Potomac Yard is little more than big box retailers right now, but city officials envision a neighborhood more like Carlyles mix of vibrant shops, restaurants and apartments.
Nestled between Duke Street and Eisenhower Avenue, Carlyle was nothing but dirt just about 10 years ago. Now it is the citys most modern mixed-use development and a glimpse of what will become of the former rail yard along Route 1 if everything goes according to plan.
From the outside, its hard to see past the towering residential high-rises and office buildings of Carlyle; it can even look desolate some days. But beyond the wall of bricks, it opens into a town within a town.
Resident Kay McKinney lives above the travel agency where she works. Foot traffic has steadily increased in the five years theyve made the neighborhood their home, she said.
It is growing, but its not the same as walking King Street, not in that capacity or density, McKinney said, describing the neighborhood as a gold mine. We had people come in [the other day] and get information and then actually book a cruise. Its money theyre gong to spend with us because the woman jogs past here every day For us, its definitely working.
In the decade since construction on the neighborhood began, Carlyle or Eisenhower Valley has accumulated six million square feet of office space and is anchored by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, The Motley Fool and the Municipal Rule Making Board.
I think, if you take a look at the big picture, absolutely [Carlyle] worked and has been a model, said Vice Mayor Kerry Donley. Carlyle is probably the first high density transit oriented development in the city.
Within walking distance of the King Street and Eisenhower Metro Stations, Carlyle has attracted law firms, hotels, restaurants, convenience stores and coffee shops. The neighborhood generates about 20 percent of the citys commercial tax revenue, according to Bruce Johnson, the citys chief financial officer.
By contrast, Potomac Yard and Potomac Greens currently comprise roughly 3 percent of the citys tax haul.
The level of overall office space vacancy in Carlyle is less than the citys as a whole. About 9 percent of the neighborhoods office inventory is available, though the bulk of that figure comes from two vacant, recently opened buildings rounding out the PTO campus, according to the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership. About 11 percent of Alexandrias 21 million square feet of office space is vacant.
Stephanie Landrum, senior vice president of AEDP, believes planners of the Carlyle development took into account the needs of retailers. The same level of attention needs to be paid to Potomac Yards potential tenants, she said.
The North Potomac Yard plan, which was recently approved, benefits from lessons learned from the Carlyle and Eisenhower East plans, Landrum said. The future buildings in North Potomac Yard will also be designed and constructed to encourage retail, including things like higher first floor ceilings, larger floor plates, building venting to accommodate restaurants and flexibility in design guidelines to encourage distinct and visible signage.
Like Clarendon, Ballston and Courthouse Square in Arlington, Carlyle is a guideline for future planning and redevelopment, Donley said. Its a success he believes can be repeated in Potomac Yard, but critical to the project is a proposed Metro station with a price tag of about $240 million.
Without mass-transit rail, you can forget about the glittering towers, Donley said.
If the goal is to compare and contrast the two, one of the major things lacking at Potomac Yard is a Metro station, he said. Thats the lynchpin of the planned development.
Officials remain mired in the details of how to finance the project. A special tax district designated for the Potomac Yard development, which includes nearby Potomac Greens, has come under fire from homeowners.
And while the elected officials and city residents come to terms with the Washington Headquarters Services high-rises near Mark Center, theres the unmistakable need for yet another federal agency to set up shop in Alexandria just in Potomac Yard, this time.
Trying to make [Potomac Yard] more attractive to a potential federal entity enhances marketability, especially in the short term. Theyre the only game in town, Donley said. You make some concessions to make it more attractive to a federal tenant and then other development starts to occur, but in North Potomac Yard its all contingent on the Metro.