There are big things in store for Eisenhower Valley, and local leadership says the southwest Alexandria neighborhood is ready for its moment in the spotlight.
The city is in the middle of developing an update to its master plan for the Eisenhower Valley. Leadership from the Eisenhower Partnership — an organization that recently celebrated its 25th anniversary — spoke with ALXnow about how they see that plan taking shape.
Agnés Artemel started the Eisenhower Partnership in 1994, when the Carlyle neighborhood was just a twinkle in a developer’s eyes. Artemel said she remembered how the first marketing piece the partnership ever put out showed the federal courthouse under construction.
One of the big shifts in the plan would be changes in land use. Today, Eisenhower is mostly a collection of office buildings and some scattered retail. Artemel said the new plans call for a shift toward more residential uses and greater flexibility for mixed use developments.
“The new plan is more flexible to fit the market conditions,” Artemel said. “The original vision was office parks here, but the world has changed and multi-family [residential] is a great addition.”
The East End
Artemel said the strip mall at the end of Eisenhower Avenue (2000 Eisenhower Avenue), home to Foster’s Grille and Zikrayet Lebanese Restaurant and Lounge, has leases that run to 2025, but sometime after that the property will likely be torn down and redeveloped. The update to the Eisenhower Master Plan aims to have this eastern end of the Eisenhower Valley transformed into a retail-focused and pedestrian-friendly neighborhood.
At Hoffman Town Center (2404 Eisenhower Avenue), many of the new developments announced after the arrival of the National Science Foundation — like the new Wegmans — are starting to take shape. But there are concerns about how the local streets will be able to handle the additional traffic.
“People say that visitors will take uber or bikes, but that’s not going to happen,” said Kay Tyler, who joined the organization in 2005. “We need to focus on transportation.”
Daniel Beason, the current vice president of the partnership, said he was excited about the DASH network’s restructuring that would create more frequent, reliable service in high-density areas like Eisenhower.
“We’re suburban density, it’s not right for us,” Artemel said. “The city wants to be Copenhagen, which is a noble goal, but we’re not there yet. We’re too spread out.”
The traffic solutions being discussed by the Partnership include widening some of the roads rather than narrowing them. The intersection of Eisenhower Avenue and Mill Road, which is frequently congested with traffic headed to the Beltway, was noted as a particularly challenging intersection that could benefit from added turn lanes.
As the plan brings in more housing, the leadership at the Eisenhower Partnership said more work needs to be done to plan for schools in the area. Artemel said that the plans for school locations aren’t keeping up with the influx of planned residential developments.
Artemel said the purchase of the long-vacant Victory Center (5001 Eisenhower Avenue) earlier this year could hopefully help spur further development to bridge the east-west in the Eisenhower Valley. The building has been empty since 2003 and single-handedly accounts for 18 percent of Alexandria’s overall vacant office space. What will happen with the building is ultimately unclear, but Artemel said initial plans would keep it as office space.
The group differed some over the impact of the purchase. Beason said the Victory Center becoming occupied will be a relief, but it hasn’t been a major impediment to development in the area.
“I disagree,” said Tyler. “People see that and they wonder ‘what’s wrong with this area? If something hasn’t happened there, something must be wrong.'”
The western end of the Eisenhower Valley hasn’t been as frequently in the redevelopment spotlight as the areas near the Eisenhower Metro station, but Artemel said that’s starting to change.
“The West End was all industrial when we started, but there’s beginning to be some movement,” Artemel said. “There is development interest out there. The Vulcan site is being redeveloped and there is some interest in [existing] warehouses.”
In the meantime, Tyler said the lower profile has allowed more innovative retail locations to open up along the western end of the Eisenhower Valley, pointing specifically to the Sportrock Climbing Center at 5308 Eisenhower Avenue.
“It’s more reasonable for people to come in and start at the west end [of Eisenhower],” Tyler said. “It’s cheaper and there’s less of a risk to open.”
Beason said the nature of Eisenhower Avenue is that the unique destinations are spread out, but taken together people would see that Eisenhower is as unique and interesting as areas like Del Ray and Old Town.