The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic downturn haven’t stopped forward economic momentum along the Columbia Pike corridor.
That was the takeaway from the annual “Pike Progress Luncheon,” held Sept. 25 in a “virtual” format – a first for the event.
“It’s easy to get down in this time – today’s presentation certainly inspired a lot of optimism,” said John Murphy of Washington Workplace, who chairs the board of the Columbia Pike Redevelopment Organization (CPRO), which sponsors the annual look both forward and backward.
The annual event always proves to be “one of the highlights of our year,” said Murphy, who both lives and works along the 3.5-mile Arlington stretch of the Columbia Pike corridor.
“There will be . . . a world after COVID,” promised Kim Klingler, executive director of the 35-year-old organization that supports economic and cultural activity on what she describes as Arlington’s newest and oldest main street.
The corridor provides “a vibrant, safe, connected and diverse” backdrop for residents, visitors and workers – and a community that has been impacted, but not derailed, by COVID.
“We have been partnering and pivoting,” Klingler said. “We truly are pulling together.”
Among the standout events of the year was the opening of Centro, the mixed-use development at the corner of the Pike and South George Mason Drive. All 366 units are now leased, said David Orr of Orr Partners, which developed the property.
Orr said that the project, which replaced a supermarket and surface parking lot, benefited from the form-based code that helps to guide Columbia Pike development.
“It was an extremely positive process for us,” said Orr, noting the brisk nine-month journey from submission of plans to a county-government green light.
Although leasing activity slowed to a trickle during the early days of COVID, things then began booming, with as many as 60 leases being signed some subsequent months – in part because renters could get into a new building for $500 to $1,000 less per month than a comparable apartment in the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor goes for.
Further west along the Pike – tiptoeing just over the Fairfax County line, in fact – Highland Square Holdings converted an office building that had been vacant for five years into Mission Lofts, featuring 156 live-work loft apartments with zoning that permits operation of home-based businesses.
“It opened in April and we’ll be full by the end of the year,” said developer Robert Selding, praising Columbia Pike as “exceedingly vibrant and energetic.”
“It seemed like a perfect location for us,” Selding said. “We really can meet a need that otherwise would not be met.”
It was nearly six years ago that the Columbia Pike business and civic leadership was shocked to its core after Arlington County Board members voted to kill off a proposed $350 million streetcar line that would have used the corridor as the spine to connect Pentagon City to Skyline. County officials then promised an expedited, upscale bus network as an alternative, but that proved slow to materialize.
But there are signs of progress on the transportation front, including significant infrastructure construction on the western end of the corridor.
Pike restaurants have benefited from more liberal outdoor-seating rules that were developed as a response to the pandemic, and both they and retailers are benefiting from relaxed restrictions on signage.
“There is a lot of progress happening,” said Klingler.
At the Sept. 25 event, CPRO presented its annual Columbia Pike Spirit Awards, to Flare Rides, Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic Church, David Peete/B.M. Smith and Arlington Presbyterian Church.
(CPRO is a “guiding light” for the community, Peete said in accepting his award.)
In addition, Ana Arias was honored as volunteer of the year for her work supporting CPRO’s drive-in summer movie-night program.
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