The Tysons Partnership greeted news that the federal government might allocate funding to Metro for the next decade with a cheer.
Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-11th District) announced on Tuesday (Feb. 2) that he has reintroduced the Metro Accountability and Investment Act, which would provide funding to sustain the D.C. area transit system for 10 years.
Several other members of Congress who represent the D.C. area have also sponsored the bill, including Reps. Don Beyer (D-8th District) and Jennifer Wexton (D-10th District).
“We are hopeful that stable funding would instill a bright future for Metro and specifically ridership in Tysons,” the Tysons Partnership said yesterday.
The Metro Accountability and Investment Act would give the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) $1.73 billion between 2022 and 2031 by reauthorizing the Passenger Rail Investment Improvement Act of 2008 (PRIIA), which established annual federal funding for Metro until it expired in 2018, according to The Washington Post.
Under Connolly’s bill, Metro would be required to implement and maintain certain safety and oversight reforms in order to receive the annual allocations, which range between $150 million and $200 million per year.
Among other conditions, the WMATA board of directors must pass a resolution by July 1 that gives independent budgeting, hiring, and procurement authority to the Office of the Inspector General, which conducts audits, reviews, and investigations of the transit agency’s programs and operations.
“Even before the pandemic, which has only exacerbated the challenges facing transit agencies across the country, WMATA was in need of a long-term plan that restored confidence in the rail system,” members of the National Capital Area Congressional Delegation said. “The Metro Accountability and Investment Act is a balanced proposal that recognizes the federal government’s responsibility to the funding, safety, and reliability of Metro.”
Plummeting ridership levels during the COVID-19 pandemic have created a dire financial situation for WMATA, which said last year that it would have to make significant service and personnel cuts without additional assistance.
Metro will avoid the worst-case scenario for now after Congress included an estimated $610 million for the transit system in the coronavirus relief package that was signed into law on Dec. 27. However, those funds are a temporary solution, and Metro officials say major cuts could be on the table again in 2022.
WMATA General Manager and CEO Paul Wiedefeld says the federal funding offered by the Metro Accountability and Investment Act “will be critical to the region’s recovery for years to come.”
“This bill once again demonstrates our Congressional delegation’s leadership supporting critically needed funding to maintain a safe and reliable transportation system,” Wiedefeld said. “…We welcome provisions that will increase transparency and ensure taxpayer funds are well-spent to continue to earn the public’s confidence.”
The Tysons Partnership published an article on Jan. 25 urging community members to tell legislators to support federal funding for Metro, noting that budget cuts would take a toll on the Silver Line with the potential closure of five stations — including the ones at McLean and Greensboro.
“If implemented, these transit cuts could be devastating to Tysons and the entire Silver Line corridor,” the Tysons Partnership said.
Tysons Partnership leaders touted the success of Fairfax County’s initial investment in the nonprofit stakeholder group while making the case for a new round of funding to county leaders on Tuesday (Jan. 12).
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors nominated the Tysons Partnership, which was formed in 2011 to help implement the Tysons Comprehensive Plan, for a $1 million award from the county’s Economic Opportunity Reserve fund on Dec. 1.
The organization previously received $1 million in economic opportunity funds from the county in December 2019.
“The Tysons Partnership has been a prudent investor of those initial funds and are here today to request an additional investment to further advance a community-led vision in conjunction with the county,” Tysons Partnership Chairman Josh White said.
According to White, the partnership raised $630,000 in private funds to match Fairfax County’s contribution between the third quarter of 2019 and the second quarter of 2020, resulting in a total investment of $1.26 million.
The partnership has allocated about $1 million so far, primarily to develop materials that define Tysons as a brand. It has also organized focus groups, community surveys, and virtual events, highlighted by the State of Tysons panel on Dec. 10.
White told the Board of Supervisors during its budget committee meeting that the Tysons Partnership has deferred spending about $250,000 intended to support community events and place activation initiatives that have been put on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The partnership is returning approximately $370,000 in unmatched funds to Fairfax County. That money will go back into the county’s economic opportunity reserve fund to be redistributed.
If the board approves a new $1 million investment, the funds will go toward marketing, research and data analysis, transportation and mobility projects, and community events, like holiday markets or craft fairs, Tysons Partnership President and CEO Sol Glasner says.
The organization is also collaborating with Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik on a working group focused on finding ways to make the partnership more effective and sustainable.
Glasner says the working group, which held its kick-off meeting yesterday (Wednesday), will deliver its recommendations to the county board and the Tysons Partnership board of directors by the end of this year, with the goal of implementing all of the proposals by January 2023.
