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POLL: What Do We Need to Jump Start Downtown Fairfax?

Chime in on what you'd like to see in the heart of downtown.

There's some disagreement over what to do with Kitty Pozer Garden and the gravel parking lot at University Drive and North Street.

Businesses want to keep (and possibly beautify) the existing parking lot next to Old Town Hall, while some residents and council members would prefer to see green space in that block. 

and see what's already been said about the options. Then vote in the Patch poll. 

We've heard some interesting alternatives to the green space-parking debate. What does downtown Fairfax need to draw shoppers? Perhaps a cinema? A brew house? A big retailer to tie the downtown together? If you don't think green space or parking will do it, click the "Other" option and expand on it in the comments.

Anthony January 20, 2012 at 04:52 AM
It is awful. We should start all over again. Who knows what the involved planners were thinking? It's sad to see downtown in this state.
Lorraine Kincheloe January 20, 2012 at 11:39 AM
How about something to draw families to eat and shop that looks inviting...put-put golf course.....fountain spouts like Fairfax Corner out door entertainment facility. I agree Safeway (Willard Way) renovation would make a huge improvement
Fairfax City resident January 20, 2012 at 01:31 PM
Putt-putt gold course is an excellent idea in a park like setting. If done right it could be very inviting and will definitely draw families in the area.
faifaxmango January 20, 2012 at 01:51 PM
Downtown Fairfax needs more live-in residents to add vitality to the local businesses and to attract new ones. Re-develop the Safeway strip center to mixed-use, tie it into the historic section, and add condominiums above all of the new commercial properties. A brew pub is also an excellent destination idea; perhaps Dominion or Dogfish could put a location in town, or maybe a new Fairfax-based local brew (Lederer Lager?).
Nick January 20, 2012 at 02:16 PM
If we need parking lots so badly, then why is the parking garage -- the FREE, public, conveniently located one -- always empty?! Yes, the gravel lot is about 1/2 block closer to a few existing places (Firehouse and the old town hall), but that area of the city is fully occupied. What of all the >> vacant << retail space adjacent to the garage and across the street from it? Providing pedestrians with safer crossing options on North, Main, Sager, and University, perhaps sky walks or mid-block crossings, will provide better economic lift than paving an already congested corner lot.
Stan Darke January 20, 2012 at 02:31 PM
Nick- Your questions are actually answers to why the parking lot needs to remain. People park there because it's convenient and easy to get in and out. The reasons nobody uses the garage are many. And they coincide with why the buildings are empty. They are inconvenient, poorly planned and dark, difficult for many to get to because of no left turns here, no right on red there, fast traffic, etc. Many of the spaces in the lots are often reserved for offices, reasons go on and on. People will never use this garage unless there is more than one reason they travel into the city. Retailers are not attractive to the area because of the parking AND because of the chaotic traffic and lights and lack of, as you say, pedestrian friendly areas. Getting rid of the lot on University that is always used and splitting the spaces to a further lot (and I dispute the no net loss of spaces theory because people park up there already- why are those spaces not counted) will destroy many businesses along University, Main, and 123. I guarantee it.
faifaxmango January 20, 2012 at 02:32 PM
Paul, can you devote one of your upcoming blog entries to ideas for the Safeway strip mall redevelopment? I'd be curious of your thoughts.
Harry Demetriou January 20, 2012 at 04:52 PM
First, as a business owner I don’t want to bite the hand that feed me, we love our Fairfax residents, I am also one of them, and I met and befriended a lot of you during the 15 years in business in old town. We know, and the customers that frequent our establishments always complain about, it is not enough parking. The so call garage is sitting on a development that is .25 occupied and the businesses on that development already complain b/c the office employees or guests’ park on the unassigned spaces. In addition 40 spaces will go to the townhouses been built next door. What would it happen when the development it is fully occupied? What we are asking for it is very similar to the other plan. Our plan also calls for creating more park area. The only difference, we are asking to preserve 39 spaces right in front of the busy intersection and our businesses, instead of making approximately 25 sq. ft. of additional park and 12 spaces of parking instead of 39. The plan we support will cost less and it’s more useful. We are in this together, whatever happens to downtown it will affect all of us. The idea of keeping the 39 spaces instead of an additional 25 sq. ft. of park in front of a busy intersection and our business is a step to the right direction. It is a good compromise, we all can live with. Thank you.
