Tysons Corner: Fairfax County’s new ‘downtown’
Future growth is designed around the Metro stations
- April 29, 2011
In two years Tysons Corner is going to be a very different place. Four new Metrorail stations that will link the area to Washington — and eventually Reston and Washington Dulles International Airport — are under construction, part of Fairfax County’s long-term plan to convert this traffic-choked job center into a pedestrian-friendly, urban downtown.
It’s an ambitious plan that has been years in the making. Currently, Tysons is the biggest job center in Fairfax County and in the state. With nearly 27 million square feet of office space and more than 105,000 people working there, it’s the 12th-largest office market in the country, and it’s going to get bigger.
The county’s new master plan calls for higher density development around the Metro stations. In fact, 75 percent of future growth over the next 20 years would be within walking distance of the four stations, encouraging people to walk, bike or use the subway. Another 6 million square feet of office development has been approved, and the county expects that as many 200,000 people will work at Tysons by 2050. Plus, there will be more residential development — enough to house as many as 100,000 residents — compared with the 20,000 who live there today.
The county wants “a 24-hour urban center where people live, work and play — instead of a sprawling suburban office park,” according to a description on the county’s website.
All of this visionary planning, though, hasn’t answered the question of how this new mix actually will work. Several major redevelopment projects already are proposed near the new stations, but those who know Tysons’ commercial real estate market say prospective tenants are waiting for more detail.
“I think people are waiting for the Metro to get completed to make moves,” says Brent Mathis, a senior research analyst with Jones Lang LaSalle, a commercial real estate firm with offices in Tysons Corner. “We have yet to see a major tenant move to Tysons because the Metro will be here in two years,” Mathis says. “I think tenants want to see what the infrastructure will be like … and what type of mixed-use development will be focused around the Metro.”
The project that perhaps best represents the new Tysons is a 28-acre development planned by The Georgelas Group around the new Tysons West Metro station, between state Route 7 and the Dulles Toll Road. Aaron Georgelas, the firm’s managing partner, says it will serve as the county’s “guinea pig project.” “One of the biggest challenges at Tysons is that it’s already built,” he says. “It’s kind of new for urban planning to take a big area and completely change it, knowing that it has a lot of parts that aren’t going to ever change.”
Still, Georgelas is excited about the development. Known as Spring Hill Station, it’s being done in partnership with three other firms, TREX Capital, Dierman Realty Group and Preminger Investments. Plans call for developing 2.9 million square feet of new office space and 2.5 million square feet of residential development. The rest is a mix of retail and hotel space. The project is divided into three “neighborhoods” with an emphasis on livability. Land near the Metro West entrance will have a public plaza, outdoor seating and shops and restaurants nearby. Right now, the property is a mix of low-level industrial businesses, car dealers and a few offices.
Georgelas hopes to break ground on the first stage this spring. Plans for the next five years call for at least two apartment buildings with 800 units, a 500,000-square-foot office building and a hotel with 300 rooms. “We’re going to completely transform this area of Tysons Corner and really create a whole living, breathing city that will thrive off of the Metro station,” he says.
Yet, whether Tysons will thrive off the Metro stops is still an open question. The county is just now conducting an online survey of people who travel to and from Tysons to ask where they live and how they might get to and from Tysons. Plus, some of the design elements about how the rail stations will be built and where passengers will get on and off the trains are still in flux.
Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth and a supporter of the Tysons redevelopment, says the lack of detail is troubling. “There’s a real concern that I have that we’re not ensuring that we have a vibrant retail streetscape, that the roadways are too hard to cross and that we might not be getting the details right at the [passenger] landing points,” he says.
None of the four stations in Tysons will have any parking lots, and only two — Tysons East and Tysons West — will have kiss-and-ride drop-off access. So pedestrian, bus and bike access has to work well, Schwartz says. “What’s really frustrating about this is that the integration of the stations into the community is why we wanted the new Tysons comprehensive plan in the first place.”
New projects in the works
The lack of detail about the transportation network is not delaying some developers, though. Besides the Georgelas Group project, there are a handful of other projects in the works. Cityline Partners plans to overhaul Westgate Office Park, near the intersection of state Route 123 and the Dulles Toll Road. It is seeking rezoning for about 40 acres along Tyson’s main drag for 11 new office buildings totaling 4.9 million square feet, nine multifamily buildings totaling 3.1 million square feet and a new hotel with retail space. DLJ Real Estate Capital Partners formed Cityline last year after buying West-Group’s Tysons Corner holdings, a deal which put Tysons’ largest portfolio of properties under DLJ’s control.
Mitre Corp. wants to consolidate its four Tysons-area offices into a single campus on 19 acres near the Metro East station. If approved, the project could have 1.4 million square feet of office space. But Mitre also is seeking a special exemption from the current zoning so it can add more parking. Plus, Campus Point Realty Corp. wants to redevelop about 24 acres that is already home to the SAIC headquarters. That project, anchored by the Central 7 Metro station, is dubbed “Solutions Plaza.”
Campus Point’s application to the county for a rezoning emphasizes how important it is to get the transit access and mixed-use development done the right way, and yet those details are still being worked out. “People have to remember that the transit system is only as good as the way that it integrates with the land use around it,” Schwartz says.
Lingering in the background of Fairfax’s ambitions for Tysons is how badly it handled the extension of the Orange Line Metrorail a generation ago. Arlington County took its stations in the Ballston-to-Rosslyn corridor and created a thriving mixed-use area with office, retail and residential space. It’s one of the most celebrated transit corridors in the country. Fairfax, on the other hand, took the suburban approach, putting its Metro stations in the middle of Interstate 66 and surrounding them with parking lots.
Mathis says the shift toward development anchored by mass transit is going to last. “I think not only in Tysons but really in Northern Virginia in total, most of the new development will be focused around the Metro,” he says, noting that the second phase of Metrorail will eventually extend to Washington Dulles International Airport and include six more aboveground stations.
Tysons, meanwhile, is going to be a work in progress for several years. “This is one of those things where failure is not an option,” Schwartz says. “But I think everybody’s still committed to getting things right.”
Market snapshot>> Tysons Corner
Office space: 26.6 million square feet
Retail space: 6 million square feet
Industrial flex: 1 million square feet
Hotels: 14, with 3,900 rooms
Residential population: 20,000. (By 2030: 100,000 residents.)
Employee population: 100,000. (By 2030: 200,000 workers.)
Major employers: Booz Allen Hamilton, Capital One Financial, Freddie Mac, Gannett, Hilton Worldwide, MicroStrategy, Mitre Corp., Northrop Grumman , SAIC.
Source: Virginia Business, Fairfax County Economic Development Authority
May Interiors: Creative Office Environments, Ashland