The Board of Supervisors will vote on whether to approve the $1 million in economic opportunity reserve funds for the Tysons Partnership when it meets on Feb. 23.
Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay says investing in the partnership will be critical for the future growth of the Tysons area.
“The activities that the Tysons Partnership will need to be engaged in, while they may not be ideal in this pandemic environment, they will be necessary as a part of our economic recovery when we get to that point,” McKay said. “So, I would make the case that this has never been more important than now.”
(Updated at 3:20 p.m.) Once home to 17,000 people living amid suburban office parks, Tysons has seen its residential population soar in recent years, growing four times faster than Fairfax County overall.
From 2010 to 2018, the population of Tysons grew 39% to about 23,749 people today, and by 2045, Providence District is expected to add roughly 57,000 residents. People under 20 now comprise one area of marked growth, from 1% of the population in 2010 to 21% in 2020.
“Forty percent is a tremendous number,” HR&A Partner Stan Wall said during the Tysons Partnership’s State of Tysons panel last week. “Tysons started off at a fairly low bar compared to some of the other communities in the region, but is outpacing Fairfax County and other areas around the region.”
Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik attributed much of the growth to the arrival of more young families in the area, as indicated by increases in children, teens, and 18- to 20-year-olds.
“People have not always thought of Tysons as a place where you can raise a family,” she said in a statement. “The increased investment in green space, affordable housing, and transit has made Tysons an attractive option for a demographic that previously did not consider Tysons as a place to live.”
But neither an influx of 57,000 people or the current growth rate are enough to reach Fairfax County’s goal of 100,000 residents in Tysons by 2050, according to Emily Hamilton, a research fellow and director of the Urbanity Project at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.
Fairfax County set 100,000 residents as a target in its 2010 comprehensive plan, which also aims for a population of 44,000 by 2030. Tysons would have to expand at a rate of 8.5% annually — double its current annual growth rate of 4.2% — to hit those benchmarks.
If the lagging growth concerns policymakers, they should consider up-zoning areas slightly farther away from Metro stations and encourage smaller-scale developments, which move more quickly, Hamilton says.
Currently, most development is happening in the one-quarter mile radius around the area’s four Silver Line stations, she said. The lower-density and mid-rise zoning on the periphery of the stations could be amended to allow for more residential growth.
The county is also encouraging large, 10 to 20-acre developments that provide public benefits, such as parks, along with housing, she said. To Hamilton, this approach makes sense, especially if policymakers want to achieve a new grid of streets in Tysons, but it also slows down development.
Tysons relies heavily on the private sector to contribute to and provide public infrastructure as part of developments, Hamilton says, but with land values increasing, it has the capacity to meet the needs of new residents, such as schools.
With a 20% influx in residents under 20, school board members say they area already working to out ways to combat capacity issues at the schools in the Tysons area.
“We are working closely with the community and staff from the school division and Board of Supervisors to better understand and prepare for the impact increasing growth in Tysons will have on school capacity, especially at the high school level,” Dranesville District School Board Member Elaine Tholen said in an email.
Providence District School Board Representative Karl Frisch is proposing to repurpose Dunn Loring Administration Center as a new elementary school, using available bond funds to relieve capacity concerns at Shrevewood and in the Tysons periphery.
“This proposal will bring much-needed, sustainable capacity relief to Shrevewood Elementary School and the Tysons periphery,” Frisch said during a virtual meeting of the Shrevewood Elementary School PTA. “Overcrowding has been an ongoing challenge for the community, and now we have a solution.”
Staff photo by Jay Westcott, image via Tysons Partnership
The Tysons Partnership has joined calls for federal legislators to give mass transit a financial boost as public transportation systems reel from dropping ridership levels and other impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Charged with implementing the vision in Fairfax County’s Tysons Comprehensive Plan, the Partnership said yesterday (Tuesday) that its leaders sent a letter to members and stakeholders asking them to advocate for transit relief to their Congress members.
“There will be profound economic harm caused by transit service cuts in all urban centers that depend on transit to move people in [and] out of work, home, shopping and entertainment,” Tysons Partnership President and CEO Sol Glasner said.
Local elected leaders and transportation officials have stepped up their appeals for Congress to include public transit in a coronavirus relief package since Metro unveiled a sobering budget plan that includes drastic service cuts to compensate for an anticipated deficit of nearly $500 million.
In addition to closing 19 stations, including ones at McLean and Greensboro, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s proposed Fiscal Year 2022 budget would eliminate rail service on the weekends and reduce it to every half hour on weekdays. Bus service would also drop from 60 to 41 routes.
