Those trying to lease commercial real estate in the Columbia Pike corridor are finding that the old adage about land – “they don’t make it anymore” – is certainly true.
Arlington economic development officials say they will help where possible, but in many cases small business owners who want to stay in the corridor have to hunt for themselves.
“We are not a substitute agent. . . but we will do what we can,” Arlington director of economic development Telly Tucker said recently at the State of the Pike forum sponsored by the Columbia Pike Partnership and held online.
Amazon’s arrival near Pentagon City is just one factor affecting rents in the Columbia Pike corridor, once known as a low-cost alternative to Arlington’s subway corridors. This ever-evolving situation requires business owners to stay current on the situation and plan, plan, plan to deal with any eventuality.
“We want to make sure all of our businesses are strategically planning for their future,” Tucker said during the forum, which also touched on topics like housing and art.
Trying to find the right amount of office or retail space in the 3.5-mile Columbia Pike corridor seems to be a challenge for everyone; Even the Columbia Pike Partnership (formerly the Columbia Pike Redevelopment Organization) is facing the loss of its retail space due to redevelopment. It currently shares office with the Black Heritage Museum of Arlington, which previously lost its spot further west on Pike, also due to redevelopment.
Another economic development official – Tara Palacios of the county government’s BizLaunch program – said resources to support businesses have been ramped up during the pandemic. The county government wants to “ensure our small businesses have the ability to survive and thrive,” Palacios said.
Increasing development efforts to demolish and replace on the Pike began in earnest when the county government began planning a streetcar project that would run from Pentagon City West to Skyline in Fairfax County.
Originally touted as a faster alternative to the existing bus service, it was later championed as an economic tool when promoters realized that trams actually did not go significantly faster than buses.
Efforts to build a streetcar (critics preferred “trolley”) were abandoned in 2014 over concerns about rising projected costs — about $350 million to build and untold millions in operating subsidies — coupled with opposition from some county residents over what was seen as the increasingly grandiose investment priorities of those then sitting on the Arlington County Board podium.
On the transportation front, installation of about two dozen new bus shelters along the corridor will begin this spring, a follow-up to earlier plans to provide high-tech bus shelters that died when the Washington Post vividly, albeit erroneously, described them as “millions of people.” called. Dollar bus stops.”
(While the actual projected cost of these stops varied by who was doing the telling, even the highest point was only in the $800,000 apiece range. The new shelters cost less than $200,000 each.)
Also in the works is a major realignment of the easternmost portion of Columbia Pike, encompassing everything east from North Nash Street almost to the Pentagon. Efforts being carried out as part of the expansion of Arlington National Cemetery will create “an entirely new infrastructure,” said county traffic director Dennis Leach. Commuters should expect disruptions once the project gets underway in earnest; Estimated completion date is summer 2025.
A new bus service with limited stops is expected to be introduced along the corridor in spring 2023 to complement the existing local service. It’s another attempt to promote bus travel for Pike residents, many of whom are new enough to the neighborhood that they might not even be familiar with the streetcar contretemps of a decade ago.
The State of the Pike event is separate from the Columbia Pike Partnership’s Pike Progress luncheon, which is scheduled to take place in April (and again in a “virtual” format due to the pandemic).
A winter update on development and other topics is a way to ensure “we’re all on the same page and excited and moving in the same direction,” said the organization’s chief executive Kim Klingler.
Originally a toll road chartered by Congress in 1810, Columbia Pike supplanted a dirt track for cows. West of Arlington, the road continues into Fairfax County and terminates at the Little River Turnpike in Annandale.
Long under the control of the Virginia Department of Transportation, control of much of the Arlington portion of the Pike was transferred to the Arlington County government in 2010. County officials said at the time gaining control of the road — although it’s more costly to county taxpayers — would allow local government to play a more direct role in directing the corridor’s redevelopment.
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