A decade after Springfield Mall was torn down, reemerging two years later as Springfield Town Center, Fairfax County officials are still trying to figure out how to make the reality of the development match that rebranding.
Progress on transforming downtown Springfield from a commercial hub into the more mixed-use, walkable environment envisioned by county planners has been slow, even nonexistent when it comes to housing, a recently released study found.
In fact, the area hasn’t added a single multifamily residential unit since the Springfield Crossing apartments were built in 2001, according to the Springfield-Franconia Market Study commissioned by the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority (FCEDA).
“That’s insane,” Franconia District Supervisor Rodney Lusk said. “Think about it for a second. Every market has had some sort of residential construction. We have had zero. So, that’s something that we have to obviously think about and figure out where we might allow more residential options…in the areas that make up the Franconia-Springfield market.”
Attributed at least in part to lower rents compared to areas like Tysons or Bethesda, the lack of housing isn’t the only challenge facing downtown Franconia-Springfield, which is concentrated around the I-95 and Old Keene Mill/Franconia Road interchange.
According to the study, which was conducted by the consultant HR&A, Springfield has 3.2 million square feet of retail development, 2.7 million square feet of office space, 978 multifamily units, 1,843 hotel rooms, and 0.3 million square feet of industrial space.
While the existing shopping centers, including the town center, are performing well overall, retail growth has slowed with just 22,000 square feet added since 2010, and vacancies have jumped to 6.4% during the pandemic.
Covid also drove up vacancies in the office market, where the rate climbed from 13% pre-pandemic to 19% as of early 2022, and sent hotel occupancy rates tumbling from 73.7% in 2019 to 28.4% in 2020 before bouncing back to 51% this year.
Aside from industrial construction, which has stalled since 1988, the study projects room for growth across all markets over the next 10 years, including 1,000 to 1,600 multifamily units, but mixed-use development is necessary to achieve that potential.
“There have been significant private investments in Springfield, most notably at Springfield Town Center and the TSA headquarters,” the report said. “However, growth has been focused on site-specific investments, not mixed-use development supportive of County goals or catalytic growth.”
Mixed-use development would require not only more housing, particularly mid-rise buildings less than eight stories tall, but also amenities and public infrastructure to draw residents, workers and the tourists that the study says are needed to offset declining business travel. Read More
The Town of Vienna is seeking a little guidance to determine what to do with the former Faith Baptist Church property on Center Street.
After receiving two bids in response to its request for proposals, the town has contracted Pennsylvania-based firm Kimmel Bogrette Architecture + Site to conduct the study, whose findings will eventually be presented to the town council.
“The information from the Annex Long-Term Use Study will provide recommended land uses of the annex property based on the town’s strategic plan, [comprehensive] plan, extensive community engagement and available funding in the long run,” Vienna Parks and Recreation Director Leslie Herman said.
The town bought the 3-acre property at 301 Center Street South for $5.5 million in fall 2020, giving the Vienna Police Department a temporary base during the construction of its new headquarters. Though there was a ribbon-cutting ceremony in early September, some final work is still being done before the building can be occupied.
As officers prepare to move out at some point, town leaders have been debating the best long-term use of the former church and have, thus far, come up with a big question mark.
Herman initially proposed utilizing the building temporarily as an annex for recreational activities to supplement the Vienna Community Center, but the town council feared that would cut off other long-term possibilities, particularly since a previous study estimated the conversion would cost $1 million.
The council authorized the removal of a cross from the building’s steeple in September but declined to fund roof repairs, saying it didn’t want to invest in a building that may ultimately be torn down.
When asked by Councilmember Ray Brill, Kimmel Bogrette confirmed that it will consider the possibility of demolishing all existing structures when exploring options for the site.
“Our approach to community engagement is to try to help folks see beyond what they see there today and look at the possibilities,” Kimmel Bogrette president and co-founder Martin Kimmel said.
Town staff will meet with the consultant next week to determine a detailed timeline for the study, according to a Town of Vienna spokesperson.
“Public engagement is expected to take place in January and February, 2023 and a final report is expected to be presented to Town Council in June,” Vienna Public Information Director Karen Thayer told FFXnow.