“If implemented, these transit cuts could be devastating to Tysons,” Glasner said. “Economic growth and development in Tysons may slow significantly as employers, retailers, employees and residents reconsider their respective commitments to a location in which the urban vision rests on the premise of access to transit.”
The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority and other transportation agencies in the region have been rallying in support of federal transit funding.
The NVTA included a call for additional federal COVID-19 funding for transit in its 2021 federal legislative program, stating that WMATA is critical to the federal workforce as well as first responders, healthcare workers, and other essential employees.
“At a time when we are looking to recover from the economic impacts resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, it doesn’t make sense that our federal government would not prioritize transit systems that serve our federal capital and our national economic centers,” Glasner said.
According to the Tysons Partnership, Congress is currently negotiating a federal funding bill that allocates $15 billion to transit. The American Public Transportation Association says that public transportation around the country needs at least $32 billion in emergency funds to survive.
The future of Tysons as a transit-oriented urban district looks bright, but local leaders worry it could be marred by declines in Metro ridership.
During the State of Tysons event that the Tysons Partnership held last Thursday (Dec. 10), local elected officials, business leaders, consultants, and journalists outlined the present conditions and future of the city, touching on both the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and Tysons’ 40-year comprehensive plan.
While 2020 will be remembered for being upended by a once-in-a-century pandemic, for Tysons, it also represents a “decade of accomplishment” since Fairfax County adopted a comprehensive plan that “envisioned and guides transformation of our suburban-edge city to an urban destination,” event emcee Sol Glasner said.
In the past, Tysons was “characterized by regional retail anchors, ringed by acres of low rise office parks, themselves encircled by acres of surface car parking, encased in ribbons of asphalt,” he said.
But participants agreed that Tysons has made strides to becoming a transit-oriented urban district with more mixed-use housing and retail development, and more young families choosing to live in the city.
“We really are making progress. Sometimes it doesn’t feel that way,” Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik said. “This is a 40-year plan, and we’re 10 years in. We need to stay committed to these goals and applying resources and ideas to help achieve them.”
The primary concern for the State of Tysons speakers and panelists was the future of transit.
Pre-pandemic, the four Tysons Metro stops were clocking the highest-ever Metro ridership rates, according to Palchik.
With low ridership persisting, WMATA cuts looming, and little chance of federal aid in sight, the future looks grim, City Monitor editor Sommer Mathis said.
“If the service cuts that WMATA is proposing come to pass, Tysons is going to have to be more than agile,” she said. “It’s a huge potential blow to the ability of folks who were pleased to get to Tysons easily via Metro. We’re starting to track a death spiral for public transportation in a number of cities.”
Ridership declines due to COVID-19 could become semi-permanent when prices increase to make up for lost revenue, she said, adding that it will be difficult to get federal aid if the makeup of the U.S. Senate doesn’t change.
“Transit is under siege,” Palchik said. “It’s under fire. It’s going to take support from federal partners to make sure we make it through this challenging time and save transportation.”
Fairfax County Deputy County Executive Rachel Flynn said Tysons needs to be agile, checking in on the 40-year plan every few years. She stated that it is important to celebrate successes and identify areas to improve, such as transit, walkability, and equity.
Other focus areas in the coming months will be when companies start returning to their offices after the pandemic, responding to changes to the retail sector, and rebuilding the hospitality sector — particularly for restaurants.
Matthis said that some predictions of the future of remote work are overblown, but Tysons will need to respond to an increased demand for flexible office and meeting spaces as more firms are rethinking the traditional office space.
Staff photo by Jay Westcott
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted on Tuesday (Dec. 1) to nominate the Tysons Partnership to receive $1 million in additional economic opportunity funds.
The funds will help the nonprofit continue wayfinding, business and event promotion, and other initiatives designed to support the growth of Tysons in accordance with the Tysons Comprehensive Plan.
The $1 million will come from Fairfax County’s Economic Opportunity Reserve fund, which goes to projects that are expected to stimulate economic growth in certain priority areas but don’t fall under the county’s capital improvement program or other standard procurement processes.
The county board nominated the Tysons Partnership for the fund in a joint board matter introduced by Chairman Jeff McKay, Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik, Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn, and Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust.
“Since its inception, the Tysons Partnership has played a key role in the success that Tysons has seen,” Palchik said in the board matter. “…The projected trajectory for Tysons is robust and we need to do whatever we can to ensure that it is maximized.”
According to the board matter, assessed real estate tax values in Tysons have increased from just over $11 billion to nearly $17 billion in the seven years since Fairfax County established the area as a special tax district on Jan. 1, 2013.
The Board of Supervisors nomination is the first step in a review process that the board and county staff undertake before allocating any Economic Opportunity Reserve funds, according to the board matter.
