As the group’s 35th anniversary looms on the horizon this fall, the recent annual meeting of the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization (CPRO) was a chance to take stock of tumultuous times and fly the organization’s flag in the march toward the future.
“It’s really exciting,” said John Snyder, the organization’s new chair, at the board’s annual meeting – held outdoors both to infuse it with a festive atmosphere and to comport with public-health guidance.
The past year’s challenges “brought the community together even more – we learned a lot,” said Snyder, a civic activist from nearby Douglas Park who succeeded John Murphy of Washington Workplace as board chair.
“The need is still there. It hasn’t gone away entirely. We have to keep in mind of that,” Snyder said. “But we can also get back to the things we enjoy.”
The four-mile stretch of Columbia Pike from the Pentagon west to Fairfax County has received its share of economic development over the past two years despite the pandemic, CPRO executive director Kim Klingler said.
“We have seen 15 new businesses open up here on the Pike during COVID,” she said. “We are working with the Chamber, we are working with [the Arlington government’s] BizLaunch, to find ways we can continue to support businesses. There’s so much more to do.”
Described as “South Arlington’s main street,” the Columbia Pike corridor for generations was in a state of benign neglect and economic-development limbo while the Rosslyn-Ballston and Route 1 corridors used the arrival of the Metro system to spur growth.
In 1986, the fledgling CPRO – Ralph Perrino its president – was boosted by a $50,000 Arlington government grant. The organization has remained independent while continuing to receive budget support from the county government.
Over the past two decades, the Pike’s location has spurred significant development projects from east to west. Yet Columbia Pike has always seemed to find itself on the short end of the stick on transit planning:
• The original map of the Metro system included a heavy-rail line right through the heart of the corridor, from the Pentagon out to Fairfax County. But it was never built.
• Plans for a $350 million streetcar line running essentially the same route (the Pentagon Metro station west to Skyline) were killed off in 2014 after a contentious battle within the Arlington community.
• At the time Arlington elected officials nixed the streetcar, they promised to fast-track efforts at high-quality, upscale bus service through the corridor, only to later acknowledge the effort did not go forward as quickly as advertised.
When COVID hit, CPRO worked to provide for those most impacted, raising $60,000 to support restaurants by buying meals for front-line health-care workers and delivering $120,000 worth of produce to families in the corridor. At the same time, the organization worked to bring in a more diverse leadership and broader partnerships.
“We kind of took a look in the mirror. I think a lot of organizations did,” said Klingler, who has been on board since early 2019. (A previous executive director, Takis Karantonis, in 2020 was elected to the Arlington County Board.)
Klingler said the coming year would result in more promotion of the corridor and more outreach. But she said nobody was likely to forget the COVID era anytime soon.
“What a year it has been,” she said.
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A celebration of the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization’s 35th anniversary is slated for Oct. 14 at Penrose Square. For information, see the Website at www.columbia-pike.org/cproanniversary.