Metro extension leads to development boom
As the long-delayed phase two opening of Metro’s Silver Line extension is set for later this year in western Fairfax and Loudoun counties, a development boom is following on the train’s wheels.
Reston and Herndon, as well as eastern Loudoun, have already attracted big corporate tenants to millions of square feet of office space, retail and residential properties freshly built and under construction along the Dulles Toll Road corridor.
It’s hardly a surprise, given the moves by large technology corporations and others to locate offices in western Fairfax. Of the nine Fortune 500 companies headquartered in the county, three are in Reston and one is in Herndon. The two areas hold more than
35 million square feet of office space, nearly a third of all the office space in the county.
Google LLC, Amazon Web Services Inc., Spotify, Qualtrics, SolarWinds Corp. and Neustar, a global information services company, all have presences in the area, and tenants at Reston Town Center include Fannie Mae, Meta Platforms Inc. (formerly Facebook) and Microsoft Corp. Federal contractor Peraton Inc. and seafood and chicken purveyor StarKist Co. are newcomers to the mixed-use development.
“They want a place where they can go to lunch,” explains Victor Hoskins, president and CEO of the county Economic Development Authority. “They want to be able to go to the gym. They want to be able to go for a walk. They want to be able to bike to work if they want to.
“I think that combination is really attractive to the companies, and then they augment that with a lot of residential. So, there are a lot more people there. There’s actually energy there. Ten years of growth has really transformed the area.”
Back on track
For Fairfax County residents and commuters, the 23-mile, 11-station Silver Line Metrorail route connecting to Washington Dulles International Airport has been a long time coming. Phase one of the project, which was taken over by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority in 2006, was completed in 2014, and after several delays, the second and final phase is expected to be completed late this year, says Marcia McAllister, a spokeswoman for the project.
Since 2014, four stations in Tysons and the Wiehle-Reston East Station, where the multiuse Reston Station development is based, have been in operation. The second phase will include six more stations at Reston Town Center, Herndon, the airport and eastern Loudoun.
In the town of Herndon, Metro-adjacent development’s focus is on high-density mixed-use projects, including the redevelopment of eight suburban office buildings, says Dennis Holste, the town’s economic development manager.
In anticipation of the opening of the new Metro station, the town has developed cycling lanes and bus bays and performed several road-widening projects. “We’re trying to set the infrastructure in place,” Holste says.
In downtown Herndon, about a mile from the Metro station, the town and a developer, Comstock Holding Cos. Inc., formed a public-private partnership to develop 273 apartments, 17,000 square feet of retail space, an 18,000-square-foot arts center and a parking garage, Holste says. Also in the works is a plaza that will connect the station to Herndon Parkway.
Herndon has 5 million square feet of office space in the area and is seeing additional investment in downtown, where Aslin Beer Co. has opened a tasting room, he says. The results are akin to the goals of the late developer Robert E. Simon Jr., who founded Reston — named with his initials followed by “ton” — in 1964 as a high-density planned community where people could “live, work and play.”
The executive director of Reston Community Center, Leila Gordon, says that by the 1980s and into the 21st century, many Reston residents were looking to buy homes, raise families and have a “more typical suburban experience.” Between that cultural wave and the Reston project losing funding in the late ’60s, the community drifted from Simon’s original idea.
But now, Gordon notes, many of the community’s newer residents want a more urban lifestyle and are living closer to public transportation. Gordon says the community center has seen a shift in programming needs since the first phase of the Silver Line opened. About 30 years ago, the center began holding 24 concert and performance events each summer. Now, in cooperation with Reston Town Center, it schedules more than 100 events from May through October.
“I think we’re going to see less of the kind of soccer mom behavior of the ’80s and ’90s and more of the urban feeling for the kinds of things people do with their spare time,” Gordon says.
Nonetheless, Mike Batt, director of the Fairfax County EDA’s Talent Initiative Program, says the community has maintained its welcoming culture and been smart about development. “They’re keeping the growth right at the Metro stops that are opening,” he says. “All the established neighborhoods are still tree-lined.”
