As the Arlington County government and school system move forward with plans to redevelop the Arlington Career Center site, they are being urged to think long-term and view the forest for the trees.
“We see this as a huge opportunity to create a crown jewel of Columbia Pike. The only question is the amount of money that might be invested,” said Cecelia Cassidy, who heads the Columbia Pike Revitalization organization, during a Jan. 18 community roundtable with County Board Chairman Katie Cristol.
A well-crafted redevelopment of the Career Center parcel would “help the Pike rise up,” Cassidy said, noting the county government’s past efforts (and cash) spent on similar efforts elsewhere in the county.
Part of the Career Center site is owned by the county government, the rest by the school system. County Board members and their School Board colleagues recently empaneled another of Arlington’s ubiquitous working groups, whose members will study possibilities on the parcel, located a block north of Columbia Pike adjacent to Walter Reed Drive.
A final report from the group is due back to elected officials in August.
In addition to the Career Center building, the site also includes Patrick Henry Elementary School, Arlington Community High School, Columbia Pike Library and – perhaps most enticing to planners – a large surface-parking area.
In response to Cassidy, Cristol said she agrees with the assessment of doing the development right, rather than rushing it.
“I am very excited about the Career Center [possibilities],” Cristol said. “We have this resource; what do we want it to look like in 25 years?”
Cristol said there would be a chance to “sketch out that plan over time” rather than hurtle into decision-making.
“I’m really optimistic about the opportunity,” she said.
School Board members already have committed to adding between 700 and 800 high-school seats to the parcel by 2022. How radical the eventual redevelopment of the site is could depend on whether there are funds available; similar efforts to redevelop the county government’s landholdings in the Courthouse area (which also has a large surface-parking lot) have foundered for a lack of available cash and no consensus on what should go there.
Cassidy, who previously headed the Rosslyn Business Improvement District (an area of the county that has seen recent major investments by the local government), said it was a plus to have Cristol, who lives in South Arlington, at the helm as the Career Center planning process begins.
“It’s good to see a Columbia Pike neighbor,” Cassidy said.
That familiarity is likely to continue in 2019, when current County Board vice chairman Christian Dorsey (who also lives in the area) is expected to ascend to the chairmanship.
Unmentioned at the Jan. 18 forum, but still hanging, however tenuously, in the air is the question of a Columbia Pike streetcar project. While the initial plan for a five-mile, $300 million link between Pentagon City and Skyline was killed off by the County Board in 2014, it never has been formally buried, and conceivably could be brought back to life.
For now, however, Arlington officials are focusing on upgrading existing bus service in the corridor, with new branding efforts and high-tech stops.