Northern Virginia real estate legend Til Hazel, who has memories of the Tysons area dating back to World War II and has been instrumental in its development ever since, sees some major challenges facing Tysons’ economy and transportation network.
“I wish I could say things about Tysons that were upbeat and optimistic, but I have some serious concerns about the future of Tysons, despite the opportunities that are here and the wonderful things that have happened,” said Hazel, speaking Thursday morning at Bisnow’s Tysons Takeoff event.
While Tysons alone represents the 12th-largest office market in the United States, Hazel notes that it is still part of the Greater Washington economy and depends on the region’s strength for its success.
“The region currently is not booming as it used to,” Hazel said. “For 50 years, the business community have assumed the federal government would make Tysons great and make the region great. The truth of it is the region has stalled. We are no longer one of the top regions in the country. We are hurting. That’s going to hurt Tysons because Tysons cannot grow as it should without the regional growth.”
The region’s population growth has slowed by 50% and its economic growth has fallen to the lowest levels in 30 years, George Mason University economist Stephen Fuller said.
“We’re still growing, but it isn’t growing the kinds of jobs and numbers we need to fill the kinds of buildings we’re proposing for Tysons,” Fuller said. “The whole region has got to get its act together, and with that, Tysons will have to pick up its share of the office growth.”
Beyond the economic issues, Hazel’s other major concerns centered around the transportation network, beginning with the lack of stability in funding for the Metro system.
“Without adequate transportation, Tysons will stall,” Hazel said. “The problem right now is we have a bankrupt Metro system, and the politicians are still kicking the can down the road, which is what they’ve been doing for 40 years.”
Hazel did praise WMATA General Manager Paul Wiedefeld, who he said is standing up to politicians more than some of the system’s previous leaders. He also emphasized the need to ease Northern Virginia’s traffic congestion by building another bridge across the Potomac River.
“Without another crossing over the river, we’re in deep, deep trouble,” Hazel said. “Without adequate traffic approaching Tysons, Tysons will not thrive. We’ve got to have better transportation. Metro and the new river crossing are absolutely critical to what we need.”
In addition to improving its regional transportation, Fuller also discussed the need to make it easier to move around within Tysons.
“In order for it to succeed, it has to become a place, and it has to become livable,” Fuller said. “It has to be a place that you and I want to spend time in. Right now, it’s still two retail centers and a disconnected office market. It has to come together. There are 1,700 acres, more or less, in the Tysons area and they need to be brought together so that those of you that live here can actually get out of your unit and do something here without getting into a vehicle.”
One way to measure that walkability factor is looking at a property’s Walk Score. Washington REIT Vice President Anthony Chang said of the 20 office buildings in the REIT’s portfolio, 15 of them have Walk Scores above 90, including all of their D.C. properties. But its Tysons buildings have Walk Scores in the low 60s, he said, which can make it more difficult to attract tenants. He does expect that number to rise as more of the area’s mixed-use developments deliver.
Like the rest of the region, Tysons also has to address its housing affordability, Clemente Development CEO Dan Clemente said. Clemente, who has proposed a 2.8M SF Tysons mixed-use development with the region’s tallest tower, said Tysons does not have enough workforce housing in the range of 65% to 85% of area median income.
“We have issues, because I don’t believe we’re doing enough about workforce housing,” Clemente said. “If those people can’t live here — the people who are working in Tysons today, the secretaries, the bartenders, the waiters — if they can’t live here in Tysons, you don’t have a city.”
While Tysons depends on the regional economy for its success, as Hazel noted, it also competes with its neighbors for office tenants and residents.
Avison Young principal Dave Millard, who is working to lease NVCommercial and Foulger-Pratt’s Tysons Central office project, said its two biggest competitors are the Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor to the east and Reston Town Center to the west. He said he has heard from office tenants that Tysons represents an attractive central location between millennial talent that lives in the urban corridors to the east and executives who live in suburban areas farther west.
“The challenge for Tysons as we continue to grow and evolve will be to take the best examples from our competitors,” Millard said. “We’re not always going to win every tenant or every resident, because other things are important to them, but we want to be in the mix.”