Tysons, VA

Two former competitive swimmers, who are now partners in business and marriage, are opening a year-round, warm-water swimming school in Tysons.

Called SafeSplash, the school is located inside the Hilton McLean Tysons Corner (7920 Jones Branch Drive) and will be open four days a week, co-owner Jennifer Lilintahl says.

SafeSplash is a national swim school franchise with more than 100 locations. It is also the official swim school provider of USA Swimming, the governing body for competitive swimming that chooses the U.S. Olympic swimming team.

This is Jennifer and Michael Lilintahl’s fourth SafeSplash in the D.C. area, their second inside a hotel, and their first in Virginia. The couple chose the McLean area because there are relatively few conveniently located options for swim schools, Jennifer says.

The Lilintahls have also tapped into an underutilized resource for swimming schools: hotel swimming pools. Now, their idea is paving the way for other franchisees.

After the Washington Sports Club that housed one of their two Bethesda schools closed for good last summer, the couple moved it to a Hilton Hotel in D.C.’s Friendship Heights area. They now serve as a resource for SafeSplash franchisees interested in working with hotels.

Building a dedicated swimming facility is expensive, and available bodies of water are hard to come by, Jennifer says. Meanwhile, many hotels boast rarely used pools.

“It has worked out well during COVID-19. Hospitality is having such challenges, so this is an extra stream of revenue for them and a body of water for us,” she said. “It’s a win-win.”

The Lilintahls opened their first location in 2017 on Rockville Pike in North Bethesda and soon after, expanded to a Washington Sports Club in downtown Bethesda. They opened a franchise in D.C.’s Columbia Heights area in 2019.

“It’s been a long journey,” Jennifer, who swam competitively through high school, said.

She credits her husband with proposing the idea to run their own swimming schools. Michael Lilintahl went to college on a full-ride athletic scholarship for swimming and represented his home country, Venezuela, in the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. She says he wanted to help others unlock opportunities in life through the sport.

“It was always a passion of his to combine his love for swimming with a business,” she said. “Swimming took him so far in life.”

The Tysons SafeSplash will first open its doors on Saturday, Feb. 20, from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Ahead of opening day and for a limited time afterward, the Lilintahls are offering discounts: 20% off for eight consecutive weeks of lessons or 50% off one class.

To keep clients safe during the pandemic, the couple is only offering private and semi-private lessons, which are capped at three children (typically siblings or kids in the same “pod”). Every instructor wears a silicone, water-proof mask, and many are doubling up with surgical masks, she said.

The school will be open Mondays and Wednesdays from 4 to 6 p.m. and on weekends from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Photos courtesy of Jennifer Lilintahl

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The Marriott TownePlace Suites Falls Church hotel is under new management as Sonesta Simply Suites Falls Church (205 Hillwood Ave).

The pandemic has hit Fairfax County’s hospitality industry hard, resulting in a huge loss in revenue and widespread lay-offs. But one hotel brand called Sonesta International Hotels has steadily been acquiring hotels during unprecedented drops in travel.

Sonesta acquired the TownePlace Suites in Falls Church and 97 other hotels affiliated with Marriott in October because the hotelier had fallen behind on payments, according to the properties’ owner, Service Properties Trust (SVC).

A Massachusetts-based real estate investment company, SVC says it ended its 26-year relationship with Marriott last fall after attempting and failing to collect $11 million in missed payments from the hotel chain. SVC owns a 34% share of Sonesta.

“We believe that the rebranding of these hotels with Sonesta will benefit SVC as an owner of Sonesta, create greater flexibility in managing these hotels through these challenging market conditions and have a positive impact on this portfolio’s performance in the future,” SVC President and CEO John Murray said in a statement last fall.

The international hotel chain lost 122 hotels, which had collectively generated only $2.6 million in eight months, the press release said.

Sonesta took over the management of 98 of the 122 hotels. The remaining 24 hotels were sold for more than $150 million.

