0
Votes

Downtown Businesses Push for Development

Redevelopment seen as key to many businesses looking to expand profitability.

Just about every Friday night in the summer is the best night for business for Zaki Zakaria.

The owner of a Dairy Queen franchise in downtown Herndon, Zakaria finds he and his family awash in customers on evenings with good weather as they flock to the community-sponsored Friday Night Live concert series on Herndon’s town green, located across the street from his shop.

"When they have these bands over here, we get the families coming together, and they see us and like to stop in," said Zakaria after serving a chocolate-dipped vanilla ice cream cone to customers from the early Friday evening crowd.

It was the lure of a cornucopia of community events in Herndon paired with planned redevelopment of the downtown that attracted Zakaria into purchasing the store in September 2005, his second Dairy Queen franchise behind a location in the Springfield Mall.

But after a downtown redevelopment partnership between the town and area contractors fell through last year and the first of his three children preparing to enter college, the need for a broader customer base has been increasingly apparent to the business owner.

Downtown development "was something that I was looking forward to, it was exciting," said Zakaria. "To have more people coming in to the area, more people walking around, it would bring a lot more business."

REDEVELOPMENT of Herndon’s downtown has been an enticing notion for area businesses since the possibility was first discussed more than five years ago, according to Eileen Curtis president of the Dulles Regional Chamber of Commerce, which hosts Friday Night Live and maintains an office downtown.

The Town of Herndon, looking to redevelop its downtown by forming a partnership with a private developer that would offer land and special zoning considerations in exchange for the construction of municipal buildings, purchased several plots of land in the area over the course of the last several years.

But two developer proposals were withdrawn last summer after the sale of a property fell through, the housing market dramatically shifted downward and a new Town Council with different ideas on downtown development took office, according to Curtis.

There are three multi-unit residential developments that are under construction in the Town of Herndon that will bring more customers to the area, according to Lisa Gilleran, acting director of Herndon’s Department of Community Development.

Despite the advantages those developments will give business, a comprehensive and responsible redevelopment plan can be implemented to encourage more patrons to visit Herndon’s downtown businesses, Curtis said.

Those additions should be made with the needs of the community’s residents and businesses in mind, and should include a number of attractions to maximize their effectiveness, Curtis added.

"A good community is a good place for business," she said. "A community arts center, for instance, is one of those things that could be built to attract a large number of people."

AN INFLUX of new visitors and residents to Herndon’s downtown could triple or even quadruple the business of Angel Varela, owner of the Herndon Grocery and Pupseria Michapita restaurant in downtown Herndon.

"If there were more things to bring tourists to the area, for people to do, it would definitely improve our business," Varela said. "If it’s something that attracts people, it would help not just this business, but all the businesses down here."

Any new attractions, events and residents within walking distance could also help to increase the demographics of the customers to Varela’s businesses, who said that about 90 percent of his customer base is Hispanic.

But businesses cannot solely rely on putting more potential customers in the area, said Phillip Orme, owner of Mediterranean Breeze restaurant in downtown Herndon. While development and events are good ways of getting some customers to the region, it will ultimately be the responsibility of those businesses to retain those customers, he said.

"You have to be in support of bringing new facilities to the town … people need a place to eat before they see a show," said Orme. New community attractions "help us, it’s bringing people down here who aren’t necessarily here, but it’s got to be our job to provide the service that keeps them coming back."

IMPROVEMENTS THAT are already being implemented to the downtown, such as the streetscape and parking improvements that began this summer, will further attract customers to the area. A conducive business environment should be nurtured to not only improve Herndon businesses but provide options for Herndon residents, Curtis said.

The development would also work to foster a more pedestrian friendly and, in turn, less trafficked, community, she said.

"With gridlock all over Northern Virginia, I think everybody should have a little community right here that they would be willing to walk to," Curtis said. "And Herndon’s downtown is a great gathering place."

When the real estate market picks back up, the town can look at new options for development in the coming years and the possibility of an infusion of new customers could once again greet downtown businesses, she added.

The prospect of new development quickly brings a smile to Zakaria’s face.

"I myself would invest something, a different kind of business down here," if downtown development is approved, Zakaria said.

Those brought naturally to the downtown region will continue to make up the vast majority of Zakaria’s customer base and that will need to be expanded if he hopes to do more business.

"This is not a heavy business, you can’t take out things like magazine ads or commercials," he said as a cyclist fresh off the neighboring W&OD Trail entered the store. "I need the people walking by, the people using [the W&OD trail]."

"Anything that draws people, kids, families … it brings them in, and we’re right here."