By approving the board matter, the supervisors also directed county staff to work with the Partnership to develop a plan that explains the nonprofit’s role in the Tysons community and identifies governance rules, metrics for success, and a sustainable funding stream.
Palchik says she anticipates any recommendations that come out of the staff and Partnership group to be implemented in the timeframe of Fairfax County’s Fiscal Year 2023 budget.
“Tysons Partnership sincerely appreciates Fairfax County’s support for Tysons as an economic engine for the County and region,” the Tysons Partnership said in a statement.
Ten years into the plan to transform Tysons from a suburban “edge city” mostly known for its malls into a downtown hub to over 100,000 people and 200,000 jobs, the man tasked with seeing it through said he is optimistic about the future.
“I’m very bullish about Tysons over the long term,” said Sol Glasner, president and CEO of Tysons Partnership. “I’m not going to be Pollyanna and say that we don’t have challenging times that we have to get through. We will get through them.”
Glasner spoke to the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority; taking a measure of the ten-year benchmark of a plan that calls for transforming Tysons into an urban and economic hub by 2050. Even with the pandemic and economic downturn it caused, Glasner said he is optimistic about the future of Tysons.
In 2010, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors passed a “comprehensive plan” to bring more development to Tysons to transform it from a suburban “edge city” into a downtown hub.
But for Glasner, who’s group is charged with assisting to help develop and market Tysons, said branding a city, known mostly for its malls, is a challenge.
“So literally as we speak, we are in the process of identifying a visual image for Tysons that will become our brand,” Glasner said. “You’ll see a lot a lot of manifestations of that.”
A key part of changing Tysons is the four Silver Line Metro stations opened in 2014, which the county plans to serve as hubs as development. Glasner said he envisions that two neighborhoods will crop up around each of the four Metro stations each with “their own vibe and their own texture.”
But transforming the “edge city’ that is full of office parks, parking lots and large malls into a livable and walkable downtown for Fairfax County is still a work in progress. Ten years into the county’s plan, Tysons still faces numerous challenges, namely the cost of housing and finding a way to make the city more walkable, Glasner said.
The cost of housing is a county-wide problem with Fairfax County having the highest housing cost in Virginia, according to 24/7 Wall Street.
But even with the challenges and the COVID-19 pandemic and the recession it has caused, Glasner said he has high hopes for the future of Tysons.
“Our ticket to overcoming the transitory challenges we are facing is what I’ve seen among our Tysons stakeholders,” Glasner said. “People have stepped up to the plate in terms of pivoting to make as much lemonade as you can out of the lemons.”
Photo courtesy Ed Schudel
What factors should businesses consider when making decisions on remote and in-person work during the pandemic? Do employers feel like they will be safe in the office or using public transit?
A message from Tysons Partnership President Sol Glasner accompanying the newly released survey results notes that they are meant to “set a baseline of understanding” that the organization plans to track with another survey in roughly six months.
Roughly half of the more than 700 people who responded to the survey live or work in the Tysons area, according to the results.
Drew Sunderland, Tysons Partnership’s marketing director, told Tysons Reporter that the survey indicates a shift from people relying on government and health officials giving guidance on public health precautions to following their own ideas about what’s safe as the pandemic continues.
The survey covered a variety of factors, from working at home to mask mandates to childcare concerns. Here’s an overview of the results.
Roughly 23% of the respondents said they rely on public transit to return to in-person work and less than 10% said they feel comfortable riding public transit right now. Overall, half of the respondents said they plan to wait until there’s a vaccine before returning to public transit.
Whether people want their commutes back is a different question. Analysis in the survey notes that many commenters are hopeful for long-term change that reduces or eliminates commuting.
Tysons Partnership says in the survey that WMATA and other public transit agencies should visibly enforce safety measures and test new initiatives like special fare zones to encourage riders back.
Kids and Work
Of the respondents, 30% were parents with kids under the age of 18.
The survey found that those parents are 16% more likely to have issues focusing on work, and the 10% of parents who don’t have any childcare support are twice as likely to want to send their kids back to school.
Several anonymous comments linked the ability to return to in-person work with classroom learning. Currently, Virginia is in Phase Three, which means teleworking is strongly encouraged.
For the respondents working full-time (491), a majority said they are working from home. Roughly 49% said they are happy with remote work, while 33% expressed loneliness. When asked why they would want to return to in-person work, respondents said they miss a variety of social interactions.
Safe at Work?
While 70% of the workers who responded said they trust their employer to provide a safe work environment during the pandemic, the employers had a different response with 25% saying they think they have the resources to make that happen.
