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Outdoor gathering spaces are all the rage at Birch & Broad, the shopping center formerly known as Falls Plaza.

Property owner Federal Realty Investment Trust cut a ribbon last Friday (Dec. 17) to mark the completion of its nine-month-long effort to renovate the 144,000 square-foot strip mall at 1200 W. Broad Street in Falls Church.

In addition to getting a new name, Birch & Broad overhauled its building facades, replaced the existing signage, and reconfigured some parking to add spaces designed for curbside pickup, though not all of the designated spots had been marked as of Friday.

The centerpiece of the refurbished shopping center is a patio in front of Present Nails salon and Tasty Dumpling that features a gas-lit fireplace and picnic table-style seating.

“We’re really, really happy with the way it turned out,” Federal Realty Vice President of Development Jay Brinson said. “We think the investment that we made in public spaces and gathering spaces is exactly where retail’s going.”

Construction on the renovation began in April. Supply-chain issues held up the delivery of some materials, requiring substitutions, but otherwise, contractor LF Jenning was able to generally adhere to the project’s expected timeline and budget, according to Brinson.

While plans in the works prior to the pandemic, Federal Realty hopes the emphasis on outdoor seating areas, redesigned parking, and other changes will make its half-century-old shopping center more attractive during and after COVID-19 to both tenants and community members.

The real estate company announced last month that it had landed three new tenants. All of them are on track to open by early next summer, led by Crumbl Cookies in March, according to Federal Realty Vice President of Asset Management Deirdre Johnson.

Interior construction work for a fourth upcoming tenant, Taco Rock, could be heard during the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Johnson estimates that the fast-casual restaurant and bar is about 60 days away from opening.

Once those spaces are filled, the shopping center will be fully occupied except for one 5,000 square-foot basement space that Federal Realty anticipates being turned into a children’s gym, Johnson says, though no deal is in place yet.

Other changes at Birch & Broad focused on sustainability, including the full adoption of LED lighting, the use of native plants for landscaping, and a handful of electric vehicle charging stations.

The Volta charging stations came courtesy of that company’s partnership with Giant Food, whose anchor store at the shopping center underwent a remodel concurrently with the overall renovation.

“They’ve been rolling that out nationally in cooperation with Federal Realty and several other property owners,” Brinson said of the EV charging stations. “…We’re going to be looking to do more and more of those in the near-future.”

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Morning Notes

FCPS Superintendent Search Underway — The Fairfax County School Board discussed the process and timeline for hiring a new superintendent to replace Scott Brabrand, who will leave the position on June 30. The Fairfax County Public Schools community will be able to provide input in an emailed survey next week and focus groups scheduled for mid-January. [FCPS]

Vienna Refines Plans for ARPA Funds — “Vienna officials are leaning toward spending millions of dollars on capital-improvement projects to make the most of an infusion of federal COVID-relief funds…Town officials in the next three to six months will need to devise a final plan for the ARPA funds, which must be spent by 2024, Finance Director Marion Serfass told the Vienna Town Council at a Dec. 13 work session.” [Sun Gazette/Inside NoVA]

Local Hyatt House Officially Rebrands — “The Hyatt House in the Mosaic District of Merrifield officially changed hands Wednesday and donned its new Archer Hotel Falls Church name. As part of the acquisition, Archer Hotel will be conducting a design overhaul of the former Hyatt House Falls Church/Merrifield, with a spring unveiling of the luxury boutique hotel.” [Patch]

Pickleball Study Formally Endorsed — “The Fairfax County Park Authority Board endorsed the Park Authority Pickleball Study Report at their regular meeting on Dec. 8, 2021. The report will serve as a guiding document for Park Authority pickleball site planning criteria, design and operations of pickleball facilities.” [FCPA]

Annual Hiking Photo Contest to Return — “First Hike Fairfax returns with even more award categories, including a new Best in Show (Pets) award. This year, First Hike Fairfax will be a two-day weekend event (Jan. 1-2, 2022) to help promote social distancing and prevent crowding on the trails on one day.” [FCPA]

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Louise Archer Elementary School (via Google Maps)

Fairfax County voters will face a one-question test on Election Day tomorrow (TuesdaY0, where they’ll decide whether to fund 15 school projects, including three in the Tysons area.

The 2021 school bond referendum includes renovations for two high schools (Centreville and Falls Church) and 12 elementary schools, plus a site acquisition for a future Western High School.

If approved, the ballot question would allow Fairfax County Public Schools to spend up to $360 million in bond revenue, but the district suggests in an informational packet that the additional bonded debt for the county would not significantly affect local taxes.

