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A Throne bathroom was placed by Old Town Hall in Fairfax City during the Asian Festival in May (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Fairfax City’s experiment with “elevated” port-a-potties may be coming at too high a cost to consider continuing it long-term.

During a meeting on Tuesday (Nov. 14), the Fairfax City Parks and Recreation Department provided the Fairfax City Council with a progress report on the high-tech, portable Throne restrooms that have been available around the city for the past seven months.

The department initiated the pilot this spring in response to calls for increased access to restrooms in the Fairfax Circle area, Old Town Square, and Van Dyck Park.

Parks and Recreation Director Stacey Sommerfield said they were looking for a vendor to provide a secure, accessible, clean facility that didn’t require any additional staff hours. The department chose local startup Throne Labs, which launched in 2020 and provides “an elevated experience” with solar-powered, touchless outdoor bathrooms.

“They feature running water, flushing toilets, climate control, they were ADA-accessible, provided changing stations, have secure access, and were cleaned every 50 uses,” Sommerfield said.

In May, one unit was placed in Old Town Square and in Van Dyck Park. Another unit was placed on Fairfax Blvd in the area of the former Hy-Way Motel (9640 Fairfax Blvd) in June. From their launch to Nov. 1, the Thrones have been used 11,356 times overall, according to Sommerfield.

“The Van Dyck unit is our highest-use unit, which is not surprising to us because Van Dyck Park is very well-used,” she said.

Usage of the Old Town Square unit fluctuated based on events and weather. The Fairfax Blvd location has been the slowest to catch on, Sommerfield said, adding that it may be moved in the future to garner more attention.

“Right now the only location that we have access to is the Hy-Way Motel, but we think we might be able to reposition the unit on the site in order to make it more attractive,” she told the city council. “Right now, it is very close to the road.”

In August, the department launched a voluntary survey requesting feedback through QR codes posted outside the units. The survey garnered 67 responses, which Sommerfield described as positive.

“We do have a 38% return rate for users of the Thrones, so we have a lot of people that return and use them again,” she added.

The units are priced according to a three-tiered system based on the average number of uses per day. The more they are used, the more they cost. Additionally, the artwork that wraps around the Thrones costs $5,500 each.

“As of November 1, 2023, $74,392 has been spent on wrapping and monthly fees. $175,608 remains for the continuation of the program through the remainder of the fiscal year,” City Manager Robert Stalzer wrote in a summary for the council.

Looking forward to 2024, Sommerfield said there will be a $50 increase to the monthly fee for units that are used less than 50 times per day — the low to mid tier.

“So, the status of the pilot program is that the parks department really views this as an interim option until we can build brick-and-mortar bathrooms,” Sommerfield said.

Concerned about the cost, Counilmember Jeffrey Greenfield suggested the parks department explore buying bathrooms.

“The cost continues to concern me, especially when Thrones is doing deals with other jurisdictions, doing pilots at no cost, and we’re paying a lot,” he said.

Greenfield acknowledged that some areas in the city will struggle to get infrastructure in place for permanent bathrooms, but said the option of purchasing bathrooms should be considered before deciding to continue with Throne.

The city council approved $250,000 for the pilot in April. That funding will cover the three restroom units through July 2024.

City Centre West will replace commercial buildings on Main Street with a mixed-use condominium complex (courtesy Ox Hill Companies)

Fences have gone up around three commercial buildings at the corner of Main Street and West Street in Old Town Fairfax, signaling their impending demise in favor of a planned mixed-use development known as City Centre West.

Developer Ox Hill Companies anticipates demolishing the vacant Wells Fargo bank, a restaurant last occupied by OudResto & Hall and the office building with its headquarters (10501, 10515 and 10523 Main Street) by the end of this year, Managing Principal Christopher Smith recently told FFXnow.

The restaurant, which was partially burned down by a fire in 2020, will be knocked down first, followed by the bank and then the offices. Ox Hill and Infinite Technologies Orthotics and Prosthetics, the low-rise office building’s other tenant, will temporarily relocate to 4031 University Drive, a five-story office building that the developer acquired last month.

