Alexandria, VA

In the latest Agenda Alexandria conversation, local business and civic leaders came together to discuss the highs and lows of the recently proposed City Manager’s budget.

The budget included a proposed tax rate reduction, but City Council candidate Bill Rosssello challenged the overly sunny narrative about the reduction.

“I look at the budget the way it’s been presented and something that always seems to concern me is when we lead with a narrative around the tax rate,” Rossello said. “The tax rate is only one part of the equation for the actual taxes that people pay… While we’re looking at a proposed 2 cent tax rate decrease, when you do the math, for the average household it comes out to be almost a 6% tax increase in real dollars and that’s what really matters to residents: how much more or how much less am I going to pay?”

Rossello was joined on the panel by Rob Krupicka, former City Council member and Delegate and owner of Elizabeth’s Counter, and Janet Blair Fleetwood, Secretary of the Budget & Fiscal Affairs Advisory Committee and the Mayor’s representative on Budget and Fiscal Affairs Advisory Committee (BFAAC).

The group discussed the current imbalance between the residential and commercial tax bases, which has only gotten worse during the pandemic.

“Back in 2009, we used to get 30.5% of revenue from commercial, said Fleetwood. “It is now 21.3%. We have a good situation here, with Virginia Tech’s Innovation area coming in, Amazon, the Patent office, the National Science Foundation, and Landmark. We should start looking to grow businesses that will come in and bring good jobs and use commercial real estate.”

Fleetwood said there has been talk that post-pandemic, companies may not want to use commercial real estate as they did before, but Fleetwood said she has also heard from companies that they will still need physical footprints for team projects.

“I don’t think commercial footprint is going away,” Fleetwood said.

Krupicka noted that questions about the balance between residential revenue and commercial revenue may fundamentally change post-pandemic.

“The balance between residential revenues and commercial revenue… there are fundamental shifts happening right now that make that an old debate,” Krupicka said. “People are working from home now, and you’re going to see a lot of businesses that don’t go back to commercial office when COVID ends.”

Krupicka said one of the larger concerns is that small business have to compete against larger companies like Amazon and pay taxes those companies don’t.

“Small businesses are competing against Amazon and large internet companies,” Krupicka said. “There is big international competition that pays a lot less taxes than small mom and pop. Small mom and pop has to pay BPOL tax… small businesses like mine are writing checks to government, but doing it in the hole. If you broke even on COVID, you’re paying on gross receipts, not profits.”

Krupicka said Amazon pays retail taxes, which benefits the city, but in general pays less on taxes per transaction than small restaurants or retailers.

“We need to have conversation about if we want small businesses to be at a disadvantage tax wise,” Krupicka said.

On the other side, Rossello said the burden on residential taxpayers has grown considerably and is pushing people out of Alexandria.

“We’ve taxed out so many middle class folks, who can afford to pay decent mortgage or rent, but find it more affordable to leave,” Rossello said. “We’ve seen whole neighborhoods turn over from diverse middle class neighborhoods to gentrified neighborhoods where houses on very small lots are $1.5 million dollars.”

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It was a cold week in Alexandria.

With bits of snow and temperatures hovering at around freezing, our top story this week was on Allison Priebe, the local business owner who was robbed while pumping gas in Old Town. Police later released suspect photos and advise anyone pumping gas to keep their keys with them and lock their vehicles.

On the coronavirus front, Alexandria is now at 9,903 cases and no new deaths, which is an increase of about 150 cases since Monday’s report. Meanwhile, as the city contends with a growing vaccine waiting list, the Health Department is warning residents of COVID-19 vaccine scams.

More than 260 people participated in our weekly poll. This week we asked about voting in the upcoming City Council and mayoral elections, and 87% plan on voting in the primary and general election; 6% only plan on voting in the primary; 5% aren’t voting and 1% will only vote in the primary.