Louise Archer Elementary School

One project covered by this year’s referendum is the modernization and expansion of Vienna’s Louise Archer Elementary School (324 Nutley St. Northwest), which was last renovated in 1991.

Bond proceeds would provide $37 million to replace two temporary classrooms and 10 modular classrooms, which consist of two trailers and a 66-foot by 180-foot modular space, among other upgrades.

“It’s a major renovation, and it’s phased, so every finish, every ceiling tile, every electrical outlet, every mechanical system, it’s a complete…gut and renovation as well as addition, so it’s a total redo,” senior project manager Brad Pierce with Reston-based Architecture, Inc. told the Vienna Board of Architectural Review on Oct. 19.

The transformation will expand the school form nearly 53,000 square feet of space, plus nearly 12,000 square feet of temporary setups, to over 103,000 square feet. Most of the additional space would come through a new second-story addition constructed behind the existing school.

Plans for the project also call for expanding the parking lot and bus loop, bringing a new playground and basketball courts, repurposing the current cafeteria for the library, adding a stage off the school gymnasium, and creating a community room.

The project could finish in 2025.

Falls Church High School

The referendum would also provide $130 million to increase Falls Church High School’s building area (7521 Jaguar Trail) by nearly 41.6%, from 303,413 square feet to 429,596 square feet.

The additions include science classrooms, administrative offices, library, music rooms, and more for the building, last renovated in 1989.

“The construction will occur in phases to allow for continuous use of the school building,” FCPS says on a project website. “The renovation will take approximately four years to complete.”

Mosaic Elementary School

Mosaic Elementary School (formerly known as Mosby Woods, located at 9819 Five Oaks Road) is also set for a renovation. The $38 million renovation would add approximately 37,000 square feet, bringing the school to 110,000 square feet.

The school currently has eight temporary and 10 modular classrooms.

The projects up for school bond money were selected from the 2022-2026 Capital Improvement Program. More information about the 2021 referendum can be found on the FCPS website.

Photo via Google Maps

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On the heels of its Scotts Run opening, Archer Hotel is now taking aim at another site in the Tysons area.

This time, instead of building a new building from scratch, hotel management company LodgeWorks Partners plans to renovate and convert the existing Hyatt House property in Merrifield into an Archer Hotel, adding an eighth location to its proprietary, boutique brand.

While Archer Hotels comprise the bulk of its portfolio, LodgeWorks also owns and operates hotels from larger, national companies, including four Hyatt Houses, which were designed for extended stays.

Located at 8296 Glass Alley, the seven-story, 148-room Merrifield Hyatt House has been at the Mosaic District since the mixed-use development opened on the old Multiplex Cinemas site by Route 29 in 2012.

With the renovation, the site will become Archer Hotel Falls Church. It is LodgeWorks’ first conversion, according to President Mike Daood.

“We developed this hotel back in 2012 as an upscale, independent lifestyle hotel — and it’s incredibly exciting to return to those roots,” Daood told Tysons Reporter by email. “…It’s an irreplaceable asset in one of the area’s most innovative retail and entertainment districts and a tremendous fit for Archer.”

According to Archer Hotel’s website, the conversion process will begin on Dec. 15 with remodeling work starting in January 2022. The hotel will remain open during its renovation.

“With thoughtful planning, we’ll work to ensure that our guests are comfortable with minimal disruption during the transition,” Archer Hotel says.

Like Archer Hotel Tysons, which opened near the McLean Metro station on Tuesday (Sept. 14), the Merrifield location will offer four different room designs. Amenities will include an AKB hotel bar with food and beverages, daily turndown treats for guests, and complimentary Wi-Fi.

Daood says Archer’s two D.C.-area hotels “will tout Virginia-centric design and stories,” but every site in the brand is unique.

“Each will be special in its own right,” he said.

Archer Hotel’s expansion comes amid continued struggles for the hospitality industry due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The American Hotel & Lodging Association projected in August that the industry will finish 2021 with a $59 billion decline in revenue from business travel compared to 2019, exceeding the nearly $49 billion lost in 2020.

According to the analysis, which was conducted by Kalibri Labs, the D.C. region’s market will collect $2.7 billion less from business travel this year than it did in 2019 — an 86.5% dip. The only market expected to see a bigger difference is New York City, which has an anticipated revenue gap of $4 billion.

Local hotel managers and workers started to see some signs of life early this summer, but occupancy rates were still around 50%, noticeably down from pre-pandemic times. A study commissioned by Tysons Partnership predicted the area’s hotels might not recover until 2025, and that was before the Delta variant clouded the future once again.

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