“This is a momentous time for the company, underscoring the continued growth and amplifying the long-term success of Sonesta and its branded hotels,” Sonesta says on its website.

Sonesta has experienced 350% growth in less than six months, and will soon have 300 operating properties across seven brands operating in North and South America, Egypt, and St. Maarten, according to a press release from Sonesta.

The D.C. area saw hotel occupancy rates drop below 50% last year, Visit Fairfax President and CEO Barry Biggar previously told Tysons Reporter. Fairfax County saw $9.1 million in hotel revenue in May 2020, compared to $70 million in May 2018, and that figure did not include related services, such as catering.

Sonesta’s growth comes amid early signs of recovery in the hard-hit hotel industry, including a sudden spike in occupancy rates ahead of the Inauguration last month. Still, travel is not projected to bounce back fully until 2024.

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Hotel rooms have suddenly become difficult to come by in Fairfax County ahead of Inauguration Day on Wednesday.

That is a welcome problem for the lodging sector of the hospitality industry, which has been in a downward spiral since the COVID-19 pandemic prompted a slew of travel restrictions and stay-at-home health guidance.

But this inauguration will be unlike any other in recent political history. The general public’s ability to attend President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’s Oath of Office ceremony has been sharply curtailed due to the pandemic, but hotels are hosting another large group of guests: the National Guard.

Up to 21,000 members of the National Guard have been authorized to come to D.C. and secure the city ahead of potential attacks, after Trump supporters stormed Capitol Hill on Jan. 6. Fairfax County hotels are reportedly housing some of the 15,000 guard members already in the D.C. metropolitan area.

“We are indeed hearing anecdotally from hoteliers that there has been an uptick in reservations compared with the past 11 months, but we are unable to ascertain whether those reservations are directly related to the inauguration and/or the National Guard or people who are visiting for leisure or business travel,” Visit Fairfax President and CEO Barry Biggar said in a statement.

The pandemic and ensuing shutdowns devastated the hospitality industry across the U.S. In Virginia, COVID-19 has resulted in the loss of about 100,000 jobs, according to the American Hotel and Lodging Association.

In November, the AHLA found that 71% of its member hotels said “they won’t make it another six months without further federal assistance given current and projected travel demand.” 47% of respondents said they would be forced to close hotels.

Many hotels were forced to layoff more staff this winter, even as access to the second round of the Paycheck Protection Program has expanded to all lenders.

But the employees who remain taking the sudden surge of guests in stride, Biggar explains.

“What we do know is that our hotels have been working tirelessly, even with staff shortages and for long hours, to ensure that our guests are treated with the utmost hospitality,” he said.

Photo courtesy Hilton McLean Tysons Corner

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(Updated on 11/12/2020) Capital One expects to unveil a 1.2-acre sky park with food trucks, a bar and beer garden, games, a dog run and an amphitheater in time for summer 2021.

Nested on top of the newly open Wegmans grocery store, The Perch is part of the second building to be completed in the 24.25-acre Capital One complex. Two more parts of the project are slated to open in the fall of 2021: the Watermark Hotel and the Capital One Hall.

From The Perch, Capital One Center Managing Director Jonathan Griffith said the public will “view Tysons from a completely different vantage point.”

For him, that perspective applies to the company’s mission to mix employees and Tysons residents.

“We are trying to separate from the notion that this is for only Capital One employees,” he said, citing The Star, a shopping and dining destination inside the Dallas Cowboys’ new training facility in Frisco, Texas, as inspiration.

The Watermark Hotel and two residential buildings will surround the Perch. The 300-room hotel will be managed by B.F. Saul Hospitality, whose flagship property is The Hay-Adams luxury hotel in Washington, D.C.

The Watermark will no longer be one of two hotels on campus, after the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved a request to change a planned hotel into an office building.

The Watermark Hotel is slated to open next fall, while construction on the residential towers could begin in 10 years, Griffith said.

