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AvalonBay to build Merrifield apartments

By Jonathan O'Connell
Monday, February 14, 2011; 4

Arlington-based AvalonBay Communities has agreed to become the apartment developer for Edens & Avant's Mosaic District, a 1.9 million-square-foot town center project that will remake the site of a former movie theater in Merrifield.

AvalonBay beat out other residential developers for the deal. It will build 531 apartments above ground-floor retail to create a residential neighborhood that will also include 114 town homes built by Bethesda-based EYA.

Jonathan B. Cox, senior vice president of development for AvalonBay, said the apartments will be complemented by what he called "the most diverse retail environment in Northern Virginia." Edens & Avant, a retail specialist based in Columbia, S.C., landed a Target store to anchor one end of a new corridor through the site dubbed District Avenue, which will connect to the new housing on the other end. Other committed retailers include a number of popular and locally owned stores and restaurants, including Mom's Organic Market, Taylor Gourmet, Black Restaurant Group and Matchbox Pizza. The 31-acre site will ultimately feature 400,000 square feet of retail space, a Hotel Sierra and 60,000 square feet of offices.

In addition to the retail, Cox said the site was attractive because of its convenience to employers such as Northrop Grumman and CSC, as well as to the Capital Beltway and Metro. The Mosaic District will operate a shuttle bus to and from the Dunn Loring-Merrifield Metrorail station, just more than a half-mile north of the project, he said. AvalonBay will own and operate the apartment complex.

"We want to be buying in areas where really we can make it easy to live," Cox said.

Edens broke ground last June, and Cox said that Avalon plans to begin construction on the apartments in October or November of this year with plans to finish by early 2014. "Nothing like this has been done in Northern Virginia except for Reston Town Center," he said.

AvalonBay is a publicly traded Real Estate Investment Trust. Like many local REITs, companies that primarily manage income-producing properties and distribute most of profit as dividends, Avalon has been aggressively acquiring new sites during the past year.

In addition to the deal at Mosaic District, Cox said the company is close to getting underway at another smaller site in the District, near the city's burgeoning restaurant and entertainment hub on H Street NE. Cox said the company had acquired 318 I Street NE, a site that Broadway Development had planned for condominiums before being foreclosed upon in 2009. AvalonBay plans 140 apartments, which will have easy access to H Street, NoMa and Union Station.

"We're targeting people that want the H Street corridor as an amenity," Cox said.

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