Fairfax County has hired a consultant to conduct an economic analysis of the Lake Anne Village Center, the first step in what officials hope will lead to the revitalization of Reston's scenic but frayed core.
Starting with the consultant's report, county and community leaders hope to develop business opportunities that would help them fix the village center's tired setting and lackluster shopping.
Though the center is only about 40 years old, a portion of it has been designated as historic by the county, both because of its stately appearance on Lake Anne and its role in the community of Reston, a nationally recognized effort in town planning.
But the Lake Anne Village Center has struggled with maintenance costs and shop vacancies over the years, especially after the nearby Reston Town Center and North Point Village Center opened in the early 1990s. The center hosts a popular farmers market on Saturdays but at other times does not draw large numbers of people.
The county will pay $50,000 to Basile, Baumann Prost & Associates Inc., economics and real estate consultants based in Annapolis, to complete the study.
"We want to know economically and physically: What can happen here? What is the cost? What are the design issues?" said Supervisor Catherine M. Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill.) "But we don't really want to spend a lot of time studying it. We want to get to action."
The report is supposed to review the physical conditions of the lakeside plaza and surroundings, the land ownership and financial possibilities. It is expected to be complete within 120 days.
The Lake Anne Village Center officially opened in 1965, according to the county. It was a linchpin in the ambitious plan for Reston, which called for a series of village centers that served several neighborhoods and, later, a town center for the whole community. The center has restaurants, two Latin markets, a coffee shop, drugstore, church, bank, nail salon and other shops. The Reston Community Center also has a branch there.
Reston's founding developer, Robert E. Simon Jr., said this week that the village center at Lake Anne was supposed to have been "anchored" by a supermarket and that the center's inability to hold onto one has led to its present troubles.
Early on, there was a Safeway at Lake Anne, and later, an independent store called Fresh Value, which left in the early 1990s after Giant opened at North Point Village Center.
The trouble, according to Simon, was that he had planned for a supermarket of 15,000 square feet -- the standard supermarket size at the time. Today typical supermarkets require four times as much space or more. Including Giant, the area near Lake Anne is saturated with competing grocery stores.
"The revitalization is a wonderful prospect," Simon said. "It will bring new life to the plaza."
The village center as originally designed faces other problems as well, according to those who have studied it.
Kurt N. Pronske, president of Reston Community Reinvestment Corp., a nonprofit promoting the revitalization of Reston's aging places, attributed its decline not only to the loss of the supermarket but also to restaurant competition from Reston Town Center and that only one of six high-rise residential buildings planned within walking distance of the plaza was ever built.
Also, Hudgins said that arrangements for funding the center's maintenance have contributed to its decline. Although the village center's plaza is enjoyed by the public, the cost of maintenance has largely been borne privately, by the owners of the residential and commercial properties there.
"They have struggled," she said, noting that developing the economic analysis will involve discussions with both the public and the owners.
"Lake Anne is a real jewel," she said. "We want to keep the uniqueness while bringing new life."
Hudgins will host a meeting from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday to discuss the consultant and study of Lake Anne. The meeting will be at the Reston Community Center at Lake Anne, 1609-A Washington Plaza North, in the gallery room. For more information, call 703-689-3550.