When Metro asked for bids on development of its land around the Ballston subway station, nobody answered although under ordinary circumstances the location would be considered a plum.
The transit authority says there are several reasons, and its officials are trying to pin them all down.
In the meantime, the project has been moved to a back burner, where it will join several other major construction projects planned for the area. Among them are major redevelopment of the Parkington shopping center, an office, retail and residential complex covering 10 acres, and a 12-story office building.
An oversupply of office space in the metropolitan area, high interest rates and no signs of economic recovery are the major reasons private developers give for their slowdown on Ballston plans. A Metro official said that in addition to these factors, the transit authority does not own the entire block on which the station stands, and could not offer a neat parcel for development.
"When we talk to owners and developers about the Ballston area they are up-beat in the long range, but in short-range terms there is a wait-and-see attitude," said Henry Cord, head of Metro development.
The Ballston station opened in 1979 as the interim terminus of the subway's Orange Line, due for completion to Vienna by 1986. The station stands at the western end of the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor, which county planners hope will undergo major redevelopment sparked by the subway line.
Now, a passenger arrived by train at Ballston in the quiet of mid-afternoon before the rush hour begins is greeted by a pungent peppery aroma as the escalator nears street level. It comes from the Speedy Gonzales Mexican food restaurant and carryout on North Stuart Street, in the rows of one and two-story restaurants, tailors, video game arcades and other establishments around the station site.
Metro owns about 87,300 square feet of the block on Fairfax Drive between North Stuart and North Stafford streets around the station. The property is already zoned for a mix of commercial, retail and residential use, in the most intensive category Arlington County allows. This means that up to 523,818 square feet divided equally into residential and commercial space, or 567,470 square feet of space, if 90 percent of it is residential, can be built on the transit authority property.
About 31,000 square feet of land on the block, at the corner of North Stafford and Ninth streets, belong to real estate broker Clarence Dodge. A one-story building, now available for rent, and a parking lot occupy the plot.
Dodge said he eventually wants the highest possible density of office, retail and residential development on his property. But now, he said, "the economic situation is not favorable (and) the financing picture is not attractive."
A Metro official and Dodge said both parties have discussed a joint venture. They "just haven't come to a conclusion," Dodge added.
Three blocks from the station is the Parkington shopping mall, which first opened its doors to customers 30 years ago. The May Department Stores own the approximately 13 acres of land the mall stands on and the big Hecht's department store that, with a Penney's, are the major establishments.
The company's mall development arm, the May Centers, plans a three-stage project, starting with a revamping of the shopping center, according to project manager Richard Shields. The mall has been renamed Ballston Common.
The new Hecht's, with 175,000 square feet of space, will rise at one end of a three-level mall covering 471,000 square feet of space. A second large department store, covering about 120,000 square feet will be built at the other end of the mall. Shields said his firm is "still negotiating" with the J.C. Penney Co. for the store.
A nine-story office tower with 170,000 square feet of space will rise on top of the shopping mall. Shields said his company is negotiating with the Oliver T. Carr Co. to make the office structure a joint venture. May Centers expects to open the mall and the tower in the spring of 1985.
The second phase of the project will be a triangle shaped building at the intersection of Glebe Road and Wilson Boulevard, containing 330,000 square feet of offices and 25,000 square feet of retail stores, Shields said. The developer hopes to complete the building by late 1986 or 1987, but construction will not begin until a "prime tenant" has signed up for the building, Shields added. He the Carr company would handle leasing of the building. A Carr spokesman acknowledged only that his firm is "working with the May company" on the office buildings.
No plans have been made yet for the third parcel of land on May's 13 acres, Shields said.
The Carr company plans its own $100 million complex of offices, retail stores and residences on 10 acres at the southwest quadrant of I-66 and Glebe Road, a quarter of a mile from the Metro station. When it is completed, the complex will contain about 600,000 square feet of office space, about 50,000 square feet of retail shops and 360 apartments in buildings of four to 10 stories, and 84 townhouses.
The first phase calls for construction of an 11-story office building containing 173,000 square feet of office space and 15,000 square feet for retail establishments. Work will begin when a major tenant is signed up, "we are optimistic about finding" a tenant, the spokesman said.
Adjoining the Carr property is 2.4 acres at 4601 North Fairfax Drive, belonging to developer Paul Burman. An approved site plan calls for a 12-story office building with 250,000 square feet of space, according to Gene Burman, vice president of the Burman company.
Start of construction "is exclusively tied to market conditions," Burman said. "We're working with people, trying to put something together now." With a total cost of $100 a foot, the project "is not something you fly on speculation."