Construction on City Centre West — a six-story condominium complex with office and retail space — is on track to break ground between April and July of 2024, according to Ox Hill.

“It has been a very, very, very tough economy to work in for the last couple of years, and [I’m looking forward to] the fact that we’ve made really good headway and are getting things done and moving toward actually breaking ground and starting the construction process of these buildings,” Smith said.

Approved by the Fairfax City Council in July, City Centre West will have about 79 condos, over 18,000 square feet of general and medical office space and 7,731 square feet of restaurant or retail space, which will be joined at the Main and West street corner by a publicly accessible, 0.31-acre urban park.

Features of the plaza will include cafe seating, benches, an event lawn, a pergola, paved paths and bicycle racks, according to the development plan.

Currently in design, the condos will consist of one, two and three-bedroom units and a penthouse. Residents will have access to a gym, a rooftop pool, a private dining room and an underground parking garage with dedicated spaces, electric vehicle chargers and a security gate.

The real estate brokerage Douglas Elliman announced on Nov. 2 that it will handle sales and marketing for the residential portion of the development, which has been branded Ten501 at City Centre West. Pre-sales will launch this winter, with prices starting at $1 million.

“This project will create a versatile mixed-use space for the community to experience for years to come,” Howard Lorber, Douglas Elliman’s executive chairman, said in a press release. “Our expertise in new development projects, coupled with our recent expansion into the region, makes this a truly exceptional opportunity for us.”

Under Fairfax City’s relatively new Affordable Dwelling Units (ADU) program, the development is required to designate 6% of its units as affordable to households earning 70% of the area median income or less, but in its application, Ox Hill requested the option to instead provide those five units in a separate, all-ADU development that it’s “actively pursuing” in Old Town.

The developer says it’s “working closely with the city” to address the ADU requirement.

“Our concern is placing an undue burden on the occupant, but we do look to provide these ADUs in the Old Town area,” Smith said. “We have identified an ideal location that works in conjunction with another of our development projects. This will be made public at the appropriate time.” Read More

University Drive in Fairfax City (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Fairfax City is starting to refine its plans to add bicycle facilities on University Drive.

The project will “implement bicycle facilities on University Drive between Layton Hall Drive and South Street, with shared lane markings through the center of Old Town and bicycle lanes to the north,” according to the city’s website.

It will serve as a link to other multimodal projects currently underway in the area, such as the partially built George Snyder Trail, Chloe Ritter, the city’s multimodal transportation planner, told the Fairfax City Council at a meeting on Oct. 24.

“It connects to the bike lanes that are already existing on University Drive, south of Old Town. It connects to The Flats — the apartments that recently opened,” Ritter explained. “It really brings together a lot of the multimodal projects that we’ve been working on in connecting everything together.”

In addition to the bicycle facilities, the city hired consulting firm Kimley-Horn to evaluate possible changes to the University Drive and Layton Hall Drive intersection.

“The measures of evaluation that we looked at were bicycle and pedestrian safety, vehicle safety traffic operations, transit operations, property impacts implementation, and cost,” Megan Waring, a transportation engineer for the consultant, said at the council meeting.

She said ultimately, the firm recommends a two-way stop and a removal of the northbound, right-turn lane at the intersection, which will be condensed. Waring said that change allows for a pedestrian island that will improve safety.

“It allows us to have bike lanes as we’re coming up and down University, as we have kind of that steep incline or decline, depending on which way you’re traveling,” she said.

The recommended concept for the University Drive and Layton Hall Drive intersection creates a two-way stop and eliminates a right-turn lane (via City of Fairfax)

Tightening the intersection would also enable it to accommodate an added crosswalk, giving it a total of four. The crosswalks will also be closer to the intersection.

“So, we’re moving the people, the bikes, and the cars all to a location that’s more centralized, so that all users are able to see each other and make safe passage through the intersection itself,” Waring said.

The recommendations also call for adding a median refuge island, a protected space in the center of the street that facilitates bicycle and pedestrian crossings.

