along Pentagon Row, we find that our residents are empty nesters or young professionals with a good amount of disposable income.”

A possibility exists, he said, that the demand for the units, and in turn their cost, can fluctuate between now and in several years when they are ready for people to move.

In addition, Slavin said that Supervisor Dana Kauffman (D-Lee) has expressed interest in securing some community space within the Midtown Springfield project.

“We have talked a little with the public library system, maybe to move or anchor the library here,” Gill said. Early estimates indicate about 20,000 square feet may be available, which Gill said could be turned into a “Barnes and Noble-style public library.”

“We haven’t talked with the library board yet, but there’s been some support for the idea from Supervisor Kauffman’s office,” Gill said.

THE MIDTOWN SPRINGFIELD project will serve as “the gateway to Fairfax County” for those driving north on I-95, Slavin said.

Combined with the recent sale of the Springfield Mall and continued work on the Mixing Bowl, Gill said the time to act on revitalizing Springfield is now.

“If we don’t act quickly with this plan, individual owners may come in and pick off properties which will make it more difficult to assemble an overall project,” Gill said. KSI currently does have ownership or contracts for all of the properties that make up the 9.5 acre site.

Members of the Chamber of Commerce applauded the developers' vision.

“We feel it’s important for this project to come together quickly,” said Vince Stubbs, a chamber board member.

Referring to an aerial image of the site as it currently stands, he pointed out the Tower building and large expanses of gray, industrial-looking lots. “We’re stuck between the growth in Reston and in Alexandria. We need this. If we miss the boat, it could be another 10 to 15 years before an opportunity like this comes along again.”

As president of the Chamber of Commerce, Tracy Betts said she’s happy with the plan presented by KSI.

“The residents of Springfield have a lot of people who have worked very hard to get here,” she said. “To the Chamber, it is extremely important that this project succeed. There are businesses in the community that will rely on it, and we know the county is working very hard to pull this all together.”