Friday, February 09, 2007

Honey, I Forgot the Retail!

The Parker-Gray neighborhood could learn a lesson from the lead article in the latest issue of the Post's Alexandria-Arlington section.

"All Quiet on Carlyle's Retail Front" was splashed across the cover, while the inside head noted: "Impatience is Thriving in Carlyle: Patent Complex Looks Like the Big Development Engine That Couldn't."

Seems the Post just woke up to the fact that all of the promises made about the Carlyle Development back in 1999 and 2000 have not borne fruit.

"Two years after the U.S. Patent and Trade[mark] [sic] Office moved 7,000 workers to headquarters off Duke Street, the neighborhood has yet to fulfill its promise. Instead of a vibrant streetscape, pioneering residents make do with a ghost town of vacant storefronts. And city officials are worrying aloud."

It's been three years since the Carlyle was completed, but most of the retail is fast food carryout, supplemented by a travel agency and day spa. No Barnes & Noble, no full-service restaurants, nothing tailored to permanent residents of the high-rise, high-density condos that are part of the Carlyle development. Just another sub shop on the horizon and thousands of square feet of retail space gathering cobwebs.

Here's Mayor William D. Euille on the situation:

"The real issue is, when we approved it, the Carlyle PTO, it was with the understanding that there was going to be a lot of vitality and everything there, and it hasn't happened."
(Grrrrrrrrr, when can we send "vitality" and "vibrancy" to English language hell, right along with "paradigm shift" and "synergy"?)

Another quote from the president of the Carlyle Towers homeowners association: "The PTO is a daytime operation, and all of these people leave at 5 p.m."

That's exactly what everyone was saying seven or eight years ago when the City practically fell over itself to snatch the PTO away from Arlington's Crystal City.

The Post is usually asleep at the switch when it comes to Alexandria news, but the article apparently was triggered by discussion at the January 20 Council meeting on a special use permit for Jerry's Subs.

Couple this article with the extraordinary letter City staff sent out earlier this week to "Braddock Road stakeholders," attempting to demonstrate that the Harris-Teeter pullout was not their fault, plus the longstanding malaise at Braddock Place, and we have a damning picture of the City's complete ineptness at economic development.

But that's not the Growler's real point. The moral of the story is that the politicians who paint these rose-tinted pictures of retail and exaggerate the benefits of development while minimizing its impacts are typically long gone by the time citizens realize they were hoodwinked.

The biggest cheerleaders for the PTO relocation, former Mayor Kerry Donley and Council Member David Speck, stepped down nearly four years ago. Mr. Donley parted ways with his employer, Virginia Commerce Bank once he left office (does that say something? ). But Mr. Donley was ultimately consoled with a $92,545 sinecure job with the Alexandria school district where he is one of the biggest boosters for the proposed $11.5 million All City Sports Facility boondoggle. Mr. Speck returned to his job at Wachovia Securities.

Only Mayor Euille and Council Member Del Pepper are still with us seven years later. There's talk that this may be Ms. Pepper's last term, and the Growler hears Mr. Euille is spending at least one day a week in Richmond apparently pondering a run for state office.

Whether he can be successful remains to be seen, but this only bolsters the Growler's suspicion that the politicians making promises today about development at Braddock Road are unlikely to be around to take the heat once traffic, parking or retail issues come to a boil.

Caveat emptor!