Reinventing a Market-Friendly Springfield

Reinventing a Market-Friendly Springfield

After years of Springfield being little more than an interchange, ULI urges the creation of an new identity.

After years of "taking one for the region," a services advisory panel from the Urban Land Institute has decided it's time for Springfield to put itself first in order to create a sense of place and identity in the future.

During a two-hour presentation Friday morning, May 26, the nine-member panel, consisting of land-use experts from around the country, summed up their week-long study of the infrastructure and planned development in Springfield and offered their suggestions for making the area successful.

"Development will happen," began panel chairman David Leininger. "We have a responsibility to do it in the right way and the best way."

Between Monday, May 22 and Thursday, May 25, the nine panelists studied the proposed KSI Midtown Springfield development; planned changes to the Springfield Mall from its new owners, Vornado Realty Trust; and the possible changes to the Army's Engineer Proving Grounds and the General Services Administration Building as a result of the BRAC changes mandated to take place by 2011. They offered a 116-slide PowerPoint presentation to developers, politicians and business leaders at the Springfield Hilton Friday morning.

Their suggestions were to be looked at as a “framework” for improvements that might be made, Leininger said, admitting that some of the ideas may be “hard to do.”

DISCUSSING THE ROLE of government in the marketplace, panelist Michael Maxwell said his first objective was to find ways to make planned redevelopment fiscally worthwhile.

“The government needs to embrace private developers in order to get something both parties want to have,” he said. Relaunching the Springfield Mall and including new amenities, like a 400,000 square foot “lifestyle space,” would have a significant impact on reaching that goal, which could “make or break the revitalization of Springfield.”

Marketing the mall as a regional attraction would put it in a better position to draw customers from Washington and Maryland as well as other parts of Virginia, Maxwell suggested.

Looking to the sites impacted by BRAC, the long-term view is “fuzzy,” Maxwell said. “We can’t get a clear message of what’s expected, what’s possible and what isn’t defined. The GSA site could be turned over to the public, which could be developed as up to 6 million square feet of space if done at a 2.0 floor-area ratio.”

As for the EPG, unless an agreement is reached on building the remaining stretch of the Fairfax County Parkway, “I don’t think a lot is going to happen at the EPG, in my opinion,” he said.

Current office and retail space in Springfield is “out of date,” and needs to be “given a makeover,” Maxwell said. “Any changes made in the area will be in response to market demands.”

IMPROVEMENTS TO the Springfield Interchange will help make the area easier to navigate, especially once the last remaining part is completed with the opening of a new bridge to the outer loop of I-495 heading to Tysons Corner this summer, said panelist David Plummer. However, the highways have become entangled in local roadways, creating gridlock that needs to be separated, he said.

More pedestrian bridges need to be constructed to increase the walkability of Springfield and encourage people to leave their cars behind, Plummer said.

Incorporating the use of free, community-circulating shuttles could be implemented to take more cars off the road, he suggested.

On the other hand, Springfield is “well positioned” to take advantage of the plentiful small and major roads that have resulted from the development of the Interchange, said panelist Ross Tilghman. “You’ve taken one for the regional team,” he said, before suggesting the creation of a pair of one-way streets in the middle of Springfield, which would open up that area to a more pedestrian-friendly public plaza.

“There would be the opportunity to have bike lanes on both bridges,” he said. The two streets he recommended restricting, Amherst and Commerce, are “so close, you have the opportunity to make it work really well … and take care of some problems.”

ONE OF THE biggest challenges facing the reinvention of Springfield is the lack of a centralized, local government that can come to the forefront in creating a solid, distinct personality for the area, said panelist Daniel Brents.

“There are no distinct boundaries. There’s no compelling history. There is a civic vacuum, development is fragmented, there’s no common architectural vocabulary,” he said.

Creating a cohesive design plan for future development, installing certain criteria that would be uniform in any new structures and coming up with a brand and marketable identity would go a long way to creating a sense of place in Springfield, Brents said.

The area has been overlooked by its flashier, more upscale twin sister, Tysons Corner, said panelist Phillip Hughes. “It has lacked things other cities have capitalized on, but there’s a lot of potential here. You have an incredible wealth of people and diversity. The issue is how to capture this potential and move forward with it.”

If the government, public sector and developers can work together to create a solid image and plan for the future of Springfield, what it means to live there and devise a sense of identity, a sense of ownership will be fostered which will allow Springfield to become a destination, Hughes said.

AT THE END of their presentation, Leininger urged those gathered to hear the results of the study to take action, even small steps, toward making some changes.

“You’ve paid to get this study done, don’t let dust gather on it,” he said. “You need to make a visible difference and get people who have money to come and visit you.”

Supervisor Dana Kauffman (D-Lee) said he was “amazed” with the study and wanted to adopt the idea of reinventing Springfield. "For years, we’ve been trying to figure out if we were revitalizing or redeveloping,” he said.

Kauffman said he was most inspired by the number of developers and business leaders who came to hear ULI’s presentation.

“This is the first time I’ve seen so many of you in one place and it’s the first time I’ve seen members of the county staff smiling,” he said. “It’s also nice to see that it’s not all Tysons all the time.”

Hopeful to get rid of the image of being a “bedroom community where Washington sleeps,” Kauffman said he’d like to take the challenge of changing the way the rest of Northern Virginia views Springfield.

“It’s always been amorphous … we have to have a strong sense of identity before we can create a town,” he said.

Energized by the presentation, Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce executive director Nancy-jo Manney said she hoped to bring the developers and public sector together again for a series of conversations to construct an identity for Springfield.

“We as a Chamber want to take advantage of this challenge and bring these groups together soon to keep this conversation going,” Manney said. “We have to have an identity before we can market it. Maybe we need to create what we want Springfield to be and work from there.”

A full printed version of the ULI panel’s work will be available within the next six to eight week and will be on file at the county’s Planning and Zoning Department, Leininger said.