(Updated at 2:05 p.m. on 9/13/2023) The Commonwealth of Virginia will take center stage at Tysons Corner Center this Saturday (Sept. 16).
The first annual Celebrate Virginia festival will enliven the Plaza at Tysons Corner Center from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. with beer and wine tastings as well as live entertainment, an artisan market and a mural painted in real time.
“We are excited to bring the community together at our inaugural Celebrate Virginia event, which highlights everything that makes our home state special,” said Jesse Benites, the director of property management for the mall’s owner, Macerich. “We will be showcasing small Virginia-based businesses, artists, and talent and are thrilled with the support and collaboration from our public officials and community partners.”
Some of those officials are slated to make appearances, including Rep. Gerry Connolly, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay, and representatives of the county’s police and fire departments and George Mason University.
Organized in partnership with Visit Fairfax — Fairfax County’s official destination marketing agency — and the Virginia Tourism Corporation (VTC), Celebrate Virginia will be generally open to the public and free to attend.
The only exception is the V.I.P. Wine and Wellness Tent, which requires $40 tickets. The tent will offer tastings from eight different Virginia wineries and access to a pop-up from the five-star resort and spa Salamander Middleburg, where attendees can create a personalized aromatherapy oil.
Proceeds from the ticket sales will go to the Merrifield-based nonprofit Food for Others.
As for the free attractions, there will be beer tastings from five breweries, including Chantilly’s Strange Fruit Brewing, Smartmouth Brewing from Hampton Roads and Brother Craft Brewing from Harrisonburg.
The musical line-up will feature:
- 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. — DanYko (Alexandria)
- 1-2:30 p.m. — Tejas & Felix (Fairfax City)
- 3-4 p.m. — Zac Quintana & Shawn Cody (Manassas)
The Artisan Makers Market will be similarly stacked with vendors based in Virginia, including many in Fairfax County:
- Inner Loop Coffee Roasters (Falls Church)
- Mother Cluster’s (Fairfax)
- Snugabutter (Annandale)
- Nordic Knot (Reston)
- River Sea Chocolates (Chantilly)
- The Humble Hustle Company (Roanoke)
- Trupti’s Craft: Quilling Gifts (Fairfax)
- Alyssa Mae Crafts (Tysons)
Throughout the day, visitors can also help paint a community mural with Loudoun-based artist Kevin Bednarz, whose work mixes street art, graphics and “original styles,” according to Tysons Corner Center.
“The design will be pre-sketched, and event attendees will be able to paint and bring the mural to life throughout the event,” the mall said. “The final product will be a large piece painted by the community to be exhibited within the shopping center.”
There will also be a “Spin the Tysons Wheel” with limited edition “Virginia is for Shopping Lovers” custom shirts, beanie hats, picnic blankets and other merchandise as the prizes.
“Virginia’s artisan, craft beer, and wine industries have become important drivers of Virginia’s tourism economy, making the Commonwealth an ideal destination for travelers who are seeking authentic, experiential attractions,” VTC Director of Communications Andrew Cothern said. “This event will provide an excellent locally made experience of everything Virginia has to offer firsthand.”
Visit Fairfax President and CEO Barry Biggar said in a statement that the agency is “thrilled” to help celebrate “talented artisans, makers and musicians” from Fairfax County and across the state.
Organizers hope Celebrate Virginia will become a recurring occasion. It will likely return annually to Tysons Corner Center, which was the “brainchild behind this event,” according to a Visit Fairfax spokesperson.
“We hope residents and visitors alike will come out to see what this amazing destination is all about and even take home a unique piece of Virginia,” Biggar said.
With the summer tourism season in full swing, Virginia’s “LOVEworks” marketing campaign has traveled beyond the Commonwealth’s borders for the first time.
Last week, Fairfax County ventured up the I-95 corridor to give a sign to Philadelphia, launching an effort to draw the denizens of the City of Brotherly Love to the home of the first U.S. president, among other attractions.
Unveiled outside the Philadelphia Fashion District shopping mall on June 28, the new sign is the first one permanently gifted outside Virginia, according to Visit Fairfax, the county’s official tourism agency.
“On behalf of Fairfax County, we are so excited to welcome Philadelphians to our vibrant destination, and we hope this new campaign will inspire them to explore the many historical, cultural, natural and whimsical treasures found here,” Visit Fairfax President and CEO Barry Biggar said. “Whether it’s a quick weekend getaway or a lengthier family vacation to the National Capital Region, this campaign indeed highlights how easy it is to get to Northern Virginia and just how much this region has to offer.”
According to Visit Fairfax, Philadelphia already represents “major” source of tourism for the county based on visits, spending and website traffic.
