It’s no secret that Lerner balked at the idea of starting construction on 1775 Tysons Blvd while the future for government contract work was murky at best. After spending 3 months excavating the property to foundation level, the project suddenly halted. Now the property is a fairly interesting empty pit of permanent sod and construction equipment which is best seen from the old recreation trail that runs the border between Arbor Row and Lerner’s property. A few people have noted this as a mistake by Lerner and a net loss for Tysons as a whole to bring on line an important commercial office building in the core of the town which would pay millions in tax revenue for the ailing county budget. As the constant optimist I figure I’d paint a silver lining on this particular delay and reiterate what we have said in the past.
Lerner is where Tysons began. Without the investment from Ted Lerner into the region it would not be the economic powerhouse that fuels Fairfax County’s economic momentum. When we are looking at the future of Tysons it is just plain wrong that the new image does not include Lerner.
There has to be some way we can incorporate the new vision of Tysons as a complete city without requiring Lerner to go through the arduous process of rezoning. The best way? Allow a use modification in 1775 to encourage residential development at a time where the market for multi-family units in Tysons is red hot. Companies such as JP Morgan have been very willing to help finance residential projects, far more than speculative office towers. Lerner has already lost the ground he had on Macerich for attracting commercial tenants to this new project by delaying construction, at this point it will be hard without slashing lease rates to land a tenant large enough to spur 1775′s construction.
1775 will sit literally adjacent to the new metro station, between two of the best retail centers in the country, and adjacent to the highly attractive Arbor Row project. It is prime real estate for high end residential users and could be a windfall for Lerner who traditionally has avoided residential construction in Virginia. With the end goal for Fairfax being to balance the ratio of residents and commuters (currently 1:10), the County should propose lifting the current density restraint on the project and allow up to 25 stories (similar to the project next door with Tysons Tower). Tysons gets a bigger impact on the resident ratio, the County gains more in tax revenue, and the users will be far less of an infrastructure draw with being directly adjacent to the metro. Best of all construction would be a lot quicker with the excavation activities already complete.
There is one more benefit that the County could gain by allowing this use and height exception. Currently Westbranch drive is the antithesis of the new grid of streets. It is windy and haphazardly planned. The county has been trying to create a new grid connection between Tysons Boulevard and Westpark Drive for 3 years and even required Arbor Row to provide the ability to extend Jones Branch Drive (even though the current layout would send it directly into the back side of 1775).
By bringing Lerner back to the table the Jones Branch extension to Tysons Boulevard could finally be achieved by having both projects work in unison towards a common design. This would relieve a ton of traffic that currently piles up on Westpark Drive for those trying to get onto the beltway by providing an alternate path and more than makes up for the concession for 7 additional floors of height on a building smack dab in the center of the city.
Where others are noting 1775 as a worrisome sign, I think of it much more as an opportunity to do things right with the one who brought you to the dance. Let’s take this marquee location and make it something great.