In case you missed them, here are some other important stories this week:

Here are our top stories of the week in Alexandria:

  1. Local Business Owner Robbed of Car While Pumping Gas at Old Town Gas Station
  2. BREAKING: Large Power Outage Reported in Old Town
  3. ACPS Releases Semifinalist Names for T.C. Williams High School and Matthew Maury Elementary School Renaming
  4. Just In: ‘QAnon Shaman’ from Capitol Siege Transferred to Alexandria Jail
  5. Poll: What Do You Think of the Proposed Heritage Development in Old Town
  6. Mayor: Brace Yourselves, It Could be End of Summer Before City Moves into Next Vaccine Phase
  7. BREAKING: Councilman Mo Seifeldein Running for Alexandria Mayor, Hatch Act Conflict in Question
  8. Alexandria Sheriff: Jailed ‘QAnon Shaman’s’ Organic Food Request is Normal
  9. Just In: James Lewis Files Paperwork to Enter City Council Race
  10. Photos: The Regal Potomac Yard Movie Theater is Being Torn Down
  11. City Councilman’s Virtual Super Bowl Party Ambushed by Racists and Nazi Trolls

Photo via Alexandria Police

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New York-based multinational investment firm JPMorgan Chase & Co. has taken over financial management of the massive Potomac Yard redevelopment from Texas-based Lionstone Investments.

But even though the Washington Business Journal broke the story on Feb. 11, sources familiar with the 20-acre project say that the transition was made more than a year ago and will have no impact on development, which includes Virginia Tech’s $1 billion Innovation Campus that is slated for completion in 2024.

“Not sure why the article is coming out now as the change happened over a year ago and has had no impact on the project,” Cathy Puskar, an attorney with property developer JBG Smith, told ALXnow. “…(E)verything proceeded on time and according to plan.”

JBG Smith and JPMorgan Chase broke ground on the Virginia Tech development last month with the demolition of the Regal Potomac Yard movie theater.

Representatives from Lionstone and JPMorgan Chase could not be reached for comment.

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Virginia Tech Launches Online MBA

Virginia Tech is launching its newest MBA program option, the Online MBA, in response to the changing needs of students and the workplace in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The new format allowed us to combine some of the tried and true features of our established in-person MBA formats and online master of information technology to craft the best possible educational experience for students who value consistent interaction with their classmates and also want the flexibility of an online program,” said Parviz Ghandforoush, associate dean for graduate programs.

“We’ve sought to include the best aspects of our top-ranked Evening MBA, experiential-focused Executive MBA and hybrid Professional MBA, both in curriculum development and online delivery,” said Dana Hansson, director of MBA programs. “We’ve integrated feedback from students in all formats to determine how we can offer the best educational experience online.”

It’s this feedback that informed some of the unique features of the 22-month Online MBA that distinguish it from other online MBA offerings in the marketplace.

While fully online, delivery of the new program will be evenly split between synchronous and asynchronous experiences. “While students appreciate the flexibility of asynchronous learning, many shared with us that meeting synchronously best mirrors an on-campus experience. It allows students to participate actively in class discussions and study teams, develop working relationships with their peers and engage with Virginia Tech’s top-notch faculty,” Hansson said.

The program is cohort-based, which means that students complete their studies in lockstep and have the opportunity to build meaningful professional relationships with their classmates.

Students can choose to specialize their MBA in areas where Virginia Tech has significant expertise, such as cybersecurity, entrepreneurism, health information technology and business data analytics. The program also includes an option to study abroad through the international business specialization.

Online MBA students will also share the support and resources available to all Virginia Tech MBA students. Hansson said this includes access to an established MBA alumni mentoring program, personalized academic advising and membership in Virginia Tech’s vast alumni network.

“We’re excited to provide this new opportunity to professionals across the globe who want to further their careers and join our talented group of students and alumni who are proud to call themselves Hokies.”

Applications for the inaugural cohort are due May 1, with classes starting in July and graduation expected in May 2023.

Learn more at mba.vt.edu/online.

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The first phase of Virginia Tech’s massive Innovation Campus development is underway with the demolition of the Regal Potomac Yard movie theater, which closed in March due to the pandemic and never reopened.

The one-story theater first opened in 1998, and “is an example of a typical multi-screen movie theater built during the late 1990’s throughout the region,” according to a city staff report.

In its place will go a pump station that will handle sanitary sewer flows for Virginia Tech’s Sewer to Wastewater Energy Exchange system for the 1.9 million square-foot mixed use development. The pump station will be owned and maintained by AlexRenew.