Waring said, together, the recommendations would reduce bicycle and vehicle conflicts, improve pedestrian crossings and maintain transit and vehicle operations. Read More

Fairfax City has been working to promote its downtown retail (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Fairfax City is browsing for makers of art, crafts and other products who want to expand beyond an online shop or farmers’ market stall but aren’t quite ready to commit to a full storefront.

Those are the budding entrepreneurs that the Fairfax City Economic Development team (FCED) hopes to attract to Wander In, an upcoming retail incubator store that the city is developing with the Old Town Fairfax Business Association (OTFBA).

Announced in September, the store is expected to launch this coming winter in Old Town Plaza, replacing Sylvan Learning’s tutoring center at 3950 University Drive, Suite 211.

“Establishing Wander In as a business incubator in our historic downtown plaza is an important step in building Fairfax City’s small business retail,” Mayor Catherine Read said in the press release. “It’s a path for our local artisans from online sales and festival participation to a brick and mortar presence. Located in close proximity to a free parking garage and three very busy restaurants with outdoor dining, this multi-vendor retail offers residents and visitors a reason to wander in.”

The FCED and OTFBA concocted the idea for Wander In after the city received a grant that it wanted to use to help small businesses grow, according to Tess Rollins, the business association’s executive director.

Initially, the economic development office suggested opening a temporary pop-up store, but the local business owners on OTFBA’s board of directors were wary of supporting a new business that could compete for customers and the association’s attention.

Rollins and the FCED then pitched the board on the concept of an incubator that would not only provide retail space for up-and-coming businesses, but also educational events and resources to give them the skills needed to be viable long-term — and potentially open a permanent brick-and-mortar location in the city.

“They were more receptive of basically helping…small businesses grow because each one of them has their own establishment, whether it’s a restaurant or a retail store,” Rollins said. “So, they felt that was more in line with the mission and the core values of Old Town Fairfax Business Association.”

Applications for prospective Wander In vendors are now being accepted. Vendors must stay in the space for at least three months, be OTFBA members, obtain a city business license after the first 30 days, and pay a $200 fee each month, along with 10% of sales.

Rollins says one of the initiative’s goals is to promote businesses in Fairfax City, but it’s also open to businesses and entrepreneurs based outside city limits.

“We do want to promote other businesses who may be looking for a place in Fairfax City to see if our community is a good place for them to have an additional location,” she told FFXnow.

At the moment, there’s no limit on how many vendors will be accepted, since the capacity will depend on how much room each business needs. While most will likely sell jewelry, paintings or other artisan goods, Rollins says prepackaged food vendors could be considered.

FCED and OTFBA worked with Old Town Plaza manager Kimco Realty to secure the suite, which is in the same building as the recently opened Commonwealth Brewing Co. With the pub Earp’s Ordinary also on the way, the shopping center’s revitalization is central to the city’s Old Town Fairfax Small Area Plan, which was adopted in 2020 and seeks to make the historic downtown more active and pedestrian-friendly.

To encourage collaboration between businesses and with the larger community, Wander In will work with George Mason University’s Small Business Development Center to assist and provide training to the vendors. It will also host events both inside the store, where customers can meet and learn from the vendors, and outside.

Rollins suggests shopping days or scavenger hunts that involve other Old Town retailers as possibilities.

“I love the idea of the mix of having retail shopping with a creative experience, whether it’s ‘Meet the Maker’ or whether it’s one of their classes,” Rollins said. “I think that having the combination of the two is going to bring something different to Old Town.”

A new Inova-GoHealth Urgent Care Center has opened at Pickett Shopping Center in Fairfax (courtesy Inova Health System)

A Fairfax pet store that came under investigation for mistreating animals has been replaced by a facility for treating sprained ankles and other medical needs of human patients.

Inova Health System has opened an urgent care center at 9404-A Main Street in Fairfax City’s Pickett Shopping Center, the recently rebranded nonprofit health care provider announced yesterday (Monday).

Located next to Chuck E. Cheese, the facility occupies a suite last filled in 2019 by Petland, which shuttered after investigators found 14 dead rabbits in a freezer. This is Inova’s 11th urgent care center operated by GoHealth, an on-demand health care company that it teamed up with last year.