However, the LOVE sign, which will be on display in Philly throughout the summer, is part of a new “multi-faceted, comprehensive and integrated” campaign that the agency has planned in conjunction with the statewide Virginia Tourism Corporation (VTC).
Funded with money from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), the campaign will highlight connections between Virginia’s largest county and Pennsylvania’s largest city, Visit Fairfax says in a press release:
Campaign elements showcase the unique parallels between Fairfax County and Philadelphia and include digital display at Fashion District Philadelphia, traditional out of home, streaming audio and video, social media, and other in-market activations throughout the summer months. The campaign creative features iconic Fairfax County attractions that share a synergy with beloved Philly symbols, such as George Washington’s Mount Vernon paired with Independence Hall; Mason Neck Wildlife Refuge as the first to protect bald eagles paired with Philadelphia’s favorite football team; and Macerich-owned Tysons Corner Center, paired with its sister property, Fashion District Philadelphia; among others.
Visit Fairfax notes that the sign “complements” Philadelphia’s long-standing “LOVE” sculpture by artist Robert Indiana. The two installations are located less than a mile apart.
“We are definitely feeling the ‘love’ here at Fashion District Philadelphia,” Fashion District Philadelphia Property Manager Ryan Williams said. “…Northern Virginia is a wonderful visitor destination with so much to offer Philadelphians — the good feelings between our two East Coast regions are certainly mutual!”
The LOVEworks signs stem from the “Virginia is for Lovers” slogan adopted by the VTC — then called the Virginia State Travel Service — in 1969. The ad campaign attempted to appeal to younger generations in the hippie and free love era, according to the VTC’s website.
“These signs are very popular with travelers coming to Virginia and are often the backdrop of visitors’ engagement photos, weddings, or other special occasions,” VTC Director of Communications Andrew Cothern said. “We hope residents of Philadelphia will see the LOVEwork in Fashion District and be inspired to plan a vacation in Virginia.”
Visit Fairfax is exploring the idea of a tourism improvement district, which could mean an added fee to hotel stays and other amenities.
The tourism organization’s president and CEO, Barry Biggar, said the proposal could go to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors for a vote this September. The fee would go toward marketing the region, in accordance with a General Assembly law passed last year.
Biggar says southern Fairfax County will be targeted for the district, which would act on its own authority and set fees that could vary for different business types. It would mark a first for the county and could be a model for other areas, he said.
“That money then is collected, accumulated and used purely for the purpose of marketing, promoting the area…which collects the money, but also capital development and capital improvement,” Biggar told FFXnow.
The move could generate an estimated $1 million per year from hotels and restaurants, Biggar said.
It comes amid a county effort to revitalize and rebrand the Route 1 corridor. So far, that push has brought promises of bus rapid transit and a “Potomac Banks: Explore Fairfax South” tourism campaign with a discount pass for historic sites, partnering businesses and more.
“Only the hotels here in the area would be included, so that wouldn’t be added to a Tysons hotel,” Biggar said of the possible fee. “For a hotel, they may go, ‘We’ll do a dollar a room per night.’ For a restaurant, they may go…a half a percent of the total bill. For an attraction, you know, maybe 50 cents per admission.”
Just in time for the summer tourist season, Fairfax County is stepping up its efforts to promote the amenities in its southeastern area, providing a discount pass for admissions and more.
County and tourism officials, along with staff of George Washington’s Mount Vernon, touted a new digital pass yesterday (Wednesday) that gives visitors at historic sites and other destinations 20% off admissions and other deals.
Launched last December, the branding campaign is called “Potomac Banks: Explore Fairfax South” and was developed by the digital marketing agency Streetsense. It was showcased during a media event outside the first president’s mansion overlooking the Potomac River.
“Fairfax South is the place to be,” said Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck, who started the Mount Vernon Tourism Task Force in 2019 that led to the branding.
Storck, who was a President Abe Lincoln re-enactor for 25 years, said his love of history was a driving force in showcasing the region’s amenities.
An original marketing push rolled out in February 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic soon took hold in the U.S., particularly damaging the hotel and restaurant industries, Storck said.
The effort also includes one year of marketing with a business development campaign, said Barry Biggar, president and CEO of Visit Fairfax, the area’s official tourism organization.
“Now the real work begins,” he said.
Savings pass launched to promote region
The pandemic-induced delay meant the marketing effort could include a new feature: the Potomac Banks Savings Pass, a $46 pass that gives discounted admission to partnering sites, including George Washington’s Mount Vernon, George Mason’s Gunston Hall and Woodlawn & Pope-Leighey House.
The pass, which has a $25 version for kids ages 6 through 11, also provides deals on tours, gifts and activities at sites such as the National Museum of the U.S. Army, the Workhouse Arts Center, G34.3 Brewing Co., Woodlawn Press Winery and Historic Huntley.