Until the residential towers go up, semi-permanent installations will “activate the space,” including an old-school double-decker London tour bus and an Airstream converted into food trucks, Griffith said.

From the Sky Park, people can see the glassy Capital One headquarters, completed in 2018, as well as a 30-story office building with two floors of retail.

These developments fit with the trifecta of “live, work and play,” but Griffith said a fourth component, “culture,” is missing.

To fill that gap is Capital One Hall, with a 1,600-seat theater and 250-seat black box theater, as well as vaulted event spaces, large restrooms, plentiful concession areas and an expansive coat room, he said.

Capital One Hall General Manager Jamey Hines described both performance venues as “tight in feeling and room focus, but not uncomfortable.”

“People on the edges have just a good view and the audience won’t feel far away from the performer,” he said.

Having two options impacts the performer, too. “I’ve found that you have to create the room, so people achieve in the room, through seating,” Hines said.

Capital One, Fairfax County, and ARTSFAIRFAX are working together to ensure county agencies and Fairfax County Public Schools get access to 15% of the hall’s bookings at discounted rates. Already, the manager is looking to fill dates for 2022-2023.

Hines has mapped out some events and is gauging what people want to see.

The pandemic has given Capital One Hall more opportunities to be added to a multi-city tour, but he anticipates the Hall will be a bigger destination for one-time shows and productions. Hines encouraged those who are interested in dates to join the email list at capitalonehall.com.

Capital One Hall and The Perch will be open to weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs, galas and functions for nonprofits, concerts and speaker series, Capital One Center marketing and community affairs manager Meghan Trossen said.

The coronavirus pandemic has sped up the building pace, now unencumbered by traffic, but the supply chain has been disrupted, impacting shipments of materials and equipment, Griffith says.

Through it all, he said Fairfax County has done “an incredible job” accommodating construction during the pandemic, implementing measures such as inspections via FaceTime to keep employees safe.

Photo courtesy Capital One

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Barry Biggar, President and CEO of Visit Fairfax, has a somewhat frank assessment of the state of the hospitality industry in Fairfax: not great.

“There’s one particular industry that’s been devastated, and that’s travel and tourism,” Biggar said, “and when people aren’t travelling, there are many elements that are affected.”

Biggar isn’t alone in that assessment. In an Economic Advisory Commission meeting, local hospitality industry leaders spoke with Biggar and members of the Board of Supervisors about the impact the pandemic has had on hotels and other hospitality services.

“This has perhaps been the most heart-rending experience of my entire career,” said Mark Carrier, representing DoubleTree Hotel in Tysons. “Many hotels are paying to stay open. In Fairfax, all hotels combined had an occupancy of just 32 percent over last three months, less than half a year ago. Same period in 2019 was 76 percent. Revenue has declined by 73 percent across the entire county. Cash flow has evaporated basically, operators fighting to sustain their business. Frankly, the sustained nature of the crisis has been a source of stress.”

Biggar told Tysons Reporter that the D.C. area, including Fairfax, is one of four regions in the country seeing occupancy below 50%.

“From middle of March to end of August, hotel revenue (generated here in our county) has seen a loss of $278,987,000, just between mid-March and August,” Biggar said. “May is generally a good month. In May of 2018, the hotel revenue in Fairfax County was $70 million. This May, that figure was $9.1 million.”

Biggar noted that those figures are just based on revenue from occupancy and don’t include the total loss from related services, like food and beverage or catering.

“When you add those up, it’s significant,” Biggar said.