In total, 32 businesses responded to the survey — 18 of which are in the Tysons area. They flagged the availability of personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies along with access to information about how to create a safe work environment as top concerns.
Roughly 58% of the respondents said they don’t want to return to in-person work unless there is a vaccine or treatment for the virus.
Masks and Preventive Measures
The analysis for the survey notes that masks were the “hottest” topic in the open-ended comments section.
Several comments included in the report addressed concerns around masks, like one person writing that they did not appreciate face coverings as optional in the workplace and others saying that businesses should require and enforce masks wearing.
“Right now, masks should be MANDATORY for every business worker and every single customer, inside or outside,” one person wrote.
Live, Work, Play
The final section of the survey results touched on respondents’ attitudes, comfort and ideas about a variety of activities. Overall, they were twice as likely to say they would shop at an outdoor rather than an indoor one or take part in “economic activities” that are outside.
Under Phase Three, non-essential retail, parks, restaurants and places of worship are now able to fully open. Some places, like fitness centers and entertainment venues, have capacity restrictions.
Roughly 23% of the respondents identified themselves as essential workers. “Essential workers are twice as comfortable engaging in non-work social and economic activities outside the home,” the analysis noted.
Respondents noted that protective measures drive their interest in participating in activities more than rollbacks of government restrictions.
A full summary of the results can be found online.
Photo by Michelle Goldchain
The organization aims to create a public database with localized information from Fairfax County, from commuting patterns to how office and retail space are used.
Sol Glasner, Tysons Partnership’s president and CEO, told Tysons Reporter that the database will make it easier to collect and analyze Tysons-specific information.
The financial support for the hub is coming from Fairfax County’s $1 million — an equal match to Tysons Partnership’s fundraising — to help with the rebranding and work to find a sustainable business model, Glasner said.
After putting out an RFP, Tysons Partnership is now discussing the proposal with a prospective consulting organization, Glasner said. If all goes well, he’s hopeful the data dashboard, which will be available to the public, can be put together by the end of this year.
Glasner said that pandemic seems to increase the need for Tysons-centric data as county officials, planners and the private sector look to address affordable housing, walkability, transportation and development issues in the area.
“It’s like this big tapestry with a lot of moving parts to it,” he said.
Unlike the database, the pandemic may delay the group’s rebranding effort for Tysons. While Tysons Partnership aims to have the rebranding, which is being done with the help of Gensler, ready by early next year, Glasner that it’s unclear how the public health crisis will impact the rollout.
“We need to have a public that is receptive,” Glasner said. “Right now, people are preoccupied.”
Tysons Partnership doesn’t want to encourage large crowds in public places to reduce the risk of spreading the virus, he added.
“It’s very hard to know how all this will play out,” he said about the pandemic. “We could be in this mode for another year, another two years.”
When the rebranding does get revealed, Glasner said that people can expect place-making and place activation to help with community building.
Ultimately, the rebranding is meant to get people to think of Tysons’ four square miles as one place, Drew Sunderland, the director of marketing and placemaking at Tysons Partnership, previously told Tysons Reporter.
“We’re trying to create a common sense of community,” Glasner said.
As for the pandemic’s impacts on Tysons’ urbanization and appeal, Glasner emphasized that the creation of the Tysons Comprehensive Plan and completion of Silver Line Phase One years ago have set the area up for success.
“Tysons is a long term project that is measured in decades — not in months, years or even a single decade,” he said.
A new survey wants to find out how people feel about heading to offices, retailers and entertainment venues during the coronavirus pandemic.
Tysons Partnership created the survey to inform Tysons-area businesses and community organizers as Gov. Ralph Northam rolls back COVID-19 restrictions.
Currently, Virginia is in Phase Three, which means that non-essential retail, parks, restaurants and places of worship can fully open. Some restrictions and guidelines are still in effect — teleworking is strongly encouraged, gatherings are limited to 250 and places like fitness centers and entertainment venues can open with limited capacity.
“I’ve been extraordinarily impressed by how Tysons-based employers pivoted from conventional office work environments to virtual workspaces,” Sol Glasner, Tysons Partnership’s president and CEO, told Tysons Reporter.
Now, the survey will help businesses decide what to do about reopening.
“It’s intended to get at people’s perception and give us some flavor of what they are thinking and [their] level of comfort,” Glasner said.
One part of the survey asks respondents to say when they would feel comfortable in various scenarios, like picking up food, shopping at indoor and outdoor malls and flying on a plane.
The survey, which is currently available online, takes five minutes to complete. Glasner said that Tysons Partnership is looking to end the survey next week and hopefully have results available to share in late July.