Carmody January 20, 2012 at 06:16 PM
The two ideas for a movie theater and a child-friendly attraction are great. While I am not sure where it could go, the Council should try to attract a movie theater. A regular one--not a discount one or an artsy theater. A theater brings people in who will eat before or after (or both!). We have lots of restaurants/bars so we don't need more of that. We need something that will attract people. Some people go to the movies every week. It is common to get tickets and then walk around "window-shopping"-maybe then some of the local shops will get more business. A theater brings business year round. I will go to Fairfax Corner tomorrow and have lunch and stroll around the shops. I'd love to do that in the City. I don't believe that parking is an issue. It is not too much to ask people to walk a couple of blocks and people don't mind if they are walking through a nice area. Walking through town might even encourage people to shop or eat someplace new. Elimination of the small gravel lot should not dramatically impact businesses. The gravel lot has not always been there and it has always been planned that it will be an extension of the park. I support green space but I agree with a previous poster that that Poser garden, if expanded, should include more useful features. I like the idea of a child friendly fountain. A regularly scheduled event (first Friday or concerts) in the Poser park would also help. Events at City Hall or Van Dyke do nothing for the Old Town businesses.
Douglas Stewart January 20, 2012 at 06:25 PM
I think we need a public plaza to attract people to downtown for events and as a place to just sit down and enjoy public life. It is certainly not a panacea. We need more residential development near Old Town, we need to bring more employers near downtown, and we need a greater diversity of retail businesses downtown. I don't think we need more parking. We might need more conveniently placed parking, such as on-street parking, but that is different than giving over more land to surface parking.
Jannet Hurd January 20, 2012 at 07:11 PM
I am a new resident in the City of Fairfax. The one thing that would "jump start" the downtown is some type of "central area" however, it may be too late for that. Therefore, I agree with the suggestion regarding a movie theater. Putt-putt is a great idea but realistically it is only used about 6 months out of the year. If you look at Fairfax Corner or the Reston Town Center together the center fountain area and movie theater bring in people of all ages year round. Even a new smaller cinema cafe would bring in a lot of people. The ones in the Newport News/Hampton area are very nice and very popular. I agree adding a movie theater won't fix the parking issue - it will add to the congestion. But the question was... what will "jump start" the downtown. A separate (but related) issue is parking. And yes, parking is a problem - the garage helps BUT I agree with other comments that it is very difficult to access and dark. It's not an easy fix. Good luck to the City planners!
Missy Glasman Greene January 20, 2012 at 09:06 PM
From what most are saying, it seems the overall problem isn't parking or green space, it's a lack of planning when it comes to filling the retail spaces. A potbellys and a panera back to back? How many sandwiches can you eat? Also, there are multiple niche stores with prime street frontage spots that do not appeal to a large percentage of people, like the running store. I'm sure it's a great store, but to occupy such a large visible space seems like an utter waste of prime real estate. We need visible anchor stores and restaurants that will appeal to a wide demographic and that will draw in customers. Once people are out of thier cars and in those stores, they will be more inclined to explore the area, and enter the smaller shops.
Billy Reilly January 20, 2012 at 10:32 PM