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Former Governor Eyeing Run for Seat — “Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe filed paperwork with the State Board of Elections Thursday to seek the governorship in 2021 but has not made a decision yet whether he will actually run for office. In the paperwork, McAuliffe listed himself as a Democratic candidate for governor.” [Patch]

Unemployment Update — “After two successive weeks of significant drops, initial claims for unemployment benefits increased slightly in Northern Virginia last week.” [Inside NoVa]

Traffic Alert for Gallows Road Over I-66 — “Installation of bridge beams for the new Gallows Road Bridge over I-66 will require reducing Gallows Road over I-66 to one travel lane in each direction from 11 a.m. Saturday, August 22, through 8 a.m. Monday, August 24.” [Virginia Department of Transportation]

Lender Could Seize Vienna Hotel — “A portfolio of 48 hotels nationwide, including one in Vienna and several others in Virginia and Maryland, could be seized in a $780 million foreclosure lawsuit.” [Washington Business Journal]

Unemployment Benefits Bump? — “Virginia is applying for federal funds made available by President Donald Trump to supplement state unemployment benefits by $300 a week, Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration said Wednesday.” [Inside NoVa]

Photo by Michelle Goldchain

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Capital One can now move forward with adding more office space for its employees at the Capital One Campus in Tysons.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved the proposal, which swaps a planned hotel with the office building, yesterday.

Gregory Riegle, the lawyer representing Capital One, told the supervisors that replacing the previously approved, but unbuilt, hotel with office space will increase economic development near the Metro.

Riegle said that the hotel had faced challenges prior to the pandemic, which the pandemic exacerbated. Riegle did not specify what the issues were.

While the pandemic’s impact on office use is still undetermined, Riegle said that the hotel-to-office swap will support the long-term vision for the Capital One Campus. Riegle said that Capital One intends to use the new office building just for its employees as the banking giant increases its presence in Tysons.

Riegle added that the new plans will add more retail and enhance street activation.

The campus currently has two office buildings, a conference center, a parking garage and surface-level parking, according to county documents. “Construction activity is on-going on a 31-story office building, an 8-story performing arts center, and a 28-story hotel/residential building,” the documents say.

The proposal did not receive any public comment during the public hearing yesterday.

Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik said that the change better fits the recommended percentage of office use in the Tysons Comprehensive Plan and that the area has other planned hotels.

As for economic development, Palchik added that the office building will support jobs for construction workers.

Palchik praised the proposal for gaining “widespread community support” in a few months, noting that the Gates of McLean and McLean Citizens Association both support the proposal.

“[It] sets a high standard for future Tysons applications,” Palchik said.

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Hotels in the Tysons area laid off nearly 1,000 employees this spring due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Tysons Reporter found six hotels that filed notices under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act with the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC). The WARN Act requires businesses with 100 or more employees to provide at least 60-day notice of a closing or layoffs affecting 50 or more employees, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Here are the WARN notices that hotels filed between late March and June:

  • Hyatt Regency Tysons Corner Center (7901 Tysons One Place): 54 late march
  • The Ritz Carlton Tysons Corner (1700 Tysons Blvd): 344
  • Tysons Corner Marriott (8028 Leesburg Pike): 120
  • Marriott Falls Church Fairview Park (3111 Fairview Park Drive): 164
  • Embassy Suites Tysons Corner (8517 Leesburg Pike): 42
  • DoubleTree Tysons (1960 Chain Bridge Road): 57
  • Crescent Hotels & Resorts (8661 Leesburg Pike): 171

In total, 952 employees were laid off.

“Employment fell in all major industry sectors, with particularly heavy job losses in leisure and hospitality. The largest job loss during April occurred in leisure and hospitality with a decline of 161,400 jobs to 240,800,” according to the Virginia Employment Commission in late May. “The largest over-the-year job loss occurred in leisure and hospitality, down 169,000 jobs (-41.2%).”

Most of the layoffs happened in March and April and were “due to COVID-19,” according to the WARN notices.

