By Robert Goudie,Executive Director, Reston Town Center Association
Over the next several decades, Reston Town Center (RTC) will more than double in size and become an even more robust and unique regional destination. This growth is contemplated and will be guided by the recent amendment to the County Comprehensive Plan, adopted after a nearly 5-year study by a citizen-business task force focused on maximizing the significant public and private investment in Metrorail.
RTC 1.0 – A bold new vision
At a time when “sprawl and mall” was the suburban paradigm, it was anything but obvious that a dense, urban-like, mixed-use downtown in the middle of suburbia would catch on, let alone become an international aspiration (in just the last several years, I’ve entertained delegations from Japan, Australia, South Korea, and Houston, all looking to understand and emulate the special qualities and success of Reston Town Center as they seek to build similar mixed-use centers). Jim Cleveland, who as President of Mobil Land Development/Virginia put together the world-class team that would create and build RTC, has said, “Securing a terrific hotel partner from the start, getting anchor retail and restaurant tenants, flexible zoning that allowed us to adapt to the times, and creating the Pavilion and Fountain Plaza (and eventually Town Square Park) as essential gathering and open space features was really the secret sauce.”
The environment that team created now has over 2 million square feet of office space that has been consistently filled with high-quality businesses; an envied street-level experience with over 60 retailers, nearly 30 restaurants, and a major health facility and movie plex; and a regular diet of outstanding cultural and community events. Indeed, a big part of what we as an association do, together with the urban core’s principal owner, Boston Properties, is partnering to build out that sense of community that is so essential to being Reston’s, and increasingly the region’s, downtown. Much of that is centered on Fountain Plaza and the Pavilion, the heart of the urban core. Reston’s founder, Robert Simon, observed in the superb Storycatcher film, Another Way of Living: The Story of Reston, VA, “You couldn’t have a better plaza than Fountain Square. It is a wonderful gathering place.” Over Town Center’s first 25 years, signature events like the Greater Reston Arts Center’s Northern Virginia Fine Arts Festival, our summer Concerts on the Town, the Greater Reston Chamber’s Taste of Reston and Oktoberfest, the Washington West Film Festival, the beloved Holiday Parade and related activities, ice skating at the Pavilion, and numerous runs and other events for charities and non-profits have
all taken advantage of this “wonderful gathering place.”
Town Square Park (redesigned several years ago to become an even more people-friendly space) now complements Fountain Plaza and the Pavilion as an active civic resource. Its interactive fountain and, for the last two years, the wonderful Patrick Dougherty A Bird in the Hand sculpture created with our partners the Greater Reston Arts Center and the Initiative for Public Art-Reston, draw tens of thousands of visitors; and we’ve added terrific programming through our partnership with the Reston Community Center that takes advantage of the park’s amphitheater (including Saturday morning entertainment for children and, new this year, chamber concerts with the Shenandoah
This remarkable success story has laid the foundation for what will now be an equally exciting period of growth inspired by Metro’s arrival.
RTC 2.0 and TOD
The central premise of the new Comprehensive Plan’s guidance is the creation of dense, walkable/bikeable, mixed-use development that will promote public transportation in lieu of the automobile (it is in part for these reasons that the Town Center station will have no long-term parking, it being a destination and not commuter station). Expect the following as this next period of Town Center’s development gets underway:
There will be special focus on residential:commercial
balance: Transportation demand management has
always been a part of our association’s mandate (hence the LINK transportation resource we provide, www.linkinfo.org, and the reason we often close off parts of the urban core to automobile traffic during weekends). Another transportation demand management tool is creating jobs:household ratios aligned with the kind of place one is creating (in Town Center’s case, a downtown/destination paradigm). Growing the residential presence within walking distance of a major jobs center like Town Center increases the likelihood that local residents will fill and walk to those jobs, thereby reducing dependence on the automobile. Indeed, the residential footprint is already expanding in Town Center. The west end of the urban core (surrounding Town Square Park), originally slated to be all commercial, became a predominately residential area with a rich ground-level retail/restaurant experience that has animated that area in unexpected and wonderful ways. And Boston Properties’ ongoing development of the so-called Signature Site, at the corner of Reston Parkway and New Dominion, will result in two beautiful residential towers with over 500 luxury apartments, 1200 parking spaces, and 24,000 square feet of ground retail – including a Balducci’s grocery.
Extending the downtown: One of the most valuable pieces of real estate in the metropolitan region is Boston Properties’ lot at the corner of Sunset Hills and Town Center Parkway, which is where the skywalk from the Metro station will touch down. Paul Goldberger, the architecture critic for the New York Times, in a presentation to the
community several years ago on Metro-related development, suggested that the most obvious development priority is extending the urban core south to this touchdown lot, and that is exactly the plan. While still a few years off, key elements of that plan will be an urban grid of streets, a dynamic urban plaza as a central orienting feature, and over 3 million square feet of office, hotel, retail, and residential development that, consistent with the TOD emphasis, will have the highest densities
Redevelopment of areas surrounding the urban core: This is already happening. JBG is currently adding about 40,000 square feet of new retail space at its RTC West site (just across from the touchdown lot) and over time will add 700 residential units and more office space. The County is currently seeking qualified bids for the first phase of redeveloping Town Center North (the County government and INOVA hospital area) that will become a mixed-use space oriented around a major new central green, an important need for Reston, with a new library, homeless shelter, rec center, and possibly art center. And, although still a few years away, Lerner Corporation has already received County approvals for a major redevelopment of the Spectrum site that will include 775,000 square feet of commercial space, 1400+ new residential units, hotel capacity, ground-level retail, and pocket parks and other open spaces.
This is an exciting time to be a part of the Town Center experience as we build on the unique success of our first 25 years and create an even more robust, complete, and transit-oriented Reston Town Center. It’s a great privilege personally and professionally to be a part of building that future.