Planners See Sleek Future For Tysons

On Mall's 40th Birthday, Officials Chart a Makeover for Area

Property owners, developers and an architecture firm have come together to pitch their visions for the redevelopment of Tysons Corner.Audio: Amy Gardner/The Washington Post3D Animation and photos: Davis, Carter, Scott Ltd.
By Michael Laris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 23, 2008

In her three decades drawing maps for the U.S. government, Juliette Lacovaro charted the intricate contours of Hawaii and handled classified work during the Vietnam War. Now 84, the McLean resident sees a dream task emerging just a mile from her home: mapping the new Tysons Corner.

"Oh, if I were younger, I would love to do that. How exciting that would be," Lacovaro said. "It's going to be big. It's just going to be a city within itself."

Tysons Corner Center turns 40 Friday, and yesterday Lacovaro, who works refilling stacks of maps and helping hungry and lost shoppers find their way in the mall, was ushering Northern Virginia's political and commercial luminaries up a sweltering elevator to a birthday bash and transportation ribbon-cutting ceremony atop a seven-story parking garage.

The region's biggest shopping mall, whose construction in a triangle of land between the Capital Beltway and routes 123 and 7 seeded decades of development, now occupies just one piece of a vast redevelopment plan for the area. Planners want to make over a 1,700-acre swath of Fairfax County into what Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D) yesterday called "the green city of the future."

That future actually began with the completion of the mall. When Lacovaro arrived a decade later, she said, it was still "easy to get around" and "spacious." The area evolved, as did the mall, which added a Bloomingdale's in 1976. (First lady Betty Ford cut the ribbon.) "It wasn't what you call a one-horse town, but it wasn't what you have today," Lacovaro said. The shopping begat offices and more shopping. Now, 120,000 people head to work in Tysons daily. Most of them drive and drive alone.

Officials and business leaders hope to transform that grinding machine from car-dependent sprawl into a sleek model of urban elegance and character.

It's a soaring aspiration for a traffic-snarled stretch of strip malls and high-end office towers, where mattress and couch stores, car dealerships and lawyers' offices mingle in an economically potent but messy brew of commerce that is hostile to pedestrians, who lack easy crossings, and drivers who lack infinite time.

But the planners who have spent three years hashing out an ambitious bid to remake the broader Tysons area say the hoped-for arrival of a Metro extension to Dulles International Airport is their big gun. If the needed federal and state funding is locked in, the resulting four stops in Tysons could shake up decades of history, they say.

"For 45 years I've watched things develop in the worst possible way. I can't imagine people wanting that, or more of that," said Clark Tyler, who heads the Tysons Land Use Task Force, which has led the effort and plans to offer county officials detailed proposals in September.

"At some point you say, 'Enough already!' " Tyler said. "Those are the only choices: Do it the way it's always been done -- suburban sprawl, piecemeal approvals -- or you can agree to an overall plan that is going to transform the place into something more livable and enjoyable."

The executives who own Tysons Corner Center have taken seriously all the talk about transforming the world their mall helped create. There is no more car-centric activity than heading to Tysons to shop. But if the future really means people flocking to buy condominiums in the Tysons area and strolling to upscale retailers, they and other executives want in.

"We've got retail down pretty good," said Charles Cope, vice president of Macerich East Development, referring to his company's mall and its competitors in Tysons. "The biggest change I see in Tysons Corner is going to be the construction of housing."

Rail stops and more residents are good for business. "That makes our world better," said Timothy J. Steffan, a Macerich vice president. "There's more people here. It's easier to get here."

In January 2007, Macerich got permission from Fairfax officials to build 3.5 million square feet of residential, office and hotel space to be tied in with a planned Metro station along Route 123 beside the mall. Macerich's shopping center has 2.25 million square feet. Many other firms have similar projects in the pipeline and are awaiting new county plans.

Critics, including some in smaller communities such as McLean, say they fear being swamped by traffic from the new Tysons developments.

But Connolly and others said an uptick in housing and plans to build a network of street grids and a dedicated bus system will help take the pressure off the main thoroughfares and cut down on congestion.

"Nobody lives here," Connolly said. The 17,000 Tysons residents have no way of filling its 120,000 jobs, he said. The people who drive increase the traffic. The idea is that future residents will have shorter distances to travel and more public transit to take.

"There are citizens in Vienna and McLean who are very nervous about this," Tyler said. "They've seen what I've seen, which is a lot of untrammeled growth, which appears to be not very well planned. We were obviously not dealing with a clean slate. We had one of the most cluttered slates you can have in the planning business."

The officials gathered on the rain-soaked parking deck at Tysons yesterday also kicked off construction of 14 miles of toll and carpool lanes on the Beltway, which will tie into Tysons and stretch south to Springfield. Potting soil was poured on a brown tarp for the photos of the groundbreaking.

The $1.4 billion high-occupancy toll lanes project is scheduled to be finished in 2013. Carpoolers will travel free, but other drivers will face prices that rise or fall based on how many cars are in the lanes. There is no ceiling.

At the Tysons Corner Center birthday party, models sat behind a curtain waiting for a fashion show to start charting 40 years of changing styles. The theme was: "Everything old is new again." A pink and blue tie-dyed skirt and Grateful Dead T-shirt stood in for the '60s and a bright cherry-red outfit for the disco '70s.

A modern, retro-inspired floral-print dress "could have been on Goldie Hawn in 'Laugh-In,' " said Vicki Tamburo, who modeled in Tysons department stores 20 years ago and was helping put on the show.

"Fashion is such an evolving process," Tamburo said. "The mall is evolving as well."

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