Opportunity Richmond Highway!

By: SFDC Executive Director, Edythe Kelleher

Good news from economist Jeannette Chapman (Stephen S. Fuller Institute, George Mason University) and researcher Dan Fulton (Fulton Research): They do NOT anticipate an economic downturn anytime soon. Their expectation is that the US economy will continue to slow down, leading to a “soft landing” rather than a sharp decline. 

 Chapman and Fulton spoke November 14 at “Opportunity Richmond Highway,” hosted jointly by SFDC and the Mount Vernon – Lee Chamber of Commerce. A sold-out crowd at Belle Haven Country Club also heard from large property owners and Fairfax County, Virginia, and Fort Belvoir officials about planned new infrastructure and tax incentives for new business and development. 

Saul Centers’ Carlos Heard spoke about the approximately 450,000 square feet of retail space at the Beacon Center. Saul had held the property under a long-term ground lease, but recently purchased it outright. Beacon Center redevelopment might occur in phases over many years, with existing tenants moved around to make space for new buildings. In addition to a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) stop, Beacon is planned to eventually be home to a new Metrorail stop. 

Combined Properties is farther along in the process, with Penn Daw Plaza gone and South Alex, a mixed-use development, rising in its place. Combined’s Aisha Hill discussed the challenges and progress of the development. Several of the townhomes have been sold and more are under construction. A grocery store, Aldi, has been signed. Permission for casual/take-out restaurants was recently received from Fairfax County. 

Alexandria’s Stephanie Landrum, Fort Belvoir’s Chris Landgraf, and Fairfax County Economic Development Authority’s (FCEDA) Rodney Lusk – also Lee District Supervisor-Elect – spoke about the influences of change in other areas. Amazon HQ2 (Arlington) and the Virginia Tech Innovation Campus (Alexandria) will spur tech business and bring and train relatively young workers with higher salaries and urban expectations. With more than 70,000 vehicles entering the main gate daily, Fort Belvoir’s employment has grown tens of thousands, with more expected if there is another round of BRAC. The Springfield area is the new home of the TSA and a Town Center replaced the old Springfield Mall. 

Fairfax County and the Commonwealth of Virginia want to help match investors with projects under the Federal Opportunity Zone program. Adopted in December 2017, Opportunity Zone investors can enjoy savings on capital gains taxes. Richmond Highway has four Census tracts designated as Opportunity Zones. More information is available from the Fairfax County Department of Economic Initiatives and Opportunity Virginia. 

Finally, attendees were treated to an optimistic send-off by the FCEDA’s new President and CEO, Victor Hoskins. In his roles in DC and Arlington, Hoskins helped redevelop Union Street Market and landed Amazon HQ2 against many well-prepared competitors. He gets an excellent vibe from our planned transit-based development and is very bullish on the future of Richmond Highway.