The center provides medical care for non-life-threatning conditions to patients 6 months and older.

“Having quick and easy access to high-quality care is essential for our community’s health,” Inova-GoHealth Urgent Care Medical Director Meredith Porter said. “We are committed to expanding our urgent care network and are excited to open our Pickett center, bringing high-quality care to where our patients live, work and play.”

Here’s more on the Pickett center from Inova:

The new center offers patients aged six months and older a wide array of services for non-life-threatening conditions, including flu, fever, earaches, insect bites, sprains, simple fractures, eye injuries and cuts requiring stitches. The center also provides X-ray services, labs and COVID-19 testing…

Patients can walk into any Inova-GoHealth center for care or save time by pre-registering online before going to their neighborhood center. The new Pickett center is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Friday, and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday. Inova-GoHealth centers are open 365 days a year, including holidays.

Inova-GoHealth centers deliver quality on-demand care by Inova providers at convenient locations throughout Northern Virginia. When a patient requires further care, Inova-GoHealth is a direct connection to Inova’s robust network of care, which regularly earns national recognition for excellence in quality and safety, research and innovation.

Since partnering with GoHealth, Inova has been rapidly rebranding its existing urgent care centers, including locations in Reston, Tysons, Vienna, West Springfield and Centreville. The health care organization also opened a new center on Sept. 18 in Lorton Marketplace.

More centers are expected to open later this year in Seven Corners, Fair Oaks and Herndon, Inova says. The Herndon location will be in the Village Center at Dulles (2445 Centreville Road), per Fairfax County permits.

Commonwealth Brewing Co. has revived a long-vacant space at 10426 Main Street in Fairfax City (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

The City of Fairfax has high hopes for Commonwealth Brewing Co.

The Virginia Beach-based company opened its second brewery and restaurant at 10426 Main Street with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Sept. 28, bringing new life to a space that has been vacant since at least 2015.

While customers were no doubt looking forward to trying the establishment’s specialty brews and wood-fired pizzas, the city’s economic development team saw the long-awaited launch as a sign that its ongoing efforts to revitalize Old Town are paying off.

“With Commonwealth opening up and its acclaim and reputation from how well they’ve done in Virginia Beach, it’s going to become really a regional destination for people to come and visit and really spend time in our downtown,” said Nicole Toulouse, senior assistant director for Fairfax City Economic Development (FCED).

Established in a former Virginia Beach fire station in 2015, Commonwealth Brewing began as an outgrowth of founder and owner Jeramy Biggie’s longtime hobby of home-brewing beer. He and his wife Natalie spent a decade “passively researching” before using their retirement savings to start their own business, he previously told FFXnow.

The risk has evidently paid off. Commonwealth rode a wave of growing local interest in craft brews to become a neighborhood favorite known for its artistic beer cans and communal, beer hall-style environment.

The FCED hopes the brewery can replicate that success in historic downtown Fairfax. A block away from Old Town Hall, the roughly 8,000-square-foot space had attracted interest from different potential tenants, but it wasn’t until Commonwealth that “we finally found the right fit,” Toulouse says.

The brewery will be joined in its efforts to create a new community gathering spot by Earp’s Ordinary, which is expected to open a permanent music venue and pub in the same building later this year.

“We really think that Commonwealth will be a gathering place for the entire region,” she told FFXnow. “It has a large, open-concept plan with indoor and outdoor seating, with communal tables available, and so, it’ll be a place that people can meet their neighbors and also host events. So, we’re really excited for it to kind of be a keystone retailer in the heart of Old Town.”

Toulouse says attracting and supporting small, boutique businesses like Commonwealth or the recently opened Lucy Loves vintage shop in Old Town has been a priority for the FCED, even as the city encourages more mixed-use activity with a small area plan adopted in 2020.

Seeking to “reimagine” the city’s downtown as a walkable cultural destination, the plan calls for a major shift toward multifamily residential uses around a commercial core focused on “local, regional food services along with cultural use and specialty retail.”