Demolition of the theater started more than a week ago. A construction worker at the site said that the front section of the theater, which included the box office and concession stands, will likely be torn down by the end of the week.

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The ever-evolving “security threat landscape” and changes in user behavior and IT infrastructure require IT professionals to keep their knowledge up to date and stay on top of the latest trends and developments.

Earning a 100% online Master of Information Technology or graduate certificate with cybersecurity specialization from Virginia Tech can help individuals meet these heightened demands in a number of ways.

Ranked one of the top online master’s degree for cybersecurity by Cyberdegrees.org and one of the top four online graduate IT programs nationwide by U.S. News and World Report, Virginia Tech’s VT-MIT program takes a unique approach to specialized education.

Core courses in areas such as information systems design, electronic commerce, software engineering and computer programming help students master technical expertise in a business context. After completing these core courses, degree students can choose to specialize in cybersecurity technologies, cybersecurity management or cybersecurity policy. Virginia Tech also offers these topic areas as standalone graduate certificates for those not pursuing the full degree.

Whether interested in running an in-house cybersecurity practice or exploring the legal and ethical concerns triggered by data breaches, students have the opportunity to tailor their education around their career ambitions.

Part of Virginia Tech’s core strength is its world-class cybersecurity research, supported by $15 million in research grants and contracts. Students can access six cybersecurity research centers, including the Ballston-based Hume Center for National Security and Technology.

The VT-MIT program’s 100% online format allows students to pursue higher education at their own by deciding their own course load each semester. Further enriching the student environment is the program’s openness to students with diverse backgrounds and interests, including business line leaders looking to improve their technology capabilities while leveraging their domain expertise.

Combating today’s cyber threats has never been more difficult — or more critical to business continuity. A Master of Information Technology degree with cybersecurity specialization or standalone graduate certificate from Virginia Tech can help leaders better understand the systemic nature of these threats and teach them strategies for dealing with an increasingly complex security landscape.

Learn more about Virginia Tech’s 100% online Master of Information Technology with cybersecurity specializations at vtmit.vt.edu.

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Morning Notes

Virginia Tech Initials Officially Added to Potomac Yard — “The Metro board on Thursday unanimously approved a plan to add Virginia Tech’s initials to the future Potomac Yard station and remove the University of Virginia’s initials from the West Falls Church station.” [Washington Business Journal]

City Advises Preparation for Wednesday Winter Storm — “While Wednesday’s winter storm forecast evolves, we encourage you to make time now to ensure you & your family are prepared.” [Twitter]

Mitigation Mandates Go Into Effect — “Effective today, new statewide mitigation mandates include a stay-home order between midnight and 5 a.m., with some exceptions.” [Virginia.gov]

Washington Post Profiles Zero-Waste Old Town Store — “Enter Mason & Greens, the Washington region’s first zero-waste store. The couple flung open the shop’s French doors in Old Town Alexandria in March, just as the coronavirus was exploding across the country.” [Washington Post]

ACPS Superintendent Fields Questions About Reopening — “ACPS has decided to use “concurrent teaching” when in-person learning starts in late January. Watch this video to learn more.” [Twitter]

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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While a poll showed most ALXnow readers don’t need convincing, Virginia Tech is still pulling out all the stops as it works to get its name added to the Potomac Yard Metro station.

Virginia Tech is in the process of creating Innovation Campus, a new 1 million-square-foot campus at the northern end of Potomac Yard planned to have planned to have around 750 students by the time its completed in ten years. The school has pushed to have the nearby Metro station named “Potomac Yard — VT” to highlight the campus.

Adding Virginia Tech to the primary part of the station name was approved by the City Council and is currently pending review by WMATA.

David Baker, assistant director of Government and Community Relations at Virginia Tech, spoke with ALXnow about the proposal to add VT to the station’s name.

ALXnow: What would you say about the name to those who might be wary of adding Virginia Tech’s initials to the Metro station in the way they might be concerned about adding a corporation’s name?

Baker: As you may know, Metro doesn’t allow corporate entities. What they do allow is universities to have their names included on Metro stations. There are ten universities across the region included on the Metro map.

