Alexandria, VA – By this time next year, Alexandria will have a plan finalized on what Potomac Yard will look like, with hundreds of thousands of square feet devoted to Virginia Tech’s $1 billion Innovation Campus, a new Metro station, a mix of residential, retail, and a new elementary school. First thing’s first, though, and that means that the initial massive phase of the development has to be incorporated into the city’s Potomac Yard Master Plan.
Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson said he’s excited to see the result of the land use process.
“This is one of the most transit-rich corners of our city, with more to come. We have work to do, but we have long planned for density in this area,” Wilson said. “I would love to have a theater in Potomac Yard in the future, in the urban context that is planned.”
Yes, the Regal Cinema at Potomac Yard will soon be a thing of the past. The first phase of the 600,000 square foot development will see it torn down and replaced by three Virginia Tech Innovation Campus academic buildings, with underground parking and open space. The buildings will be used for computer science research and development programs for graduate and master’s degree programs. When all is said and done, the campus will accommodate 750 master’s degree students per year and more than 100 doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows. For now, the plan is to open the campus for students next year, and to have the campus fully operational by fall 2024.
Land use attorney Cathy Puskar is representing JBG Smith and Lionstone, and said that the goal is to improve upon the master plan that was updated in 2017 to incorporate Virginia Tech. On Thursday, Nov. 14, Puskar and Virginia Tech officials conducted the first community meeting and unveiled the conceptual designs and other renderings of the project.
“Our goal was to maintain the vision that the community works so hard to create in 2017, but actually improve upon it, because now we have this awesome partner, and we’re really going to do something exciting here,” Puskar said. “We’ve added an academic campus, which is wonderful because it really is going to make this a more vibrant place. And I think you’ll see a lot of growth and a lot of activity surrounding that.”
The Alexandria City Council was briefed on the plan on Nov. 12 in a joint work session with the Planning Commission. The site has been broken into 10 blocks, and Virginia Tech’s campus will take up four acres of the northern end near the Alexandria border with Arlington. Other aspects of the plan include moving a yet-to-be-constructed Alexandria City Public School elementary school from one end of the site to the other, increasing building heights, and adding affordable housing and new businesses within walking distance of the Potomac Yard Metro Station.
“I’m very happy with the move for ACPS – the possible building and school there,” said City Councilman John Chapman, who cautioned the roadway design at the school and metro station. “I think we just need to be mindful of how circulation works there for buses and pick up and drop off, and all of those things. But aside from that, it looks very good.”
Puskar said that a fitness center and movie theater could be in the works in future phasing plans, which will be presented to the city in the coming months. She also said that public hearings are anticipated for next spring, followed by the multiple approvals by the Planning Commission and City Council. There is also a transportation analysis underway to see what impact the development will have on area roadways with the influx of thousands of additional cars.
Some local residents are wary of the transportation challenges that will accompany the development.
“I’m very excited about Virginia Tech being here, the new businesses, all the new people. I’m not excited about a lot more cars in the area,” said Alexandrian Bill Hendrickson.
Stephanie Landrum, president and CEO of the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership, is credited with brokering the deal that brought Virginia Tech to Alexandria, and said that the entire area is going to change in the relatively near future.
“I think the language didn’t include a university in any of our small area plans because we didn’t think it was achievable, and so I think this is a lesson to us that we should aspire higher,” Landrum said. “I think as we were putting this concept together with Virginia Tech as part of the pursuit for Amazon, we knew the community would embrace this.”