So far, the plan has opened the door for a performing arts center, along with condominiums and more retail and office space. Though some residents fear Old Town will lose its historic charm, Toulouse believes the city’s vision strikes an effective balance between preserving its past and paving the way for a more vibrant future.

“It will still maintain that quaint and cute feel throughout the evolution of Old Town’s development,” Toulouse said. “That being said, it is the main attraction to the city, to kind of visit all of these old historic buildings, and so, we’re excited to have activated storefronts like Commonwealth that are able to bring people into the city and stay here.”


Fairfax City’s Coyote Grille and Cantina has unleashed its last howl.

The eatery abruptly closed its doors at 10266 Main Street for good on Oct. 1 after serving up tacos, margaritas and other dishes and drinks inspired by the American Southwest for more than two decades.

A paper sign taped to the door offers little explanation, stating only that the restaurant would be permanently closed as of that Sunday.

“We appreciate all our valued guests and staff,” the sign said.

While Coyote Grille’s closure may have come suddenly, it wasn’t a complete surprise to regular patrons, who lamented in Yelp reviews and social media posts that the food and service had declined in quality after longtime owner Tatjana Farr sold the business last year.

Farr launched Coyote Grille in 2002 with the goal of creating an oasis at a time when Northern Virginia “was suffering a drought of fresh, flavorful Southwestern-inspired food,” according to the website. After running the restaurant for 20 years, she decided to sell it so she could move to South Carolina, Old Town Fairfax Business Association (OTFBA) Chair Josh Alexander says.

However, Farr’s reaction upon learning that the new owners were shutting down the place she’d spent two decades overseeing was one of “shock and sadness,” according to Alexander, who worked as a manager at Coyote Grille for 14 years.

“It was definitely a landmark in the neighborhood, a local place for families and friends to gather, and it was tough to see it close,” Alexander said. “We all went in on the last day to celebrate it when we heard that they were closing.”

The current owners plan to reopen the restaurant under a new name as an “upscale, small plate concept,” Alexander says.

As chair of the OTFBA, Alexander says he wants all businesses in the city to succeed, but it’s not yet clear how much the rebranded restaurant will retain from its predecessor, if anything.

At the very least, Coyote Grille’s legacy will continue to some extent through Alexander’s own restaurant, Mackenzie’s Tunes & Tonics, which opened on June 1 at 3950 University Drive, Suite 210. He employs some former Coyote Grille staff members, and he threw a party there for Farr and Coyote supporters on Oct. 8.

“I want[ed] to say thank you for 20 years. Thank you for the memories,” he told FFXnow.

Some familiar dishes may even turn up on Mackenzie’s menu in the future, if the Coyote Grille owners opt not to use the recipes for their new establishment.

“Whatever the new concept, whatever they decide they don’t want to use, I’ll gladly bring to my place so that the locals can still come try some of their favorite dishes from over the years,” Alexander said.

A shared-use trail is planned through Fairfax City’s Shiloh Street Park (via City of Fairfax)

(Updated at 3:45 p.m.) A years-long effort to build a pedestrian and bicycle trail along Fairfax Blvd (Route 50) is facing a roadblock.

At a public hearing last Tuesday (Sept. 26), the Fairfax City Council deferred action on a special use permit for nearly 12,000 square feet of trail in Shiloh Street Park (10400 Shiloh Street). The affected area requires the permit because it is zoned for residential development.

The Shiloh Street Park passageway, which would include asphalt pavement, a boardwalk and a bridge over the Accotink Creek, would join the partially-constructed George Snyder Trail. Plans for the Snyder trail have been in the works for more than a decade.

Per a July presentation from city staff, the final version of the trail will be 1.78 miles long and offer a route for pedestrians and cyclists parallel to Fairfax Blvd from Chain Bridge Road (Route 123) to Draper Drive, connecting to the Wilcoxon Park trail.

The special use permit request for Shiloh Street Park now appears on the agenda for the council’s Oct. 10 meeting, where it will not require a public hearing. The vote to defer action was unanimous.

Councilmember D. Thomas Ross said he supported the deferral to give the council time to gather additional information and reflect on concerns raised by community members.

Councilmember Kate Doyle Feingold said the proposal was developed to use funding, rather than to serve residents.

