Merrifield: All Grown Up with Something to Say
A Communal Public Space that Annandale Could Emulate

 

 By: Jeffrey Levine and M. Callahan

Merrifield has new streets, new parking, new residences, and a new attitude.Merrifield has been enjoying a total facelift over the past few years, adding over twenty top notch stores and an unusual movie theatre complex with real dining (not just the candy counter) and eleven marvelous eateries.  Here you will find new streets, new parking, new residences, and a new attitude.  Merrifield has come full circle from mostly light industrial spaces to a revitalized and exciting retail district, now known as the Mosaic District.

In 1998, the Board of Supervisors designated a portion of the Merrifield Suburban Center as one of the county Commercial Revitalization Areas (CRA), focusing commercial development around activity centers.  Merrifield's CRA designation assisted in the creation of Fairfax County's first Tax Increment Finance (TIF) District.  A TIF mechanism can provide up-front money to a region which has the potential for redevelopment, to be repaid later through an increased tax base based on the future development.

Merrifield’s key location near I-66, the Capital Beltway, and the Dunn Loring Metro station was too attractive to remain under utilized. Successful planning and design along with a significant private-public partnership have given Merrifield a new life for generations to come. Taking advantage of this location, a pedestrian friendly mixed use development with an energetic urban quality has emerged. The flagship development is the building of the Mosaic District.  This thirty-one acre urban style neighborhood will add 500,000 square feet of retail, 125,000 square feet of office space, 1,000 residential units, two complimentary parking structures with electric car charging stations, valet parking, bike racks and lockers, a 150 room Hyatt Hotel, and two parks; one being a full acre designated as the town center where Farmers Markets, concerts, festivals, and community activities will be held. 

This is the largest project for Columbia, S.C. developer EDENS who are known for attracting upscale tenants, such as Anthropologie and the very first Last Call Studio by Neiman Marcus. 

In addition, the developer carefully researched the potential user market; primarily single and married young professionals,  who appreciate local specialty stores such as Dawn Price Baby and the fashionable Ginger and South Moon Under clothing boutiques. Fifteen percent of the space is devoted to eateries, local favorites rather than chains. 

A significant entertainment center, the Angelika Film Center and Cafe, opened last September.  It is an impressive boutique cinema featuring independent, art and specialty films which hosts eight screens, plush velour stadium seats, and the latest in digital projection & sound technology.  Chef Lee Anne Wong, a Top Chef finalist, prepares a cuisine of global fusion paired with spTownhouses in the Mosaic Districtecialty beer, wine and champagne selections in the Café, the Lounge (where drinks and gourmet bar snacks are also served) or in the theaters while watching a film.

 

According to Angelika’s press release,

“The sleekly designed soaring three level, glass enclosed lobby includes a Café, a Lounge and a creative Concession Stand with traditional movie snacks.  A striking three tiered crystal chandelier accented in blue neon and a dramatic oversized illuminated rendering of the winged face of Angelika adorn the lobby.  We are committed to offering exceptional service and a superior and different movie going experience.”

Merrifield’s strong demographics naturally fueled interest from developers.  After all, this was a significantly underutilized stretch of land with millions of square feet of office space within a few miles. 

                            1 mile               3 miles                5 miles
Population:           13,477                49,595              342,202

Households:           5,697                49,594              126,160
Ave. HH Income: 100,931               119,435             127,012

As a point of comparison, the median household income in Annandale is 65% greater than the Virginia Average and 91.4% greater than the national average at $104,488.  That figure along with an exceedingly low unemployment and stable job market has rated Annandale as one of the 15 wealthiest communities in America. Home occupancy is an incredible 98.4%, with too little inventory to satisfy all who seek to live here.  Crime is exceptionally low in Annandale and our population at the one mile radius is 70,357 while Greater Annandale (5 mile radius) is 342,076.  We also practically top the scale for a highly educated populace.  In fact, on a scale of 10, ten being the most educated, Annandale is rated 9.   Annandale’s demographics are as good, or better, than Merrifield’s.

Can the potential success of Merrifield be emulated by Annandale?  What are the similarities and differences?  The table on page 21 compares some noteworthy features in both areas.

The county has acknowledged that both areas have redevelopment potential.  However, key differences are (1) the size of existing parcels; (2) the proximity to a major transit stop; (3) the establishment and perception of a “town center”; and, (4) the amount of public commitment in funding and implementing improvements. These differences may highlight why Merrifield is moving ahead, whereas Annandale has more of a challenge and needs a Champion with clout.

The following are suggestions on how developers, the County Office of Community Revitalization and elected representatives might address the challenge for Annandale’s Central Business District.

Development in areas with existing small parcels - In several areas, consolidation of adjacent parcels into a larger more manageable area should be considered. For example see the Annandale Demonstration Project on the chamber’s website www.annandalechamber.com under Our Community/Revitalization.

Building of a transit center - Recent studies have been conducted to explore the feasibility for a transit facility, since the Central Business District  is at the intersection of several bus routes. Additionally it is foreseen that Annandale could be the future south terminus for the Columbia Pike Streetcar.

Establishment of a town center - The Mosaic District is planned to be the town center for Greater Merrifield.  Its long-term success is dependent on factors such as: location, physical form, ease of access by both cars and pedestrians, and   market analysis.  Thus, Annandale could learn from the Mosaic’s development and challenges in the creation of its own town center. 

Increase public commitment in funding and/or implementation of infrastructure - Annandale’s Central Business District was designated as a CRA at the same time as Merrifield.  Could there be similar public commitment to help build such amenities as parking structures and landscaped open spaces?

 

FEATURES              MERRIFIELD                 ANNANDALE

 

Community Redevelopment
District

Yes

Yes

Comprehensive Plan Vision

Pedestrian friendly with an urban character

Walkable, dynamic central
business district using form-based
code

Urban Design Guidelines

Streetscape Design Manual

Annadale Urban Design Guidelines         

Is there a there, there?

Mosaic Town Center is beginning to define focus of area

A revitalization project could
become the Town Center in
Annandale such as the
bowling alley site.

Proximity to transit stop

Metro within 1/4 mile

Bus transit stops only

Walkability

Partially succeeding

No significant pedestrian
improvements

Open spaces

Planned open spaces and parks

Limited open spaces

Publicly funded amenities

 

Existing land use conditions

 

Residential

TIF. Public infrastructure improvements

 

Originally non-residential large plots


Minimal established/new condo/rental in Mosaic & around Metro stop

Public street improvements
planned known as the Annandale Transportation Plan

Predominantly small lots with
individual businesses

Significant established adjacent residential/built in customer base

 

 

For the full article please see ENDEAVOR, April, 2013. Reproduction of this article, in whole or in part, requires written permission from the ENDEAVOR news magazine.

 

 

 

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