Construction trucks hummed in the distance as Edens President Jodie McLean outlined plans for a Neiman Marcus Last Call Studio at Mosaic District, a collection of shops, offices and residences rising in Merrifield.
“It’s only their second location in the area, after the store at Congressional Plaza,” she said, while flipping to a rendering of the 15,200-square-foot clothing store. “It’s going to be right at the main entrance on Lee Highway and District Avenue.”
Neiman Marcus is the latest merchant to sign on at Mosaic, where Target and MOM’s Organic Market have agreed to fill some of the 350,000 square feet of retail set to open in October. That phase, one of four, also is to include an eight-screen theater run by Angelika Film Center, a New York City outfit that shows art house and mainstream films.
“Right over there, behind the theater, is where we’ll have the outdoor screen that we can program for all kinds of community events,” McLean said, pointing to the side of a four-story structure facing what will be one of the project’s two parks.
Across the way on Strawberry Lane and District Avenue, construction workers toiled on the 150-room Hotel Sierra, overlooking the site of a 7,000-square-foot Black’s Bar & Kitchen. The restaurant is to be one of several eateries, including Cava, Matchbox, Sweetgreen and Taylor Gourmet, opening in the fall.
Residents of the 112 town homes being built by EYA and AvalonBay’s 531-unit apartment complex on the west end of the site will be able to walk to get dinner.
“There were a lot of national restaurants interested, but it was important to us to bring unique food offerings that felt like they belonged to the community,” McLean said.
She noted that a number of national apparel chains also wanted in on the project, but Edens opted for local boutiques such as Lou Lou and Dawn Price Baby. About 25 percent of the retail tenants are local.
All told, the retail portion of the first phase of the project is about 80 percent pre-leased. Another 250,000 square feet of retail is to be opened piece by piece in the next three phases.
“The retail makeup is something that we’ve probably spent more time on than anything from a merchandising standpoint,” said Steve Boyle, managing director at Edens. “There is a sameness to retailing that we wanted to avoid, and that sameness is manifesting itself in merchandising and design.”
Every inch of Mosaic, he said, is designed to create a walkable cityscape that flows into the neighboring developments in Merrifield. Edens is creating a new grid of streets to allow traffic to flow in and out of the site, as well as 4,000 parking spaces in four above-ground parking garages. There is to be a bus to shuttle visitors over from the Dunn Loring-Merrifield Metro station a half-mile away.
The Mosaic District Community Development Authority, an arm of Fairfax County, issued $66 million worth of bonds in June to finance the road and utility infrastructure. Edens is to repay the debt via future property taxes.
“The project has the ability to transform and revitalize the area,” said Fairfax Supervisor Linda Smyth (D-Providence). “When I go out to civic association meetings, one of the first questions people ask me is, ‘What’s the latest on Merrifield?’ People are interested because they see this as an asset to their community. ”
Mosaic is the outgrowth of a redevelopment plan that county officials introduced in 1998 to transform Merrifield from a semi-industrial mishmash into a mix of stores, homes and offices.
Edens became involved in the project in 2004 by teaming with National Amusement, owner of the former movie theater site on which Mosaic is being built. They submitted a proposal just as the county approved Mill Creek Residential Trust’s retail and apartment project atop the Dunn Loring-Merrifield Metro station.
When Mosaic got through the regulatory process, the project faced the turmoil of the recession, which made retailers apprehensive about making decisions, McLean said. Boston-based National Amusement even backed out of a deal to operate a theater. Edens bought National Amusement’s share of the development.
Once the economy started to rebound, the pace of leasing picked up. Now it’s just a matter of filling the few remaining slots. McLean said two homegrown boutiques are close to signing on, but she said she wouldn’t share names until the ink was dry on the agreement.