Much of the Snyder trail’s $18.8 million estimated cost will be covered by money from the state’s I-66 Outside the Beltway project, which funds 16 projects approved by the Commonwealth Transportation Board with the recommendation of the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority.

“What we need to do is design things that the community and residents want, design things that protect our natural spaces, that make our residents feel safe and comfortable, places people love to go, like Daniels Run Trail,” Doyle Feingold said.

Among other concerns, she said the project would “take down an unnecessary hundreds of trees”

City staff estimate the Shiloh Street Park portion of the project would require removing 59 trees, while the overall project would require removing 568 trees — a prospect that has fueled opposition to the trail from some community members.

A mitigation plan to offset the prospective tree losses would plant 858 trees and 815 shrubs — all native species — in the project area, including 518 trees and 353 shrubs in the resource protection area, a city spokesperson says.

During the public hearing, four individuals who said they live in the Mosby Woods neighborhood near Shiloh Street Park spoke against having an access point to the trail near their homes, citing crime.

Ross said he recognized those concerns, and the city is taking action to address them. Ultimately, though, he remained supportive of the trail.

“From a trail perspective, and from our parks and our open space, opening them up to public access can be a good thing. It adds visibility. It adds public use,” he said.

Ross also said there has been “strong community support” for the trail over the years of its development.

The Fairfax Alliance for Better Bicycling called on riders to support trail construction ahead of a city council work session in July.

The vote on the Shiloh Street Park special use permit is not the last action the city council will take on the trail project this year. If the permit is approved, the body will vote this winter to award a contract for construction, which is scheduled for spring 2024, per city staff’s July presentation.

A proposed mixed-use development concept for the northeast corner of Chain Bridge Road and Fairfax Blvd (via Fairfax City)

The vacant Fuddruckers building along Route 123 (Chain Bridge Road) in Fairfax City may not be standing for much longer.

The site at 3575 Chain Bridge Road, which has been empty since the burger joint closed in 2017, is being eyed for a potential mixed-use development that would also encompass the adjacent Exxon gas station and Tobacco Hut lots, covering about 2.3 acres total at the corner of Chain Bridge and Fairfax Blvd (Route 50).

While no formal application has been submitted yet, a development concept is scheduled to be presented to the Fairfax City Council at a work session tonight (Tuesday). It went to the city’s planning commission for feedback on Sept. 25.

According to a staff report, the potential concept from Chain Bridge LLC would transform the site with an 8-story, mixed-use building featuring about 271 apartments and 2,253 square feet of retail uses on the ground floor.

The project would also include a five-level, 316-space parking garage, approximately 1,662 square feet of open space on Chain Bridge Road and two new streets: a Northfax Street extending east from Chain Bridge and a not-yet-named north-south road off of Fairfax Blvd.

“This mixed-use development aims to transform the current car-centric commercial area into a vibrant urban block. The mid-rise structure will place retail, residential lobby, and amenity areas along Northfax Street’s extension,” Justin Johnson, vice president of real estate development for JM International, wrote in a Sept. 11 letter to the city.

The letter indicates that the residential units will be apartments, averaging 775 square feet in size. About 65% of the units will be studio or one-bedroom apartments, and the remaining units would have two bedrooms. The applicant says it would commit to making 6% of the units affordable in accordance with the city’s still relatively new Affordable Dwelling Unit program.

Johnson said the proposal “aligns with the vision of creating a bustling pedestrian-focused pathway along Northfax Street,” as laid out by the Northfax Small Area Plan that the city council approved in June 2020.

According to the letter, the property owner had reached a lease agreement with a new tenant for the Fuddruckers building in May when the city’s Economic Development team contacted them to “relay the City’s eagerness to see the Fuddruckers demolished and the road network extended as soon as possible.”

At last week’s briefing on the concept, the planning commission raised concerns about the building’s height and limited retail space.

The property owner looked at providing up to 3,000 square feet of retail, but determined that “unfortunately eats away at the needed residential lobby and amenity space,” Johnson said.

