Condo Living

A Tale of Two Cities

By Aliya Sternstein
Monday, August 14, 2006; 6:02 AM

For years, the neighboring communities of Crystal City and Pentagon City were justifiably derided as a zone of concrete office compounds. Condo buyers usually overlooked them in favor of areas with more pizzazz. Think: Logan Circle, Clarendon, Bethesda.

But, quietly, over the past few years, these neighborhoods near Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport have experienced a rebirth, the sort of urban renaissance that's drawing buyers to other areas of Arlington. In fact, Northern Virginia's twin cities may just be the best-kept secret in today's condo market.

But what's finally encouraging people to buy here? First, the neighborhoods arguably boast the best transportation and transit in the D.C. region. This means stops on Metro's Blue and Yellow lines in both Crystal City and Pentagon City plus a Virginia Railway Express station. Reagan National Airport itself is within walking distance of most of Crystal City. There's also fast access to interstates -- and a direct connection to the Mount Vernon Trail.

Second, the area has recently gotten what amount to two new town squares. A pair of retail, restaurant and office complexes, Pentagon Row and Crystal Drive now allow residents to work, dine and shop without getting into their cars.

To be sure, you'll find fewer condos in Crystal City and Pentagon City than in the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor, especially fewer new construction projects. But the apartments on the market can be good values, according to realtors, residents, developers and Arlington County officials.

Pentagon City and Crystal City also seem to be on the verge of a major transformation. Over the past few years, the high-rise hotels and office parks that have made Crystal City a business destination have gained new neighbors like open-air cafes, award-winning restaurants and many, many shops. Such buzzy spots within walking distance of each other add up to a live-work-play neighborhood.

"Not many neighborhoods can check all the boxes that Crystal City/Pentagon City [can]," said Mara Olguin, the marketing vice president for Charles E. Smith Commercial Realty, which owns 7.4 million of the 11 million square feet of office space in Crystal City. Her company is responsible for much of the area's new vibe, having brought in ventures like the haute Mexican restaurant Oyamel and PBS.

Retail-mad Pentagon Row has also invigorated Pentagon City. A sort of modern village green (sans grass), the complex includes an outdoor ice skating rink (in colder months), spas, restaurants and lots of shops.

The Row's retail detail ranges from indie faves like designer-jeans peddler Denim Bar and crafts boutique As Kindred Spirits to chains like Sur La Table and World Market. All are located on or near a courtyard with benches and surrounding sidewalk cafes, which serves as a gathering spot for residents of the thousands of apartments and condos within strolling distance.

Tony Iallonardo nabbed a condo at Pentagon City's Cavendish development about a year and a half ago, during the real estate go-go period. "I was part of that hysteria. It was a game of musical chairs, and I didn't want to be left without a chair," said the 37-year-old Iallonardo, a public relations executive at a D.C. environmental organization.

Iallonardo home-hunted in many of Arlington's hottest 'hoods, including Rosslyn, where he had been renting an apartment. Dissatisfied with the "war zone" of construction and noise in Rosslyn, Iallonardo chose a $250,000 one-bedroom in more tranquil Arlington Ridge -- a few minutes' walk from Pentagon Row.

Ultimately, Pentagon City's layout impressed him the most. "The growth that has happened in the Pentagon City/Crystal area has been smarter than the growth that has happened just outside," Iallonardo said. He was particularly pleased with the area's pedestrian-friendly walkways and lack of gridlock.

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