Those trying to lease commercial property in the Columbia Pike corridor are finding the old adage about land – “they’re not making any more of it” – certainly rings true.
Arlington economic-development officials say they will assist where possible, but in many cases, small-business owners wishing to stay in the corridor will have to do the hunting on their own.
“We are not a substitute for brokers . . . but we will do what we can,” Arlington Economic Development director Telly Tucker said at the recent “State of the Pike” forum, sponsored by the Columbia Pike Partnership and held online.
The arrival of Amazon not far down the road in the Pentagon City area is just one factor that is impacting rents in the Columbia Pike corridor, once known as a low-cost alternative to Arlington’s Metro corridors. That ever-evolving situation will require business owners to keep abreast of the situation and plan, plan, plan to deal with any eventuality.
“We want to make sure all of our businesses are strategic-planning for their future,” Tucker said during the forum, which also touched on issues ranging from housing to arts.
Trying to find the right amount of office or retail space in the 3.5-mile Columbia Pike corridor seems to be challenging everyone; even the Columbia Pike Partnership (formerly the Columbia Pike Redevelopment Organization) is facing the loss of its storefront space due to redevelopment. It currently shares the office with the Black Heritage Museum of Arlington, which previously lost its space further west on the Pike, also due to redevelopment.
Another economic-development official – Tara Palacios of the county government’s BizLaunch program – said resources to assist businesses have been ramped up during the pandemic. The county government desires to “make sure our small businesses have the ability to survive and thrive,” Palacios said.
The increasing raze-and-replace development efforts on the Pike began in earnest when the county government began planning for a streetcar project that would run from Pentagon City west to Skyline in Fairfax County.
Originally trumpeted as a faster alternative to existing bus transportation, it was later championed as an economic tool when promoters determined streetcars would not, in fact, move appreciably faster than buses.
The efforts toward a streetcar (critics preferred “trolley”) were abandoned in 2014 over concerns over rising projected costs – about $350 million toward the end for construction and untold millions for operating subsidies – coupled with pushback from some county residents over what was seen as increasingly grandiose capital-spending priorities of those then sitting on the Arlington County Board dais.
On the transportation front, this spring will start installation of about two dozen new bus shelters in the corridor, a successor to the earlier plan to provide high-tech bus refuges that died when The Washington Post vividly, if erroneously, called them “million-dollar bus stops.”
(While the actual projected cost of those stops varied depending on who was doing the telling, even the highest point only topped out in the range of $800,000 apiece. The new shelters come in at less than $200,000 each.)
Also in the works is a major realignment of the easternmost portion of Columbia Pike, incorporating everything from North Nash Street east almost to the Pentagon. The effort, being conducted as part of expansion of Arlington National Cemetery, will provide “completely new infrastructure,” county transportation chief Dennis Leach said. Commuters can expect disruption once the project gets going in earnest; the estimated completion date is the summer of 2025.
Expected to be coming in the spring of 2023 will be new limited-stop bus service along the corridor to complement existing local service. It’s another effort to promote bus service to Pike residents, many of whom are new enough to the neighborhood that they may not even be aware of the streetcar contretemps of a decade ago.
The “State of the Pike” event is distinct from the Columbia Pike Partnership’s “Pike Progress” luncheon, to be held in April (and again in a “virtual” format owing to the pandemic).
Having a wintertime update on development and other issues is a way to assure “that we are all on the same page and are all excited and moving in the same direction,” said the organization’s executive director, Kim Klingler.
Originally a toll road chartered by Congress in 1810, Columbia Pike supplanted a dirt cow path. Moving west from Arlington, the roadway continues into Fairfax County, terminating at Little River Turnpike in Annandale.
Long under the control of the Virginia Department of Transportation, control of much of the Arlington portion of the Pike was transferred to the Arlington County government in 2010. County officials at the time said gaining control of the roadway – though more costly for county taxpayers – would allow the local government to play a more direct role in guiding redevelopment of the corridor.