Major growth in Reston
Opened in 1990, Reston Town Center now has more than 2,000 homes, more than 50 retailers and 30 restaurants. It also has 5.1 million square feet of office space, including two new towers, one of which is 28 stories tall, according to the town center’s developer, Massachusetts-based Boston Properties Inc.
Jake Stroman, executive vice president and co-head of the D.C. region for Boston Properties, says that Fannie Mae and Volkswagen Group of America Inc. are leasing about 85% of the office space in the two towers.
The developer also expects to spend $2.5 billion to $3 billion on its expansion of Reston Town Center next to the incoming Metro station, Stroman says. The two-phase project includes a 508-unit, 39-story apartment tower under construction now that will contain about 12,000 square feet of retail and roughly 78,000 square feet of office space. In the next few years, the company plans to develop another 700,000 to 800,000 square feet of office space.
Sapna Yathiraj, marketing director for Boston Properties, says the company is renovating Reston Town Center’s fountain plaza and the pavilion, which becomes an ice-skating rink in the winter. The developer also is adding more seating to pedestrian areas.
A new fitness center, the St. James Performance Club, opened in April, and several new restaurants are coming, including Open Road Distilling Co., a Brazilian steakhouse and a Peruvian eatery, Yathiraj says.
The eventual opening of the Metro station at Reston Town Center will bring more people to the community, Yathiraj says, adding that Boston Properties plans to offer shuttle service to and from the station and throughout the town center.
The fact that the Metro station at Reston Town Center still hasn’t opened has not hindered Boston’s ability to lease space, Stroman says. Since the start of 2020, the company has leased 1.5 million square feet of office space.
Robert Goudie, executive director of the Reston Town Center Association, says that he and Simon, the founder of Reston who died in 2015 at the age of 101, worked on a task force with nearly 40 other people on a comprehensive review of the Reston master plan about 10 years ago. The goal was to plan a transit-oriented, mixed-use community to complement the arrival of Metrorail.
Since he became executive director of the association about seven years ago, Goudie says, he has seen delegations from South Korea, Japan, Australia and several states tour Reston Town Center to learn how to replicate it.
The 15 residential properties at the town center, with 5,000 residents, are fully occupied, and Fortune 500 federal contractor Leidos, along with Microsoft, Meta and Fannie Mae, have turned the property into a “who’s who of corporate America,” Goudie says.
He adds that the center has more than 100 shops and restaurants, though there have been some retail closures, reflecting national trends. “Brick and mortar globally is under siege,” Goudie says. “The internet is eating brick and mortar’s lunch.”
Surrounding the Wiehle-Reston East Station, the Reston Station development has more than 3.5 million square feet of office space, town houses, condos and apartment buildings standing on about 80 acres. The community’s primary developer, Comstock, plans to expand to a total of 6 million to
7 million square feet at Reston Station with 20 buildings, including 16 new ones.
Reston Station will be getting a JW Marriott Hotel with condos on top of it. The developer plans to redevelop a 1990s office park into a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood, says Comstock CEO Chris Clemente, whose offices overlook the development.
“It’s a neighborhood that is developing fast because of the demand for the kind of office buildings we are building here,” Clemente says.
Some of Reston Station’s office spaces have been fully occupied throughout the pandemic because they are home to federal contractors who chose not to work remotely, he says.
Comstock’s Loudoun Station development is next to Metro’s Ashburn Station, which is the last Metro station along the second phase of the Silver Line. Since the company bought the property in 2001, it has built out 2.5 million square feet, making it a smaller version of Reston Station, Clemente says.
And the company is planning additional buildings for its Loudoun Station development, which has about 700 existing apartments and a couple hundred thousand square feet of office and retail.
Although many businesses — as well as the state government — are coping with employees’ reluctance to return to fully in-person or hybrid work schedules, “people are going back to work,” Clemente says. “It’s slower than some people would like. But it’s going up every week.”
He calls the Silver Line an economic engine, even if its precise completion date was still not set as of early June.
“The Silver Line is doing exactly what it was intended to,” Clemente says. “It’s a big factor for where companies are locating in this region.”