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Competition and Challenges Ahead for Tysons

It’s no secret that Tysons is growing.

The skyline is filled with construction cranes and seemingly every week there’s an announcement of a new restaurant or business moving into the area. But as Tysons grows, it also faces infrastructure challenges and threats from neighbors.

Professor Stephen Fuller, Professor of Public Policy at George Mason University, said that Tysons is finally starting to recover from the 2013 budget sequestration. Fuller said the sequester had a more damaging impact on the region than the 2008 recession, as the type of contracting that fills Tysons office space was cut by 15 percent.

Today, Tysons is still left with 15 percent office vacancy, which Fuller said puts the market on about even footing with Arlington. Rosslyn and Crystal City were both particularly hard hit by contracting cuts that left sweeping vacancies along the Metro corridor.

But Fuller noted that both Tysons and Arlington have comparative strengths and weaknesses that make them very different marketplaces.

“Arlington has old office spaces with bad floor plans,” said Fuller. “That’s sending people out to Tysons, which has newer office space.”

Gerald Gordon, who will soon be retiring as President and CEO of the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority, said that the county essentially gave a blank check to developers for density near Metro stations, which has helped incentivize new construction.

“The county allowed for unlimited density in a quarter mile radius of each station,” said Gordon. “We have these really tall buildings and we’re going to see a lot of new office space. Some of the older buildings are coming down, being replaced by more floors to be a lot of office spaces.”

But older office space is also one of Arlington’s greatest strengths, as Fuller said the outdated office spaces in Arlington are also often less expensive than the new office suites in Tysons where speculation has sent land prices skyrocketing.

Another of Arlington’s strengths, according to Fuller, is the culture and vibrancy that Tysons mostly lacks.

“When Amazon was looking at Northern Virginia, they were looking at Crystal City, not Tysons,” said Fuller. “Tysons just doesn’t offer lifestyle that they’re looking for.”

Fuller said the new apartment buildings and lifestyle-supporting commercial retail coming into Tysons is a good sign that Tysons is working towards that vitality, but Fuller said bringing that kind of culture is going to take two key ingredients: walkability and time.

“It’s about the distance between buildings, it isn’t walkable,” said Fuller. “Some internal circulation system will be required. It’s been long discussed, but I haven’t seen any yet. The Capital One complex, with the headquarters expansion, is going to make that a node that people are going to want to get to.”

Gordon similarly said transportation is one of Tysons greatest challenges over the next few years, but that stepping up public transportation in Tysons can help alleviate some of the areas traffic woes.

Most importantly, Fuller said it’s going to take time to organically build vibrancy and economic stability in Tysons.

“There’s work to be done, but they have to be patient,” said Fuller. “They’re delivering spaces faster than the economy is growing. The economy has picked up, 2017 was a much better year for the kinds of businesses that look at Tysons, but you can’t just snap your fingers and make it all happen.”

While Tysons and Arlington compete for office tenants and vibrancy, Professor Frank Shafroth, director of the Center for State and Local Leadership at George Mason University, said it’s important not to ignore Washington, D.C.’s increasing appeal for developers.

“Northern Virginia has traditionally, as part of the Washington metro region, been tied to the nation’s capitol,” said Shafroth. “Significantly reduced violent crime in D.C. has made the District far more attractive to millennials, decreasing the pressure for young families to want to move to the suburbs and deal with vicious commutes.”

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