Loudoun County to get first Whole Foods, but office market withers


Whole Foods will open in a planned shopping center at the corner of Claiborne Parkway and Leesburg Pike. (Courtesy Regency Centers Corp.)

It seems antithetical. How could Loudoun County, consistently named one of the wealthiest counties in America, not have a Whole Foods?

No bulk grains or nuts? No farm-raised salmon? No free range chicken?

Thankfully this indignity will not stand.

Shopping center developer Regency Centers Corp. announced this week that it has signed Whole Foods Market to open a 40,000-square-foot store in a shopping center it is developing in Ashburn at the intersection of Claiborne Parkway and Route 7 (Harry Byrd Highway).

The project, called Belmont Chase, will also include a Cooper’s Hawk Winery and Restaurant, Cava Mezze Grill, Peet’s Coffee & Tea and a salon. The center is slated to open in the summer of 2015.

It will be Loudoun County’s first Whole Foods, despite being named the wealthiest county in the nation by Forbes Magazine in 2013 and second wealthiest (behind Falls Church City) this year. Prince George’s County’s first store is scheduled to open around the same time.

There is no shortage of grocery stores along Route 7. Harris Teeter and The Fresh Market both have stores a couple of miles east down Route 7 and Wegmans has a store at the Village at Leesburg to the west.

But the Loudoun Whole Foods is part of a bigger plan: to try to advance 1.2 million square feet of other commercial development at Belmont Executive Center, including office space and a hotel.

It’s a hard sell. Constructing a new office building away from transit, restaurants and other amenities is tough sledding right now, as evidenced by the fact that there are no office buildings under construction in all of Loudoun County right now, same as Arlington County, Prince William County and Alexandria, according to the Alexandria research firm Delta Associates.

More leased space was vacated than filled in Northern Virginia in the first quarter of the year, and the vacancy rate rose to 13.4 percent.

Things are even worse in Loudoun County, where the vacancy rate is 16.4 percent. Northern Virginia landlords are finding that they have to give away a few free months of rent to get leases signed and in Loudoun they are signing shorter leases on average than in any of the other Northern Virginia areas.

The bright spots in Northern Virginia’s office market are in places like Crystal  City and Pentagon City, which are bouncing back from the losses of major government tenants, as well as Reston Town Center and Tysons Corner. With the Silver Line’s expected arrival later this month, developers with millions of square feet of office planned can pitch their projects as Metro-accessible.

Belmont Executive Center will have no such luxury. But it will have Whole Foods.

Follow Jonathan O’Connell on Twitter: @oconnellpostbiz

Jonathan O'Connell has covered land use and development in the Washington area for more than five years.
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Jonathan O'Connell · July 16, 2014