As I agree with alot of the above, I beleive alot of you are missing standard marketing practice info. First, with the councils plan for the park, there are no spaces being lost so I dont get alot of the Hubub, actually gaing a few spots, just 30 yards east, whats missing is CITY support on the whole. Wedsight info is pour, there are also 3 main events a year down there, there should be 10, or more, I reference Herndon live or Old town Alexandria that do many events, you also dont have a strong Restaraunt week that truely brings out thousands of people, lastly, Who runs this Downtown coalition of businesses I hear so much about, why are they not putting together their own marketing and getting involved as a more powerful group to conbat some of these problems? Im on the side of the busineses clearly, I just think everyone needs to life up from the boot straps and stop screaming about something your really not losing, and take a look at your own marketing.
Eric Snyder January 21, 2012 at 03:32 PM
In the current plan proposed by the City their is a net loss of 32 parking spaces. The 39 spaces they moved displaced thirty two existing spaces on the existing gravel George Mason. The spaces are noted on the city plan showing parking in Old Town Fairfax. That particular plan counts all the parking everywhere without regard to hours of use or ownership. The real public parking lots in Old Town are only the three gravel lots, Old Town Hall George Mason Square and the Amoco lot. The library parking garage is only available after 6, and the garage at the village shops is poorly marked and suffers from the problems described here previously. Not all problems solved by marketing.
Paul Nabti January 21, 2012 at 06:38 PM
@ faifaxmango: Good idea. It sounds like a lot of people have already been thinking about what could make that shopping center be a better neighbor to downtown (myself included). I'll put something together in one of the next posts.
Shahin Jafree January 22, 2012 at 06:35 PM
We do not need more parking. There is enough space in the Old Town Plaza garage that lies empty. And expanding the garden is not going to make me visit the city. So how do you draw people back? The Safeway Courthouse Plaza needs to be gutted. That store is an absolute disgrace and is making the entire area look shoddy. What a disgrace! There is no nightlife so the city MUST work with the GMU community to support businesses that can provide it. Lastly, the city needs to do a better job of attracting better retailers and restaurants b/c until you give people reasons to visit, they will take their spending money elsewhere. Speaking of that, Im heading to Northside Social today! Is that in Fairfax? No. Enough said!
Scandinavian January 22, 2012 at 10:22 PM
Movie theater and mini-golf/ice rink space could help. Why are all the new restaurants in the Downtown area counter service only? Mama Lucia's could have been a success as a table service restaurant. The buildings are so tall that it's not an inviting space to cruise around. Make it a pedestrian only area and you might get more traction.
Andrea Schwartz January 23, 2012 at 01:59 AM
Make the downtown Fairfax area into a town center concept...restaurants, movies, shopping of all types and peripheral parking that's close to everything. People need to feel safe walking so it needs to have proper planning for a more friendly and safe pedestrian center. Encourage mass transit with buses too, anything to increase the foot traffic. Also, a theme can be applied to the area...a town center with history! More people = Better economy for the entire downtown area!
Christine Hill January 23, 2012 at 01:40 PM
Downtown is surrounded by residents, not to mention a massive college population. We don't need more residential space created, we need INTERESTING things to do and nice places to eat. People drive straight through the City to OTHER shops and restaurants. The shopping center does need a major overhaul and, I hate to say it, is becoming quite an attraction to the homeless population... As one writer above said, the City is a city without an identity. A perfect description.
Catherine S. Read January 23, 2012 at 02:23 PM
Right on the money! All excellent suggestions and very do-able.
Catherine S. Read January 23, 2012 at 02:26 PM
Being more pedestrian friendly is very key to making downtown more attractive as a destination place. Anyone who has ever walked Las Vegas understands how they have created elevated walkways so cars and pedestrians can safely co-exist on heavily trafficked roads.
Catherine S. Read January 23, 2012 at 02:40 PM
