Most of the area's revitalization plans are on track, with new housing, retail and transportation

By Yamiche Alcindor
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 12, 2009

Despite the tough economy, the majority of plans to revitalize and enhance Arlington County's Columbia Pike Corridor have remained on schedule, county officials said.

Before the economy began to flounder, the County Board approved several major projects, including hundreds of apartments and townhouses and dozens of retail venues and public spaces. Officials also set aside funds to build a streetcar and are working to enhance bus stops along Columbia Pike to improve transportation.

"Within two years, people will get the sense that Columbia Pike is changing," said board Chairman Barbara A. Favola (D). The changes will make driving and walking along the road a more engaging and attractive experience, she said.

The push to make the 3.5-mile long area more pedestrian- and retail-friendly dates to the 1990s. Columbia Pike is one of the main streets in Arlington and stretches between the Pentagon and the Fairfax County line near Baileys Crossroads. In August, county leaders sought to take control of the pike from the state to speed up efforts to make it more transit-friendly.

On Monday, county officials and developers are scheduled to gather to celebrate the recent placing of the area's utility lines underground. The work eliminated aboveground wiring for most areas and is seen as the first step toward transforming the area. The celebration, at 11 a.m. at Westmont Shopping Center, at Columbia Pike and South Glebe Road, is open to the public.

"We are really happy to see cranes in the sky that are moving," said Pamela Holcomb, interim executive director of the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization, a nonprofit group that works to spur growth along the pike and surrounding neighborhoods. "I am very optimistic and confident that we are just going to keep moving. There are a series of tangible signs that progress is continuing."

According to Hunter Moore, a commercial development specialist with Arlington Economic Development, one of those signs is the fact that six of the area's seven major construction projects have remained largely unaffected by the economic downturn.

"What we're trying to do is activate the street," Moore said.

The area has weathered the storm better than others because most projects' developers secured funding before lending freezes went into effect, Moore said.

Last November, in the midst of the recession, one of the county's first major new developments, the Halstead, opened its doors to residents. The nine-story building includes 269 apartments, a fitness center and a pool area with a sundeck and cabanas.

Work on Penrose Square, the area's largest development, has also begun. A large hole in the center of the former Adams Square Shopping Center will one day be home to 299 apartments, a 61,500-square-foot Giant grocery store, 36,000 square feet of retail space and 713 parking spaces. Developers and a smaller Giant store that will be replaced had trouble reaching agreement on the project. But county officials say the project could be complete as early as 2011.

Another development, dubbed the 55 Hundred, is also being built along the pike and will bring 235 apartments to the road's west side. Next year, 188 apartments are scheduled to open up as a part of Siena Park, another development along the street. The County Board also approved 1100 S. Edgewood St., a project with eight 3 1/2 -story townhouses and a 14-unit, multifamily residential building with 2,960 square feet of retail and 30 parking spaces.

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