The expansion of Metro is the first step in a multi-billion-dollar make-over of Tysons Corner; officials hope to transform what is now a sprawling expanse of corporate headquarters, two shopping malls and some of the most grinding rush-hour traffic in Northern Virginia into a livable, walkable model community for the 21st century.
But while the first phase of the $5.6 billion rail line is set to open around the end of the year, much of the rest of what leaders envision – high rises and walkable stretches of boutiques and restaurants — won’t replace Tysons Corner’s tired landscape for years.
The solution, some say, is something called a pop-up development: temporary shops, restaurants, even art galleries that can fill in the gap between the present and future. Such temporary ventures have grown in popularity and are enlivening corners of London, Munich and even Washington that otherwise might have languished in the wake of the economic slowdown.
“People will be disappointed [ if ] they step off the train and find there’s not much there there,” said Sharon Bulova, chairwoman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. “Pop-ups will provide some vibrancy while we’re waiting for development in Tysons to evolve.”
D.C. has dabbled successfully with pop-up developments since it re-imagined the concept in 2010, converting a vacant library kiosk on H Street into a clothing store and event space. That venture, which generated more than $11,000 in sales from almost 200 customers, spawned other “temporiums.”
Another is the Fairgrounds by Nationals Park. The stadium opened around the time the recession hit, stalling ambitious plans for development around the ballpark. Bo Blair and Jason York launched their temporary initiative on Half Street, across from the ballpark’s centerfield gate. The Fairgrounds was little more than a tent and a few portable toilets at first, but now in its fifth year, it has grown to include a stage for live bands, small retail outlets and a bar. On game days, it attracts thousands of patrons.
A potential pop-up location in Tysons is near the entrance of the Silver Line’s Greensboro Station, at the intersection of routes 7 and 123. Developers say the spot will feature hundreds of thousands of square feet of office space and specialty retail including a gourmet supermarket. There will be a hotel, restaurants — even a rooftop “skypark.”
But now, the stairway from the elevated station leads smack into the parking lot of a strip mall. In the shadow of a giant water tower stands a hodgepodge of retail: a mattress store, a Men’s Wearhouse, a state liquor store and an adult entertainment boutique.
Those grand plans for a high-rise complex are years away. In the meantime, developer Jack Waghorn plans to temporarily install a U-shaped courtyard of “tastefully appointed” shipping containers. The spaces would be leased to small retailers such as designers, a cafe or a dry cleaner; the goal would be to appeal to the estimated 17,000 riders expected to use the station daily and to establish patterns and habits that would feed Tysons’s success.
“It will really be something new and exciting,” said Waghorn, who is president of the property developer, NVRetail. “We’re hoping that we can generate some unique retail opportunities here – give people a chance to try out a new trend.”
Whether it will help ease into the transformation of Tysons remains to be seen. Some remain skeptical that an area where parking spaces outnumber residents will ever become the model urban community its boosters envision.
Developers are convinced they can make it work.
On a recent day, while workers in hard hats and neon safety vests scrambled to and fro, installing walkways, running excavators and making other adjustments to the station, Waghornwalked the property. In his hands he carried full color renderings of the company’s vision for the parcel.
People are creatures of habit, Waghorn said, and once they get used to buying coffee or dropping off their dry cleaning at a certain place, that behavior becomes part of their routine. If the pop-up concept works it will give permanent tenants that much more of a head start, he said.
NVRetail’s pop-up plan must still be approved by Fairfax officials, who have never considered development of this sort. Bulova is among those eager to clear the way.
There is potential for pop-up development at other stations as well. In the spring, a group of graduate students at George Mason University earned school credit coming up with a plan to enliven Silver Line stations in the short term.
Their report proposed bike-share kiosks and car rental services such as ZipCar. Since the rail system operates on an elevated track, students brainstormed ways to improve the site lines so that passengers would have something more scenic than a roof to look at. At one station, the group proposed constructing a rooftop garden above Lord & Taylor or a nearby office building. If developers wanted be more adventurous, the students recommended installations such as “Pie-in-the-Sky,” a wood burning pizza cafe, or a children’s museum.
“We got really excited as we researched the possibilities,” said Ranee Elter, one of the graduate students who developed the report. “We can help make it something more enjoyable so that [people] don’t dread having to make this commute.”
Ultimately it will be up to property owners to decide what they will do with their land. Waghorn said NVRetail’s plans for Tysons will likely feature more cappuccino and croissants than the District’s beer and peanuts.
Other boosters painted an even more optimistic portrait of the future Tysons Corner.
“The Silver Line is going to be beautiful ride into Tysons,’’ Bulova said. “Because it’s above ground people are going to have a view to die for. It will be a beautiful trip and when they stop at the stations — Greensboro for one, they’re going to feel like they’re in Paris.”