Proposed ‘community improvement district’ in Tysons could be model for county

The Boro in Tysons (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Fairfax County has big plans for Tysons, and to realize them, it may end up laying the groundwork for a new approach to economic development.

Now in its second decade of life, the nonprofit Tysons Partnership tasked with fulfilling the county’s vision for Tysons has been spent the past couple of years — and part of a $1 million grant — reinventing itself, with a revamped website here, a change in leadership there.

Ultimately, the group intends to transition into a new “anchor” organization that it says will be more sustainable and better equipped to support Tysons long term, potentially handling everything from business recruitment to streetlight outages.

Details of this organization, including what it will be called and how it will be funded, are still being worked out, but with Tysons aiming to evolve from an office hub into a full-fledged community, officials confirmed this week that, contrary to recent speculation, it won’t be a business improvement district (BID).

“In Tysons, since we were focusing on the need to facilitate the sense of a livable, walkable community or communities, community development seemed as important, if not more important than economic development,” acting Tysons Partnership Executive Director Rich Bradley told the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday (May 17).

In a presentation to the board’s economic development committee, members of a Tysons Vision Work Group that formed last year said they looked at existing BIDs in the D.C. area and elsewhere in the U.S. as models, citing examples from Rosslyn and Georgetown to Cherry Creek in Denver, Colorado.

However, as suggested by their name, BIDs are typically driven by businesses and other commercial properties, which pay a special tax to fund economic and community initiatives.

The work group of 30-plus stakeholders unanimously favored a more inclusive approach that also engages residents, nonprofits, and the public sector, according to Bradley, who said the Tysons anchor organization will follow more of a “community improvement or community investment district” framework.

Fairfax County Department of Economic Initiatives Director Rebecca Moudry says the difference reflects a shift in economic development practices away from focusing on landing new companies — what she calls “buffalo hunting” — and more toward creating places that will attract people, who in turn, draw businesses.

“[Businesses are] looking for places with talented workers, shopping, recreation, livable and connected neighborhoods with authentic opportunities for everyone, and investment in those places creates great places to live and work,” Moudry explained.

Under the work group’s proposal, the anchor organization will support the county’s plan for Tysons as an “inclusive, vibrant, globally attractive urban center” by advocating for pedestrian facilities and other transportation improvements, organizing events and placemaking efforts, marketing the area, and conducting research on economic growth.

Residents involved in the work group expressed hope that the new organization will help implement changes to make Tysons a more attractive place to live and ensure residents a role in guiding future development.

Lisa Samuels, president of the Gates of McLean Unit Owners Association’s board of directors, told the Board of Supervisors that she believes the organization’s goals “will absolutely benefit the residents of the community.”

Donald Garrett, a millennial resident who serves on the Tysons Transportation Service District Advisory Board, noted to FFXnow that homeowners in Tysons already pay extra property taxes, so having a nonprofit separate from the county will give residents more direct control over those funds.

“Upon graduation, I feel that a lot of my peers were attracted to areas like Ballston or Clarendon, when Tysons (only two metro stops away) offers the same or better amenities at a lower price point,” Garrett said by email. “I believe an anchor organization would be able to tell the Tysons story with events, placemaking, and other experiences that allow people to see Tysons as a viable and vibrant place to live.”

That excitement was shared by several county supervisors, who suggested that, if successful, the anchor organization could serve as a model for economic development efforts in other parts of the county, such as the Richmond Highway corridor.

Acknowledging that some public investment will likely be required, Chairman Jeff McKay emphasized the importance of adapting the work in Tysons to the different assets and character of each community.

“I do think it’s essential that not only that we support this, but we look at ways in which Tysons can succeed beyond all of our realm of imagination but also can help lift up some other areas of the county that need that lift,” McKay said.