District Spotlight: Tysons Central 7

Editor’s note: Over the next several weeks, Tysons Reporter is profiling the eight districts of Tysons. This is the seventh article in that series.

If Tysons Central 123 is Tysons’ Fifth Avenue, Tysons Central 7 is its Wall Street.

Anchored on the original “Tyson’s Corner” and the Greensboro Metrorail station, Tysons Central 7 is one of Tysons’ four downtown districts. It is the most similar to a conventional “Central Business District” elsewhere in the United States.

Northeast of Leesburg Pike, the district “will continue to have one of the highest concentrations of office space in Tysons.” Southwest of Leesburg Pike, planners intend a “Civic Commons” to be the heart of the Tysons community — but change might be slower here than in other downtown districts.

An Urban Downtown

Tysons Central 7, named for the highway number of Leesburg Pike, is home to towers like 8100 and 8200 Greensboro Drive — modernist offices surrounded by lots of surface parking. It is also home to The Boro, a development opening later this year that consists of mixed-use high-rises surrounded by urban plazas and a new street grid. If the former represents Tysons’ past, and the latter represents Tysons’ present, both will leave their marks on Tysons’ future.

Predictions are that Tysons will grow to 200,000 jobs and 100,000 residents by 2050. Whether you think those predictions are conservative or generous, it is inevitable that the imbalance between jobs and residents will continue to be a major factor shaping Tysons’ development. Many of the new residences will be located in the districts like Old Courthouse that lie a little farther from the Metro, leaving the office pressure on the downtown.

Even as it diversifies with some retail, residences, and hotels to “become a vibrant 24-hour area,” Tysons Central 7 will continue to be defined by offices of all kinds, old and new.

Tysons Central 7 lies on what is naturally the most elevated land in Fairfax County, making it perfect for ambitious builders hoping to leave their mark on Tysons’ emerging skyline.

The Boro and Redevelopment Trends

The Boro is arguably the biggest news in Tysons in 2019. In its design, it is similar to many of the other redevelopment projects that have been proposed in downtown districts since the Metro arrived.

Like other proposals, it is made of a series of towers, broken up by a new public street grid surrounding public open space and topped with “sky-parks.” Like other proposals, these towers contain a mix of uses including office, residential, retail, and hotel, a few public amenities (in this case an on-site library and an off-site athletic field), and entertainment (a movie theater). It closely resembles projects like Scotts Run in Tysons East and Dominion Square and Spring Hill Station in Tysons West, along with many others.

What differentiates The Boro from all these other plans, though, is that it will be ready this year. With twelve new buildings, it will be the first really large-scale redevelopment to be completed anywhere in Tysons since the Comprehensive Plan was published in 2010.

As such, the rest of Tysons will be watching the Boro as other developers wait to construct their own approved projects. One of those might be Tysons Central, a proposal that was approved in 2014 and includes the site where the Tysons Biergarten now operates. The first phase of Tysons Central is an apartment tower called The Lumen, also opening later this year. As a community amenity, Tysons Central will “provide space [to Fairfax County] for a university use or other public/community use for 50 years for no rent.”

The Civic Common

West of Leesburg Pike, the Comprehensive Plan follows a standard Tysonian model: high-density offices, with some other mixed uses, near the Metro, and a slightly lower-density more residential mix in the blocks beyond. But it also includes what could become one of Tysons’ most iconic locations, unrivaled anywhere else in the Comprehensive Plan: a “Civic Common.”

The Civic Common, says the document, “will be a critical element for creating the area’s new identity and will provide the setting for community events and celebrations within this portion of Tysons.” It will include historical and artistic displays in a 3-4 acre space, with interactive art and/or water features. It will be adjacent to some kind of major civic facility — perhaps a library, civic center, or county office.

Because Tysons has never been a government center of any kind, and has had very little residential population, until now there has been no reason for it to have a civic center. But as its population begins to grow, a community will naturally emerge — and planners hope that that community will find a central gathering space in Tysons Central 7.

Connections and Separations

In terms of connectivity, the central location of this district is a blessing and a curse. The Metro, of course, is solidly a blessing — though one that Tysons Central 7, through redevelopment, will have to learn how to take advantage of. The highways are more of a mixed bag.

The historic “Tyson’s Corner” is the intersection of Leesburg Pike and Chain Bridge Road. Today, as in Tyson’s day, those highways make it easy for people from across Northern Virginia to arrive in the area and do business. The ease of automobile commuting is a great reason for the area’s past success in the office market and the lofty ambitions for its future.

Those highways, though, are also barriers. They make it much more difficult for people to move across them, whether those people are on foot or riding in a car or bus. While they connect Tysons to other places, they sever Tysons from itself.

The plan to bury the interchange of these highways under a park will go a long ways toward making Tysons Central 7 more connected. But even that improvement won’t really address the underlying problem: physically-adjacent locations are often separated by a highway that feels more like an ocean. These highways will continue to mark Tysons’ landscape for decades, even generations, into the future.

Slower Redevelopment

Even including The Boro, Tysons Central 7 has less in its development pipeline than other downtown districts.

While Tysons West, Tysons East, and Tysons Central 123 all have over 17 million square feet of approved development, Tysons Central 7 has only about half as much. That might be partially due to the high intensity of existing development, or to a slightly smaller overall land area. Either way, the planners’ goals for the district — especially the Civic Common — will be some years in coming.

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