Turning the corner
Tysons leads Fairfax’s economic recovery
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit last year, it felt as if the long-running goal of transforming Tysons from a commuter-driven “edge city” into a vibrant, urban, walkable destination “would be so disrupted,” says Victor Hoskins, president and CEO of the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority.
But the increase in social distancing and remote work caused by the pandemic “actually has improved the kinds of things we thought we could do,” he says. “Out of unfortunate circumstances, we’ve found new ways to do the work that we do.”
Those new ways have included creating more bicycle and walking paths and making better use of public spaces, Hoskins says. “It sounds small, but it’s happening and it’s creating a better sense of place” in keeping with the long-term vision for Tysons, he says, “and we want to hold on to all of those things.”
Hoskins isn’t the only one who sees a silver lining in the otherwise dire events of the past year and a half.
Sol Glasner, president and CEO of the nonprofit booster organization Tysons Partnership Inc., says that, if anything, the pandemic has prepared Tysons for even greater success in the long term. That’s because the Fairfax County area once commonly known as Tysons Corner “is urbanizing but not yet urban,” he says, and can maneuver in ways that more established places could not during the crisis, he says.
According to an economic report that the Tysons Partnership released in March, Tysons is “well-positioned to lead regional recovery.” The Tysons Economic Report 2021 noted that Tysons is “well on its way to achieving the 40-year vision of the Comprehensive Plan” that was adopted for the region by Fairfax County government in June 2010.
The study found that, as in other regions, the housing market is booming: “Tysons has seen 34% growth in housing stock since 2010, with forecasted growth expected to continue increasing another 36% to nearly 19,000 units by 2025.” According to the report, “that makes it four times higher than the county average and significantly greater than comparable submarkets.”
Tysons’ residential population is 28,000, and its rate of growth has been 39% from 2010 to 2018. That’s four times higher than the county’s average population growth during the same time period and three times that of the region, according to the report. The total number of households in the area is projected to reach between 36,000 and 57,000 by 2050.
Tysons also has experienced growth in the office market. Inventory increased 7.6% between 2010 and 2019, according to the report, which projected 5% office-based growth during the next five years.
“Lately, Tysons has not gotten as much attention as Crystal City and Herndon-Reston, but it is the big boy of the region,” says Terry Clower, director of George Mason University’s Center for Regional Analysis at the Schar School of Policy and Government in Arlington.
The Tysons/McLean area boasts seven Fortune 500 companies — Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp. (“Freddie Mac”); Capital One Financial Corp.; DXC Technology; Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc.; Booz Allen Hamilton Holding Corp.; Park Hotels & Resorts; and Tegna Inc.
Tysons’ real estate market, particularly its residential market, is growing faster than in other parts of the region, Glasner believes, because people have begun to see it as a livable community, one that allows for a reasonable commute into Washington or out the Dulles corridor.
“I’m not of the school that says that urban centers are going away,” Glasner says. “I do see them taking different shapes, with different ways of getting around.”
Since the Silver Line’s debut in Tysons in 2014, overall ridership at each of its four Tysons stations has grown year over year, according to the report. Ridership for the first 2 ½ months of 2020 was on course to continue growing but then dropped significantly due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
What the aftershocks of the pandemic will mean for transportation, Hoskins admits he doesn’t know. “There may be some negative externalities,” he concedes, but he hopes that the flexible work arrangements that have made traffic lighter in the area during peak hours will continue.
Hoskins gives much of the credit for Tysons’ success to developers who are “forward-thinking” about mixed-use projects that have “residential, commercial, even learning in the same place.”
As examples of innovative mixed-use development, he cites The Mather, a complex for seniors that is part of the 19.4-acre Arbor Row, and The View at Tysons, a proposed six-building complex from Clemente Development Co. Inc. that would include residential and retail space as well as a hotel and performing arts center.
Plans for The View’s 600-foot Iconic Tower, the project’s focal point, which would be the tallest building in Virginia and surrounding states (45 feet taller than the Washington Monument), took a while to get off the ground and went through several changes before being approved in 2019. Clemente Development founder and CEO
C. Daniel Clemente says the timing turned out to be fortunate.
If construction had started earlier “and we were about ready to deliver, we would not have had the opportunity to create the most up-to-date building. We wanted to make every other building obsolete. Our game plan would have been wiped out,” he says. Now, according to Clemente, the building will be able to incorporate post-pandemic safety features.
Another project, the Boro Tower, co-developed by The Meridian Group and Rockefeller Group, recently signed Korean contractor Hanwha Defense and Richmond-based law firm Williams Mullen to its 440,000-square-foot office tower and was 80% leased by late June.
Katie Yanushonis, senior vice president for Meridian, a property management group, says that from talking with prospective commercial tenants, she believes that despite the heightened interest in remote work, “there is a place in the world for office space. It may look a little different, but company culture is a big motivation in coming back.”
At the height of the pandemic, “our office space numbers were 20% occupancy. Now numbers are up to 50%,” she says. “By fall, we expect to be above 50%. We’re moving in the right direction.”
At The Boro, “we did see a softening during the pandemic,” Yanushonis says. “We may have seen a bit of a shift, but it never felt significant. We saw slight increase in vacancy rates, but, all that being said, we were still able to get some deals done at terms we felt good about.”
Tanya Graves, Meridian’s director of marketing and tenant services, says the pandemic has accelerated the use of innovative technologies such as apps and touchless access for facilities. And remote work has also resulted in physical changes. “People enjoy living in a community that has a lot outside their door, that has outdoor space and lounges where you can work outside your home,” she says, so “we’ve added features.”
The pandemic was a particular blow to the retail and hospitality industries, but Glasner sees signs of rebirth. At Tysons Corner Center mall, he says, weekend shopping is approaching pre-pandemic levels.
The Tysons Economic Report 2021 noted that Tysons generates more than $3.5 billion in annual retail spending, representing 17% of total retail spending in Fairfax County.
Many Tysons retailers, like others around the country, have found ways to adapt and survive, often by developing hybrid online and brick-and-mortar models, says the Schar School’s Clower, who believes there will always be customers who say, “I’m not going to buy it unless I try it on.”
In some places, shopping malls are being converted into distribution and fulfillment centers, Clower adds, but he doesn’t see Tysons adding that kind of congestion to the already hectic mix.
The sector in Tysons that probably has seen the steepest decline has been the hotel industry, Glasner says. The pandemic sharply cut business travel and “Tysons never was seen as a tourist destination.”
But even that market is beginning to turn around, he says. The economic report predicts that the hotel market in the Washington, D.C., area will rebound to 2019 levels by 2025.
The pandemic didn’t slow down the march to bring more music and arts to Tysons, however.
Hoskins and Glasner both praise Capital One Hall, Capital One’s new corporate events venue and performing arts center, with a 1,500-seat auditorium and 250-seat black box theater. The hall is set to open in October, with a performance by country group Little Big Town, and country singer Clint Black is scheduled to perform there in February 2022.
Glasner says it will be “so magnetic for recruiting and retention” and help the financial giant attract the most talented workforce, adding that it’s a major amenity for Capital One’s McLean headquarters campus. It also will be a community resource.
“It’s such a substantial facility, it will become a regional asset. It will make people think differently,” says Hoskins, who believes the performance center will rank as one of the top five venues in the greater Washington, D.C., area. “We’ve never had that level of a performance arts center. It changes the game of the arts, even how we market the area. Tysons will be a center of culture.”