The pass is valid for 90 days, but once it’s first redeemed at a site, it lasts for seven days.
While Washington’s historic property has weathered the pandemic and had buses of visitors there yesterday, other sites will be able to cross-promote.
— Mount Vernon (@MountVernon) May 18, 2022
Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said teachers and textbooks are amazing, but nothing can replace experiencing history in person, and there are historic assets right in people’s backyards to enjoy that people from across the world come to visit.
Biggar said there are plans to create the county’s first tourism improvement district in southern Fairfax County. He said it could be a model for the rest of the region.
According to Biggar, Fairfax County’s tourism dollars generate the most revenue for the Commonwealth of any jurisdiction. The county’s tourism industry generated more than $3 billion in 2019, and he projects it will reach $4.5 billion in five years.
With two proposals to transform hotels into housing, local officials are exploring more creative ways to reach affordable housing goals.
In Herndon, a Residence Inn is slated to convert into a 17-unit affordable housing project spread across 11 buildings. Owners say the buildings are too difficult to maintain and industry demands haven’t kept with hotel brand standards.
“The physical layout of the various buildings on the property, the interior unit configuration, and the good condition of the underlying building structures, presents a unique opportunity with the Town of Herndon to repurpose the current building as multifamily units,” a March 2 application to the town says.
A similar tale is unfolding in Tysons, but without a major affordable housing component. Property owner JBG Smith wants to turn the 22-story Sheraton Tysons hotel into a 544-unit multifamily residential tower with ground-floor retail.
The building first opened in 1985. A legal representative for JBG Smith says the units will be small in size and “offer more affordable housing opportunity,” according to a rezoning application submitted to Fairfax County in February.
These transformative uses are consistent with what building official Jay Riat says is a “steady” increase in major hotels being built or renovated in the past few years.
Even so, county officials do not expect a negative impact on transit occupancy tax revenues — which are generated from hotel uses, according to the county’s Department of Tax Administration.
What is happening otherwise may be somewhat counterintuitive: transient occupancy tax revenues are projected to rise by 15% in fiscal year 2023, which starts July 1, compared to the last fiscal year.
“To the extent that any hotels convert to multifamily units, the county may see a net tax revenue increase, as real estate revenues increase after redevelopment,” the tax department said in a statement.
The department notes that hotels are still going up in the county, including the Watermark Hotel in Tysons, which has 300 suites.
Recovery still anticipated for hotel industry
County officials with Land Development Services say existing hotels are doing well, as the Fairfax County market is not yet saturated.
A spokesperson for Visit Fairfax, the county’s official tourism resource, says repurposing a hotel into residential units seems to be a “logical” reuse, but officials still expect traditional hotels to thrive in major business areas. Read More
Fairfax County will apply for grant funding from the Virginia Tourism Corporation to help boost tourism in the area.
The Board of Supervisors approved a request yesterday (Tuesday) from the Department of Economic Initiatives for $4.17 million that will be used in conjunction with Visit Fairfax, the county’s travel marketing agency.
Virginia has allocated $50 million of its American Recovery Plan Act funds to the Tourism Recovery Program. The Virginia Tourism Corporation will award grants to all localities based on how much they contributed to total state tourism revenues in 2019.
Visit Fairfax President and CEO Barry Biggar told FFXnow that the organization is “tremendously grateful” for the ARPA grant’s approval.
“This allocation will assist us greatly and go a long way in our recovery efforts of rebuilding and revitalizing the tourism industry of Fairfax County, indeed helping it return to pre-pandemic levels and beyond,” Biggar said in a statement. “It also clearly underscores how significant Fairfax County is to the overall tourism economy of the Commonwealth of Virginia.”
The county must submit a plan outlining how it will use the grant, which must go to marketing and promotional efforts. The funds must be spent by June 30, 2024.
According to a draft tourism recovery plan, Fairfax County lost $420 million in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on tourism. Tourism-related jobs accounted for at least 32% of all job losses in the Commonwealth, with 34% of hospitality job losses coming in Northern Virginia.
Job losses among hotel and restaurant workers were nearly twice as high as any other profession, according to data sourced from the Virginia Employment Commission. The document also notes that 63% of all job losses took place in industries with higher than average representation of people of color.
“The [grant] funds will be utilized to introduce new programs and projects of work that provide incremental economic impact to the county through avenues that Visit Fairfax hasn’t had the ability to previously explore,” Biggar said.
Strategic objectives listed in the county’s recovery plan include:
- Increasing hotel occupancy and sales tax revenues by putting more group events and business travelers into Fairfax County hotels
- Attracting and maximizing lucrative sporting tournaments for young and adult athletes
- Increasing awareness of Fairfax County as a preferred destination for local and international tourist groups
Angela Woolsey contributed to this report.