A great point about lack of identity. What places like Asheville, NC and Austin, TX have in common is that they do have an identity. Austin's motto is "Keep it Weird" and in Asheville it's "Where Weird is Normal" (can't see that really working in Fairfax City.) Those cities draw the creative types and there are a lot of young people there. Fairfax City isn't a destination for GMU students (unless there's a band at Auld Shabeen) and I don't think very many people walk here from where they live. I do think we need high density housing closer to the downtown - I live in one of the few condo buildings in Fairfax and we chose it because we can walk everywhere.
Paula A. Crouch January 24, 2012 at 08:25 PM
"The gravel lot has not always been there " You are correct however we had Webb's lot then and gladly fed the meters for convenient parking
Ruth Brow Williamson January 27, 2012 at 07:29 AM
3 words: Great American Restaurant. I say this tongue-in-cheek, but not completely. The Arties area has historically been even more "dumpy" that downtown Fairfax, yet still draws a crowd. And now Fairfax corner (alone!) can sustain TWO of the establishments?? Is there any way we can draw one to downtown Fairfax? Where there is good, reliable food with nightlife, people will come, and downtown simply hasn't provided that. Also, *ducking* I don't think we should give up any ground-level parking. I'm sorry, but people hate parking garages. They just do. Rational? No. Realistic? I think so. You can't count on forcing change on people, AND making money at the same time. Usually those happen separately.
Ruth Brow Williamson January 27, 2012 at 07:30 AM
Okay, one more thought: there has to be a way to make the area more pedestrian friendly, if the idea is for people to walk around. People drive WAY too fast, and I feel terrified when I walk on the sidewalks--especially on North Street. And cementing those fears, people are forever mowing down the gas street lights from driving up on the sidewalks. I'm scared! That is NOT my idea of fun. Alexandria doesn't feel that way. There, the sidewalks are wider, and people don't drive as fast, plus there are parking lanes adjacent to all the major walkways, so traffic isn't whizzing by you as you walk along. The sidewalks are lined with parked cars, not speeding cars! I'm sorry, but the whole Fx setup doesn't seem organic, and although I hoped it would be wonderful downtown, I now simply avoid it, even though I live in 22030. I have kids, and I find the whole thing harrowing: finding garage parking, getting in/out of the garage, walking down a sidewalk with cars screeching by, trying to be heard by the other adults as I shout above the noise of traffic, hoping that the "new" restaurant will have good food. Not fun. I drive all the way over to Fairfax Corner and eat at one of the Great American Restaurants, even though it's much farther away. Afterward, we stroll around the plaza there. Sad, but true.
Ruth Brow Williamson January 27, 2012 at 07:34 AM
Catherine, how about "Fairfax: Good enough for government work." No? *sigh* Oh well.
Ruth Brow Williamson January 27, 2012 at 07:43 AM
I said one last thing, but I lied. Almost every good downtown that I've ever loved has had a great grocery/market; whether it's been in the Town of Vienna (Whole Foods) or in Boulder, CO, where I just recently visited, which had several great stores of that caliber. We all know about the "Safeway problem." Honestly, when Fairfax lost the Harris Teeter, that was a real blow. Without the return of something similar, I don't see things going well. And, I'd rather see something like a Whole Foods go in next to Old Town Hall any day. We need a decent grocery/market down there. It's like the "bread and butter" of what brings people in, especially during the day. Day: high-end market/grocery shoppers. Night: restaurant/brewpub visitors.
Ruth Brow Williamson January 27, 2012 at 07:49 AM
Mosby Ale.
Paula A. Crouch January 27, 2012 at 02:59 PM
I have to beg to differ.. I have customers who come from all over Fairfax County and other counties and towns/cities to do do business with me. And I would imagine that the local attornies could say the same.
Paula A. Crouch January 27, 2012 at 03:51 PM
Old Town Fairfax street parking, as is, is dangerous, dangerous, dangerous with the already narrow lanes .. One must wait in the car before getting out until all passing traffic is gone, lest you lose a car door, or worse, get hit by an oncoming car. And not to mention, the numerous cars that have parked on Main St. and have lost side view mirrors from the BIG trucks that have to deliver goods to the merchants or who are just passing through. I sit at my office window, on the corner of Main St. & Chain Bridge Rd. and see the traffic and parking nightmare every day.

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