Progress on the Wall

A peek at the aerial photo on the wall in SFDC's office reveals a lot of positive change along Richmond Highway.

The most frequent complaint that I hear from local residents and businesspeople about the Richmond Highway corridor is that it never changes.  The second most frequent complaint is that it’s changing—for the worse.  While I can appreciate the frustrations of longtime denizens of the area with some of our serious challenges, I want to offer hard evidence that things are, in fact, changing for the better.

My proof is in the wall sized aerial photograph of Richmond Highway that is mounted in SFDC’s conference room.  This aerial of the corridor was taken in 2005, just seven years ago.  Since I started working at SFDC last year I have frequently found myself pointing at the aerial during meetings and saying, “this has changed,” or “that’s been redeveloped,” and then adding, “we really need to get a new aerial.”

We are in fact in the process of ordering a new aerial. Prior to proceeding with the order I decided to take a look at the old aerial to see just how much has changed in the past seven years.  I printed out our spreadsheet that inventories all of the investments made in the area and started placing Post-It notes on properties that had been redeveloped since 2005 — the results are shown in the picture at the top of this article.

In all, 19 separate properties along the corridor have been revitalized since 2005 or are presently under construction, representing more than $500 million in private investment.  Here are some of the highlights of things that have changed around here just in the past seven years:

  • Midtown Alexandria: $83 million to develop a 369 unit condominium tower
  • The Beacon of Groveton: $68 million for development of 290 apartments
  • Skyview Park: $65 million for development of 161 townhomes and houses
  • Courts of Huntington Station: $65 million for development of 420 apartments
  • Mount Vernon Plaza: $63 million for renovation of two old shopping centers and new pad retail
  • Huntington Reserve: $30 million to develop 85 luxury townhouses
  • Costco: $25 million to demolish former multiplex and build new warehouse store
  • Baywood Hotels: $20.5 million to develop three new hotels with 233 rooms

What is most striking about this new development is that most of it represents a departure from Richmond Highway’s traditional base of auto-oriented retail and office development.  In all, there have been more than 1,400 new housing units and 364 hotel rooms completed in the corridor since 2005.  Additionally, all of the investment in retail properties has been in the renovation or revitalization of existing commercial sites, rather than in greenfield development.

Looking ahead to the next seven years the Richmond Highway corridor is poised for even greater things.  As of this writing there are 15 separate revitalization projects in the area that have already been approved by Fairfax County or are actively under review.  These projects collectively call for about 4,700 residential units, 200 more hotel rooms, and more than 1.4 million square feet of commercial space.  At typical construction costs, all of this development would represent about $1.5 billion in additional private investment in the area.

We at SFDC are keenly aware of the substantial investments in transportation, schools, parks, and environmental mitigation that will be needed to support all of this development, and in a prior article.  While some people will remain opposed to continued development in the corridor, I firmly believe that the benefits to the community in terms of tax base,  infrastructure, public facilities, and better and more attractive places will far outweigh the costs.  In another seven years I hope to be able look up at the wall and view the evidence of the positive change that has occurred in the corridor.

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mike August 28, 2012 at 07:52 PM
Thanks for all you do. I would like to see some of the older garden apartments to be revitalized and some of these projects start to tie together into a comprehensive plan, that's when i think we well all see a significant difference. Are you aware of any redevelopment of older apt buildings and if so can you talk about them.
David Versel August 29, 2012 at 03:18 PM
Mike: I appreciate your comment. I agree about the need to revitalize some of the older apartment complexes, and that trend is actually already beginning. The Stony Brook apartments on Buckman Road underwent a full-scale, $33 million renovation last year and the new owners of Cityside (formerly Belle Haven Towers) are spending about $9 million to update the units in that complex. I have also been in contact with several investors who have expressed interest in finding older apartment complexes to redevelop, so you should expect to see more of that activity in the next few years.


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