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In Virginia, Tysons waits impatiently for the train

First Published      Last Updated Jun 24 2014 05:57 pm

Tysons, Va. - It was known as Tysons Corner, a rural crossroads 13 miles from downtown Washington.

Rebranded now, it's just Tysons, an exploding complex of malls, hotels and office towers that is soon to welcome an 11.7-mile extension of the regional Metro rail system to further accelerate and concentrate growth.

Though the extension is called the Silver Line, planners and developers see it as golden, opening up new possibilities for transit-oriented development in this regional shopping hub in Fairfax County, Virginia.

Yet it has been a dream repeatedly deferred. Two Silver Line festivals scheduled for this spring were canceled, as trains underwent further testing and problems were worked out. Silver Line service is now scheduled to begin July 26, barring any unforeseen problems.

After a long recession-induced lull, construction in Tysons has picked up, with cranes once again defining the skyline and looming over completed elevated tracks and four empty stations just waiting for trains to fill them with passengers.

If the timetable holds, as early as this summer the nighttime population of just 17,000, with 105,000 daytime workers, may begin to transform into a livable, walkable city, predicted to have 100,000 residents and 200,000 workers by 2050. Three-fourths of this growth is projected to happen within a half-mile of Silver Line stations.

"The Silver Line is going to be a major driver, a game changer, because it opens up the Tysons market for easy access from the entire D.C. metro region," said Michael Caplin, director of the Tysons Partnership, a consortium of developers, planners and other groups with a stake in the future of Tysons.

Tysons ranks eighth in retail square footage among the nation's shopping hubs, with nearly 4.8 million square feet, according to the CoStar Group, a Washington-based marketing research firm, and that number is likely to grow as more office and residential buildings increase the demand. Office space currently accounts for 26 million square feet, and the vacancy rate is 16 percent.

As a sign of confidence in Tysons, construction and leasing have proceeded in anticipation of the new rail line and in spite of the delays. Four office buildings are under construction; three, with some 800,000 square feet, are more than 50 percent leased, according to Ethan Vaisman, an analyst for CoStar.

Companies already headquartered here include Northrop Grumman, the Mitre Corp., Gannett, Hilton and Capital One, which recently received approval for a 470-foot-tall headquarters building that is to be the tallest in the Washington metropolitan area.

In addition, some 850 new apartment units will be ready for rental by the end of next year, and some are already available. LCOR, a national development company with offices in New York, Philadelphia and Bethesda, Maryland, is planning a major renovation of 240 existing apartments in low-rise buildings dating to the late 1960s and the demolition of 331 more to make way for as many as 2,500 new units in seven high-rise buildings.

The LCOR project, a quarter-mile from a Silver Line station, will also include 50,000 square feet of retail. Groundbreaking is scheduled for late this year, with completion in 24 to 28 months.

"We believe people will want to live in Tysons because now they won't have to fight traffic" to and from Washington, said Harmar Thompson, a senior vice president at LCOR.

All this will be a notable change for what started as a major shopping center sited for its easy access to major highways, notably the Capital Beltway, which was completed in 1964. A toll road to Dulles International Airport, which eventually will have its own Silver Line station, skirts the area. And Routes 7 and 123, major Virginia highways, intersect in Tysons, forming the original "corner."

What put Tysons Corner on the metropolitan map was the 1.2-million-square-foot Tysons Corner Center, built by developer Theodore N. Lerner on 90 acres. It was a national model for enclosed, climate-controlled malls when it opened in 1968. Lerner subsequently built Tysons II, a more upscale version of his original mall, which opened in 1988 and is now known as Tysons Galleria. He has since sold both malls.

"We've obviously been very optimistic about what's going to happen at Tysons," said Lerner, who is also the principal owner of the Washington Nationals baseball team and remains active in Tysons. "It is one of the most outstanding sites in the country."

Lerner's company, Lerner Enterprises, is constructing a 476,000-square-foot office building - the fifth in its Corporate Office Centre at Tysons. It plans seven or eight more buildings and has the zoning for two 33-story apartment buildings, Lerner said. Construction on the first is expected to start next year adjacent to the Tysons Corner Metro station.

The Macerich Co., of Santa Monica, Calif., now owns the 300-shop Tysons Corner Center, which it will incorporate into a $500 million mixed-use project with a 22-story office tower, a 28-story luxury apartment building, a 300-room Hyatt Regency hotel and conference center, and a large plaza with an elevated walkway to the Silver Line.

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