First-ever Tysons strategic plan aims to turn county’s downtown into a destination

Tysons Community Alliance CEO Katie Cristol announces the Tysons strategic plan’s release at a community celebration in The Watermark Hotel (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

When Fairfax County adopted its Tysons Comprehensive Plan in 2010, it wasn’t quite creating a community from scratch. After all, the area had history: first as home of the Manahoac tribe, then as rural farmland and finally, as a suburban crossroads known for malls and offices.

However, transforming car-centric sprawl into a place people not only want to go to, to take a phrase from the Washington Post, but also stay in remains a formidable challenge.

Tasked with ensuring that challenge is surmounted, the Tysons Community Alliance (TCA) released a strategic plan on Thursday (Dec. 14) that reaffirms the priorities laid out in the comprehensive plan and the recently established booster organization’s mission.

Celebrating the organization’s first year of existence at The Watermark Hotel in Capital One Center, TCA leaders noted that the importance of connections between people and places emerged as a predominant theme of the strategic plan, which is titled “Connecting Tysons.”

“So much of the vision of the Tysons comp plan and, in fact, the potential for success of Tysons depends on public sector, private sector, civic sector working together,” TCA CEO Katie Cristol said. “So, to literally be able to bring those groups of people together across the table from one another to build this plan made a huge impression on me and, I think, made the plan a lot stronger.”

Work on the strategic plan began this spring and involved a committee of residents, business leaders, county officials and other community members with varied experiences of Tysons. They formed “task groups” that focused on different sectors: office and the workforce, resident life and housing, retail and entertainment, hospitality, transportation and community amenities.

The resulting document highlights five overarching themes that will guide efforts to implement the county’s vision of Tysons as a “dynamic, 24/7 urban center”:

  1. Cultivate and promote identity. Strategies include using marketing to define Tysons as a whole and its individual neighborhoods.
  2. Energize place. Create attractive public spaces where people can gather and feel connected to their community.
  3. Build connections and enhance mobility. Improve the accessibility of Tysons for all modes of transportation, particularly walking, bicycling and transit.
  4. Build a livable and inclusive community. The plan calls for affordable and attainable housing, enhanced parks and other community facilities, and broad public outreach.
  5. Foster a vital economy. Key goals include attracting and retaining businesses that serve offices and residents, enhancing the “workforce experience,” increasing capacity for large meetings or community gatherings, and diversifying the retail and hotel markets.

The plan’s development was informed by data from a Tysons market study released on Aug. 4 as well as a community survey that drew 831 responses.

The study found a need for more housing in Tysons, examined how the economy is recovering from the pandemic, and identified gaps in the area’s transportation facilities. Cristol says the findings provided more specific evidence to back up experiences that committee members were sharing anecdotally.

“The number one thing that we heard in terms of the need to get people back to the office and, therefore, companies leasing office space, or to encourage the recovery of midday hospitality business or support the growing residential sector is creating a destination where people want to be,” she said.

For the survey, more detailed results will be published early next year, but initial highlights include:

  • Improvements to walking and biking conditions are a top priority.
  • The primary reason residents choose to live in Tysons is its central location and proximity to work, Metro and retail.
  • 77% of survey respondents who don’t already live in Tysons said they’d consider moving there.
  • The proximity of their workplace to home is important to respondents who work in Tysons.
  • The Perch at Capital One Center was the most popular park.

Respondents also expressed a “strong desire” for more neighborhood-focused retail, including grocery and food stores, book stores, small businesses that provide specialty services and bodegas or corner stores.

When asked about needed community amenities, respondents most frequently suggested a community center — which is in the works — as well as a large central park, a public swimming pool and museums or “other cultural institutions.”

Survey takers were a mix of residents, workers and people who have visited or “played” in Tysons.

With the strategic plan now complete, the TCA hopes to continue strengthening its role as a community advocacy group with a newly launched Tysons Teammates program, which will provide a platform for people to meet other, give feedback and stay in the loop on events and initiatives.

The first activity will be a volunteer opportunity in February to support the nonprofit Food for Others.

The program is open to anyone who has a connection to Tysons, whether they live and work there or simply visit, according to Cristol.

“We want this to be broad-reaching,” Cristol said. “Folks who have a sense of connection to the Tysons community, who want to get more engaged, who want to meet others in the Tysons community, this is just a fun avenue to do it and we hope we’ll keep building up that sort of social fabric that really matters as Tysons becomes a place to live and a full neighborhood.”