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New Park Authority Director — “Kurt Louis has been named the new Director for Park Operations for the Fairfax County Park Authority. The position has been vacant since 2019 following the departure of Todd Brown, current Director of Charlottesville Parks and Recreation.” [Fairfax County]

Input on Public Schools Reopening — Fairfax County’s School Board will meet this public hearing this afternoon at 5:30 on the proposals for returning to school this fall. [FCPS]

Summer Art Classes — “McLean Project for the Arts has announced plans to offer both in-person and online summer-camp programming for 2020. Designed for ages 3-18, the online camps are slated to run June 22 to Aug. 7, with in-person camps scheduled to run July 7 to Aug. 7 at MPA’s studio spaces.” [Inside NoVa]

Hotel for Sale — The 449-key, Sheraton in Tysons is now listed on JLL for sale. [JLL]

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Previously labeled as a “hidden gem” for travelers, Tysons also has plenty of opportunities for people who already live in the area too — without even leaving their homes.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are seeking ways to practice self-care.

People who choose to make a mini-vacation out of their self-isolation have special packages from local businesses to choose from.

Food and Drink 

In addition to many local restaurants offering delivery and curbside pick-up options, several are putting together specialty menus for date nights and other special events or working to come up with craft cocktails for delivery as well now that booze delivery is legal in Virginia.

Blackfinn Ameripub in Merrifield is hosting a “Crab Fest” April 18-19 that allows people to pick up fresh seafood for an at-home feast. The restaurant requests that people submit their orders by Thursday (April 16) by emailing the restaurant or filling out an online survey.

“The Whole Boat” order includes a dozen crabs, three sides, four drafts or a bottle of wine for $85 plus a $10 delivery fee. Customers can also add on other sides such as shareable cocktails for $12 or another side of mac and cheese for $6.

The proceeds will not only go towards helping Blackfinn Ameripub stay open, according to the Facebook page, but will also help Chesapeake Bay watermen.

The Fermented Pig in Lorton is offering special meal packages with an option between an Italian dinner box and a Friday BBQ box.

For $70, people can get a complete barbeque meal set that services up to six people and includes multiple sides and the main course, the website said. With the box, people will receive a full rack hickory smoked St. Louis cut spare ribs, a pound of our hand-pulled pork or pulled chicken, a large mac and cheese, a large bacon baked beans, a medium coleslaw and six dinner rolls, along with two sauces.

The Italian box retails for $72 and includes a a pound of herb sausage, a pound of fresh Foggy Mountain Pasta, 32 ounces of fresh marinara sauce, four ciabatta rolls from Great Harvest Bread Co., four ounces of olive tapenade from Dimitri olive oil and one-ounce herb bread dipping mix, the website said.

Beauty and Entertainment 

Mienne Beauty Supply in Vienna (1880 Howard Ave) is a locally-owned shop that is still open and helping people safely get beauty products. Though they are operating with unusual hours, they are offering curbside pickup on many products, the Facebook page said.

The shop, which carries hair dye, nail supplies and similar items, will be open every Saturday from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. for people to pick up the products they ordered either online or by messaging staff on the Facebook page.

CosmoProf, which has a location in Falls Church, is offering online digital seminars through Instagram and Facebook Live for people that include tutorials and tips, the website said.

People can order supplies online and have them shipped to their homes, the website said.

Previously, Tysons Reporter also complied a list of local places that will deliver books to the doorsteps of local bibliophiles.

Exploring the Great Outdoors From Home

For people missing outdoor activities, Visit Fairfax coordinated a plan to help people enjoy activities around Fairfax County.

“Virtual reality offers everyone the opportunity to see what they have to offer from the comfort of home,” according to Visit Fairfax’s website.

There are several virtual attractions around the region including Mount Vernon, the Workhouse Arts Center and Gunston Hall.

Performing Arts

While local community centers, Wolf Trap and 1st Stage Theatre are temporarily closed, fans of the performing arts can watch artists perform online.

1st Stage has been posting performances by local artists to its social media accounts. Recently, videos have shown singing by the cast members for “A New Brain,” a show that was supposed to open this spring but then got delayed.

On Saturday (April 18), people can tune in for the “One World: Together At Home” to support healthcare workers and the World Health Organization.

The event is set to have appearances by artists, actors and comedians including Taylor Swift, Ellen Degeneres and Heidi Klum.

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