In order to make the development work, JM International says it would need a density increase of up to 125 units per acre, a 33% reduction from the city’s residential parking requirement, a waiver from parallel parking on the new north-south street and “a moderate amount” of retail frontage adjacent to Chain Bridge.

The garage parking spaces would be broken down into 305 spaces for residents and 11 for the retail. The concept also proposes 12 parallel parking spaces off-site along Northfax Street.

Without the requested incentives, the project risks “becoming merely a standalone retail location,” the letter said.

In addition to replacing a gas station and underutilized retail buildings with housing, the proposed concept would improve the site’s accessibility and ease traffic congestion between Old Town Fairfax and I-66 with the Northfax Street extension, according to the developer.

“By replacing an aging structure situated at a key intersection, the project introduces additional residents and rejuvenates the area,” Johnson wrote. “Given these compelling features, the project holds a high likelihood of realizing its envisioned success.”

Engineering consultant CDM Smith recently opened a 13,300-square-foot office at 10600 Eaton Place in Fairfax City (courtesy Fairfax City Economic Development)

At a time when cities from D.C. to San Francisco are grappling with historically high vacancy rates, Fairfax City is feeling pretty good about the rising demand for its commercial space.

General commercial vacancy rates have dropped from 6.6% at the beginning of 2023 to 6% in the third quarter, Fairfax City Economic Development (FCED) — a partnership between the city’s economic development office and the Fairfax City Economic Development Authority (EDA) — reported last week.

The downward trend extends to both offices, where vacancies have gone from 9.8% to 9%, and retail, which has dropped from 2.8% to 2.3%, according to FCED.

Local economic development officials attribute the city’s relative success on this front to lower market-rate rents and “more right-sized opportunities” compared to larger markets. Office rental rates in the city currently average $24.8 per square foot, while retail space rents at an average of $30.7 per square foot.

“This data shows that Fairfax City is competitive and in demand,” FCED Director and President Christopher Bruno said in a statement. “As a city, we provide our residents and businesses excellent services and they want to be here. Northern Virginia, and Fairfax City, are the ideal locations to start, expand, and develop new companies.”

The declines reported by Fairfax City defy nationwide trends in commercial real estate. A recent report by the firm Colliers found that, as of the second quarter, 20.2% of commercial spaces in the U.S. were unoccupied, a rate that exceeds the previous record set during the 2008 recession, according to Business Insider.

In July, Fairfax County, which has the country’s second largest suburban office market, reported a 16.7% office vacancy rate — its highest in 10 years.

With the pandemic-fueled embrace of remote and hybrid work looking more like a long-term reality, despite some companies mandating office returns, many businesses have opted for smaller workspaces, while property owners try to entice tenants with renovations and added amenities.

Like other localities, Fairfax County has seen a surge in development projects seeking to convert or replace underutilized commercial space with housing, raising some concerns about how the shift will affect taxpayers and public services.

Fairfax City hasn’t seen as robust a push to turn offices into housing, receiving one inquiry about a potential conversion from an office building owner but no formal applications, according to Nicole Toulouse, FCED’s senior assistant director of business investment.

Toulouse, who’s also the senior vice president of the Fairfax City EDA, couldn’t permitted to publicly identify the building, since a proposal hasn’t been officially submitted. But she says it’s a “highly tenanted building” with a vacancy rate under 4%.

“To me this shows that is likely a general portfolio move by the owner and not based on the performance of the building,” Toulouse told FFXnow.

As part of its pandemic recovery efforts, FCED has established several initiatives aimed at filling the city’s commercial spaces, including a grant program for businesses that lease space in high-vacancy office buildings and a Technology Zone that gives tax incentives to tech businesses that sign a lease lasting five years or longer.

While not related to leasing, the city has also partnered with the Town of Vienna to develop a culinary workforce training program that will support local restaurants.

“We’ve long felt that Fairfax City is optimally positioned for the relocation and growth of businesses, particularly those looking to locate in the geographic center of Northern Virginia’s steady and innovative economy,” Fairfax City EDA Chair Beth Young said. “FCED’s programs create expanded opportunities for businesses who otherwise may look elsewhere.”


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