Our new campus will be less than half a mile — less than a quarter of a mile — from the station. It will be our flagship campus on Northern Virginia. Our obligation to the commonwealth is that we graduate 750 masters students annually

For us to do that, ti’s going to take thousands of students in the pipeline. This is not some sideshow satellite campus, this is a big deal. The state has invested substantial money into this project. It was a key driver for Amazon’s decision, but it’s also a symbol of how the District, Maryland and Virginia came together for the first time to pursue one of these huge economic windfall opportunities. The Innovation Campus is a core component of that.

We’re hearing from leaders that it’s access to talent that’s going to attract the next Amazon.

ALXnow: What about the concern about wanting some permanence for the name? After all, Metro is also now having to remove UVA’s name from the West Falls Church Metro station.

Baker: Virginia Tech has actually bought out UVAs. We are simultaneously going through a process called PPEA with Hick Construction to build a large new facility at the West Falls Church Metro station, focused on smart construction and architecture.

Virginia Tech is investing in that campus as well. UVA was there for 25 years, it made sense at the time. The thing about universities: we talk in centuries, not decades. When universities make investments in campuses, it’s a much longer time frame. That’s why there’s an understanding of that commitment, that’s why the City of Alexandria endorsed adding the name to the station. They see a long term benefit. Looking at the other universities on the Metro stations… that’s as rock solid as we can get

George Mason is the only university in the system that has their name on two stations — as primary on Virginia Square and as a secondary name on Vienna. Their main campus is nowhere close, certainly not within a half-mile. The names already on there are being grandfathered. What we’re saying is “use the George Mason model, keep our name as secondary [at West Falls Church] — but because this is our flagship that’s worthy of the primary name Potomac Yard-VT.

Rendering via City of Alexandria

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This week, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority is asking the public whether or not they’d want to see Virginia Tech added to the name of the new Potomac Yard Metro station.

The name would be associated with Virginia Tech’s Innovation Campus, which is promised to bring a massive redevelopment to the area.

Several Metro stations in the system have other locations included, like Vienna/Fairfax-GMU. The additional names can pose a challenge though, like requiring removal if the facility closes — as is the case with West Falls Church Metro station, which has University of Virginia in the name despite UVA no longer operating a school near the station.

In September, the City Council unanimously approved the potential change, but final approval of the change still rests with WMATA.

Rendering via City of Alexandria

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The COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact every aspect of modern-day life, from the way consumers buy their groceries to how employees connect to corporate systems. Learning is no exception.

Since the outbreak, online learning has become more central to people’s lives. And many plan to continue the trend: More than half of American adults who expect to need more education or training post-pandemic say they would do it online, according to an August 2020 survey by the Strada Education Network.

Yet not all online education is created equal — and IT pros looking to invest in a program should compare and contrast options carefully.

Whether pursuing a full-time master’s degree to deepen IT expertise or seeking a certificate to boost content knowledge in a specific area, there are many reasons why Virginia Tech’s 100% online Master of Information Technology program (VT-MIT) is a superior choice for IT leaders.

The U.S. News & World Report’s Best Online Programs report ranks Virginia Tech’s MIT degree the nation’s fourth best. The program blends coursework and offers twelve areas of specialized study for a diverse education.

Courses are taught by world-class faculty experienced in translating a robust academic experience to an effective online format. For nearly 20 years, the VT-MIT program has relied on a two-tiered system of master faculty and distance learning instructors who together deliver a superior online classroom experience that encourages peer-to-peer support, faculty-to-student mentoring and real-time engagement, making VT-MIT a leader in the online education space long before COVID-19 forced other programs to go virtual.

Students can also expect to reap these advantages:

  • Increased Flexibility  Students can choose their own timeline and toggle between full- and part-time schedules, depending on employment status and current workload.
  • Greater Convenience –– A combination of synchronous and asynchronous online classes allows students to learn anywhere, anytime — ideal for remote workers unsure of when they may return to the office.
  • Enhanced Value Students can earn a VT-MIT degree at a universal tuition rate (no residency required) from a well-respected public institution.

Today’s IT professionals must act fast to keep pace with a rapidly evolving IT environment. Experience and specialized IT skills are critical to making the right technology decisions, at the right time. With the flexibility of an online VT-MIT degree or graduate certificate, IT leaders can strike the perfect balance: earn a respected credential that will help them confront the technological challenges of the 21st century while accommodating new realities.

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