Impatience Is Thriving in Carlyle
Thursday, February 8, 2007
When Alexandria approved the massive new U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, city officials predicted an abundance of spinoff development that would transform the area west of Old Town into a major metro core.
The mini-metropolis surrounding the PTO would include national chain stores such as Barnes & Noble, according to the forecasts. Full-service restaurants would spring up to serve PTO employees, who would need places to eat while they shopped after work.
It hasn't happened yet.
Two years after the PTO fully occupied its $885 million complex, the surrounding area consists mostly of a few sandwich shops, a travel agency, a day spa and lots of empty office space. Several more "quick service" restaurants are in the pipeline, but Carlyle remains quiet after the thousands of government workers go home.
"The PTO is a daytime operation, and all of these people leave at 5 p.m.," said David Buckley, president of the Carlyle Towers homeowners association. "It takes on the aura of Crystal City or something like that when nobody is there."
The absence of big-ticket development triggered an intense debate at the Alexandria City Council's Jan. 20 meeting. A Jerry's Subs and Pizza shop had applied for a special-use permit to locate in Carlyle, and council members expressed concern that too many quick-service restaurants could make the area less appealing to the kinds of larger establishments that were promised. Even so, they approved the application.
"I think one of the concerns that this application brings," council member Rob Krupicka (D) said, "is this larger macro-concern about where is the tipping point, where you have so many sandwich shops that everyone else says, 'I don't want to be there.' "
Mayor William D. Euille (D) said the premise behind the PTO project was in question. "The real issue is, when we approved it, the Carlyle PTO, it was with the understanding that there was going to be a lot of vitality and everything there, and it hasn't happened."
Council member Paul C. Smedberg (D) said he was frustrated with the city's efforts to attract more large-scale development. "I find it hard to believe that if we didn't have some sort of coordinated economic development, that we could not get restaurants there or other types of services there," Smedberg said. "I find this very frustrating. . . . I just think it is an excuse that we don't go after this a little more aggressively."
City economic development officials acknowledged the concerns but had a message of their own: Give us more time. They cited the extensive construction in or adjacent to the Carlyle neighborhood and the several thousand new residential units that will soon be available. Once more people move in, the demand for services will rise, they said.
The developer behind Jerry's said the restaurant is meeting the current demand in Carlyle, which is for quick meals to serve PTO workers. "Over time, as Carlyle becomes more of a true mixed community, with more residents and office workers, we feel the retail will evolve and mature,'' said Martin J. Howle, executive vice president of Post Properties, owner and developer of the Post Carlyle Square condominiums under construction on John Carlyle Street. Jerry's would like to locate there.
At least one full-service restaurant, to be called the Carlyle Club, has been approved for a city permit, and a Starbucks has applied. And a Westin hotel under construction next to the federal courthouse is expected to open in the fall with a full-service restaurant. Overall, the Carlyle area offers about 260,000 square feet of retail space. About 30,000 square feet is in use now and of that, city officials said, 11,000 square feet is filled with quick-service restaurants.