The retail landscape of Northern Virginia’s Tysons Corner area is slated for a major overhaul as county planners work to transform the region from a textbook example of sprawl into a greener, more livable outpost in the suburbs of the nation’s capital.
Today, Santa Monica-Calif.-based Macerich Co.’s 2.2-million-square-foot Tysons Corner Center serves as the popular retail anchor for an area known among Washingtonians for choice shopping. Tysons, sitting 12 miles west of Washington, D.C., is notorious for its network of traffic-clogged arteries and vast swaths of asphalt. It is not conceived as a place to live. Its existence is more ephemeral, revolving around commuters and shoppers. Case in point: Its 167,000 parking spaces exceed its current total number of workers and residents combined.
The area draws 105,000 workers to its shops and offices daily, making it the 12th-largest employment center in the United States. Yet just 17,000 residents call it home—an imbalance that the new redevelopment plan aims to correct.
Since 2005, a 36-member Tysons Land Use Task Force, created by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, has been developing an ambitious plan that looks as far ahead as 2050 in its vision of a transformed Tysons. An earlier plan developed in the 1990s laid the groundwork for the current plan but was left largely unrealized. This time around, however, the promise of an extension of Washington’s Metrorail system into Tysons has lent new momentum to the idea and provided a centerpiece around which to design the redevelopment.
Last September, the Board of Supervisors accepted the Task Force’s recommendations. Planners are now weaving the recommendations into a broader Fairfax County development plan and considering how best to adapt regulations for higher-density development in Tysons.
The new Tysons Corner will depend on mixed-use development concentrated around four new Metro stations. The plan calls for 95 percent of new development to be located within walking distance of public transit. Tysons will feature taller buildings and less parking, more of which will be moved underground. It will offer housing for up to 100,000 residents, some designated as affordable.
Walking and bike paths and a variety of public-transit options will ease travel throughout Tysons Corner in an attempt to wean area workers and commuters from depending on cars. They’ll also enjoy more parks and arts and cultural venues—as well as shopping choices closer to home.
“The vision for Tysons is to change the nature of retail,” says Sterling Wheeler, chief of policy and plan development for Fairfax County’s Department of Planning and Zoning. Retail space in the region will stay roughly equivalent. But mixed-use retail on ground floors of multi-use buildings will replace the area’s current mix of car dealerships and 1960s-era shopping centers.
Meanwhile, Tysons Corner Center will remain a retail anchor. But it too will change with its surroundings. Macerich has been closely involved with the county’s planning process, though its own efforts began independently—previous owner Wilmorite Properties began a rezoning effort in 2004, before its purchase by Macerich.
Over the next 10 to 15 years, Macerich expects to add 3.5 million square feet of office, hotel, retail and residential space on the edges of Tysons Corner Center, in four phases. The development will also feature trails, public spaces, recreational facilities and expanded access to bike paths, buses, shuttles and transit. RTKL Associates of Dallas is the architect.
The pace of development hinges on market conditions. “Right now, we’re certainly finding those to be a little challenging,” Harrison says. But he expects Metro’s arrival in the area will keep future interest in Tysons strong.
“Tysons fits the bill for quality,” says Lance Marine, retail specialist at CB Richard Ellis, who has consulted with several area property owners on the redevelopment. Tysons and its high national profile continue to draw developers, he says, even as they drop other projects in the Washington area.
But Marine foresees challenges as planners and owners adapt to Tysons’ new retail scene, with different approaches required along the area’s two main thoroughfares, Routes 7 and 123. The two or three property owners who dominate Route 123 “will be able to implement and execute on a much larger scale,” he says.
Meanwhile, retail property along Route 7 is divided among a larger number of individual owners. Marine is unsure how they’ll “create a true synergy” as they vie for the same retailers. The overhaul will demand a long-term vision for retail created along with experienced developers and retailers, he says.
County planning so far suggests a successful future for Tysons retailers, Marine says. “The property owners and developers have been very involved, and the county has been very receptive to input—which is not always the case,” he says.