With the approval of the Oakville Small Area Plan by the City Council in late 2015, that small corner of Alexandria is receiving a major facelift. The area referred to in council discussions as the “Gateway to Alexandria” will see expanded density and retail as the city braces for the opening of the nearby Potomac Yard Metro Station.
“Del Ray is an established small scale community main street,” said Stephanie Landrum, president of the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership, “so one of the exciting things about development at Oakville is that we add density, retail, and customers without threatening the scale of Mount Vernon Avenue.”
Early in the planning process, residents expressed frustration that their homes would be overwhelmed by nearby retail and high density complexes. The project features larger “anchor” retail stores in the 20,000-square-foot space, with outdoor dining and restaurants in a nearby plaza.
“This project complements Del Ray,” said Landrum. “You could envision brands going into this project that wouldn’t fit on Mount Vernon Avenue.”
According to City Manager Mark Jinks, the Oakville Triangle plan isn’t one where the plan is set in motion but the city is forced to wait on the developer. According to Jinks, developers at the site are actively looking to push the project into the next stage.
“Assuming the [development site plan review] gets approved, we anticipate that the developer will transition into the internal workings of that plan,” said Landrum. “So sometime over the next nine months, we will have a finalized plan.”
Landrum said the current plan is to have the retail at Oakville Triangle open alongside the Potomac Yard Metro Station in 2020.
THE EISENHOWER RENAISSANCE is at hand. As construction continues on the National Science Foundation in Eisenhower East, the plans for the surrounding area are taking shape. The National Science Foundation’s exterior is nearly complete, but interior work will continue over the next 12 to 14 months, with an opening sometime in 2017.
Paradim, the high-rise apartment complex across the street, is also slated for an early 2017 opening. Behind Paradim, next to the beltway, another building project is still in the planning phase, though it’s already been approved for a special use permit. The building will be a mix of residential and retail. According to Jinks, Harris Teeter has already filed a letter of intent to move into one of the retail spaces.
Jinks also noted that the nearby sports field at the Alexandria Renew Enterprises facility had opened in early January, though weather conditions have so far kept it from being widely used.
Moving a few blocks west, where Eisenhower crosses over Telegraph Road, Rushmark Properties has submitted concept plans for two multifamily buildings for the empty lot on the north side of Eisenhower. The concept will be reviewed by the Planning Commission and the City Council in February.
“On the north side of Eisenhower, we’re adding significant retail,” said Landrum. “We’re adding more of a community to Eisenhower. That’s one of the themes of these plans. These are areas that didn’t have people living and working in them. There’s been no population that considers these places a community. By adding residential projects, we’re creating that nighttime and weekend population. When both of these populations are at critical mass, that’s when we’ll start to see retail flourish. We’re seeing that now in Carlyle.”
However, the city has also faced major setbacks in their plans for the Eisenhower Valley. The long vacant Victory Center had been selected as the new headquarters for the TSA, and city officials had expressed enthusiasm that the new resident would bring growth to the area the way the Patent and Trademark Office and National Science Foundation did to Eisenhower East. However, in November, U.S. Court of Federal Claims Judge Charles Lettow overturned the lease, citing misconduct by the Government Services Administration who had been handling the transaction. “The Victory Centre’s owners offered GSA additional space at no cost, but it was over the amount of space that had been approved by Congress,” said Landrum. “There was evidence that GSA said that it was more than they were approved for but that they said they’d take it and get the lease signed.”
With the lease overturned, the city is left back at square one with an empty Victory Center.
“It creates a vacuum,” said Landrum. “There’s a lot of information that’s not coming out. Over the next few weeks, they’re restarting the search.”
“We’re waiting on formal notification from GSA on the next step,” said Jinks. “The federal government is not going to appeal the judge’s decision. We expect that there will be some kind of competition, but we don’t know how that’s going to work out or who is going to be eligible… It’s very complicated, subject to significant litigation. They’re wanting to do everything perfectly right, especially the second time around. We expect some kind of competition, but we don’t know who is being invited in.”
Jinks said the decision on the new process could be arriving in weeks or months.
“We’ve been hearing ‘any moment now’ for well over a month,” said Jinks.
The silver lining to the judge’s decision is that, despite the ruling against the GSA, the judge found no fault with the Victory Center building itself, meaning that when the competition restarts, it may still have a chance. Even if not at the Victory Center, Jinks noted that one of the other TSA finalist locations was another parcel of land on Eisenhower near Telegraph Road.
On the western end of Eisenhower, city plans include the construction of a multimodal bridge over the railroad tracks.
“It’s a critical part of the infrastructure to make sure Eisenhower lives up to its potential,” said Landrum. “In concept, I think the majority people are comfortable with it, but it’s where the bridge ends and what property it goes over that’s where there are concerns.”
“There are many questions with the bridge, and financing is just one of them,” said Jinks. “The Council envisioned a multimodal bridge, from the Western End of Cameron Station over to Eisenhower Avenue. But a number of additional studies need to be done and we need to negotiate for the corridor.”
Those negotiations include nearby residential and commercial spaces, as well as Norfolk Southern, who controls the area over the train tracks. Either way, it’s just the start of a long process.
“Once we get the corridor for the bridge cleared, then we need to look at preliminary designs to find the cost,” said Jinks. “Then we look at financing and phasing. It doesn’t have to be there when Eisenhower West redevelopment starts, but it needs to be put into place at some point in that process.”
AT LANDMARK MALL, very little has changed on the surface over the last year. The stores are still empty and the parking lot is desolate.
But under the surface, Jinks and Landrum say plans continue to slowly, tentatively move forward. Negotiations over the site’s development have always been difficult, with every decision needing to be approved by Sears, the Howard Hughes Corporation, and Macy’s. Landrum said Howard Hughes has been a very active part of the process since the beginning, but that getting the other two on board took more work.
“On a project like this, Howard Hughes has a management agreement, but each party has protection and assurances,” said Landrum. “Any change has to be negotiated. That’s been a part of this process. We needed to get development approval from the city, but also approval from those two partners.”
“In June, Sears created a real estate investment trust as a separate company … to create value out of their property,” said Jinks. “Part of the discussion has shifted to this new Sears company. It’s a good sign. They’ve become a new player in this process.”
The next stage of the process is getting the financials in order, but there’s one last partner paying for the mall: the public.
“The last piece is financing the mall,” said Jinks. “We’ve said out there in the public that there may be a necessary tax increment [increase] to finance back into the project. That was in the Landmark Van Dorn Small Area Plan as a concept.”
According to Jinks, the city is currently working through negotiations to determine whether the project will need tax financing or public participation.