Developers rush to finish deals at Tysons Metro stations

By Jonathan O'Connell
Monday, January 10, 2011

With construction already underway on the first phase of Metrorail to Dulles airport, property owners near the sites for the four Tysons Corner stations are furiously negotiating to complete deals to attach entrances, pavilions and plazas to the new stops.

Four major employers or developers in Tysons -- Capital One, SAIC, Macerich and the Georgelas Group -- are currently seeking approval from the Metropolitan Airports Authority and Fairfax County for changes to the existing station plans to accentuate their development plans and accommodate their employees.

The stations are currently planned according to designs and budgets agreed to by the airports authority and the county as part of the first phase of Metro's Silver Line, an 11.5-mile stretch from East Falls Church to Wiehle Avenue. For anything extra -- an additional doorway, bridge or plaza connection, for instance -- the property owners need to get approval and in most cases will have to foot the cost.

Any changes need to be approved this month to keep construction of the stations on schedule for opening in late 2013, according to Pat Nowakowski, executive director for the airport authority's Dulles rail project. "We need to get the agreements in place pretty soon," he said.

Finance giant Capital One, owner of its 28-acre headquarters site, has proposed redeveloping its campus into a total of 14 buildings totaling 4.4 million square feet. In its first phase of development, Capital One submitted plans to construct a 23-story building with a mix of office space and retail immediately adjacent to the site of the Tysons East station, at the intersection of Route 123 and Scotts Crossing Road.

To connect its development to Tysons East, a station with entrances on both sides of Route 123, Capital One has proposed building a roughly $2 million elevated plaza that would connect Capital One's parking garage to the Metro station. Company spokeswoman Tatiana Stead said the plaza would be fully accessible to the public and "convenient not only for Capital One employees but for anyone who utilizes the Metro system."

Macerich, which operates shopping malls including Tysons Corner Center, already has county approval for the first phase of 1.4 million square feet of offices, homes and a hotel it plans for its property near the Tysons 123 station, at the intersection of Route 123 and Tysons Boulevard. The new buildings would already be connected by elevated plaza to the existing shopping center. Now, the company is seeking approvals for the final details to connect with the station, according to John Harrison, Macerich vice president of development. "Our phase one development was really planned to provide connectivity between the new uses we proposed, the existing shopping center and the new Metro station in an easy and convenient way," he said.

The cost of the proposed changes to the stations run from the hundreds of thousands of dollars to a few million. While some of the additional entrances and ramps would be constructed right away, others would be approved but not built until development occurs -- causing some property owners to think twice about their plans. The price tag can trigger other questions: How soon is the development really likely to get started? If plans change, could the best design for a Metro entrance change as well? Will the investment up front ultimately pay off?

Developer NV Commercial, which submitted plans in November for a 1.3 million-square-foot mixed-use project at the intersection of Leesburg Pike and Chain Bridge Road, had proposed an elevated entrance connecting its development to a pedestrian bridge above the coming Tysons Central station. But company president Stephen Cumbie said "the cost of those changes was going to be too great" and that the company was instead considering a proposal that would connect Metro riders to NV's property at ground level.

"Now what we're looking at," he said, "is a connection at the bottom of the elevators."

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