Nov 20, 2023 - Development

Tysons' surburban-to-urban transformation still a work in progress

The top of the tower at Capital One's Tysons, Va. headquarters.

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Tysons has been working to transform itself from a suburban retail center to a mixed-use, urban oasis for over a decade — but it still has a ways to go.

Why it matters: Creating a walkable, transit-friendly, and mixed-use urban downtown isn't easy, especially in a place like Tysons, which sprung up around highways and despite improvements still lacks much of the draw of communities closer to D.C., like walkability, charm, arts and culture, and nightlife.

The big picture: Tysons is already a large economic bolster for Fairfax County. It sees over $2.4 billion in annual spending, accounting for 8% of the county's tax revenues despite comprising only 1% of its land, according to a recent Tysons Community Alliance (TCA) report.

Under its Comprehensive Plan, Tysons aims to transform the census-designated area into the kind of live-work-play environment seen at The Wharf, with the goal of housing 100,000 residents and 200,000 jobs by 2050.

What they're saying: Tysons is leading the example countrywide in suburbs-to-urban retrofitting, says Alex Iams, FCEDA's executive vice president.

  • "I think we're out there on the vanguard in this [when it comes to the] broader trend of attracting people to these live-work-play environments that may not necessarily be in the center of town."
  • Plus, mixed-use urbanism is increasingly appealing post-Covid, as 9-to-5 business districts have struggled.

Catch up fast: Tysons was largely farmland until the 1960s, when Dulles, Tysons Corner Center, and the Capital Beltway opened, corresponding with a period when much retail and residents (many of them white) left cities for the suburbs.

  • Tysons launched its Comprehensive Plan in 2010 to align development around the opening of its four Silver Line Metro stations.

State of play: In the decade-plus since then, Tysons has seen a swath of development — today it's home to Fortune 500 companies like Booz Allen, Hilton, and Capital One, the latter of which recently built a sprawling campus complete with a performance hall, a Skypark, hotel, and baseball stadium.

  • New developments like The Boro are realizing the mixed-use dream, thanks to its Metro proximity, apartments, offices, retail, and restaurants (plus the ultimate Yo-Pro combo: a beer garden and a Whole Foods).
  • And the Silver Line opened its long-awaited Dulles stop last year — increasing Tysons' appeal as a business destination.

By the numbers: According to TCA's recent survey, Tysons is making strides in some of its 2050 goals.

  • It currently has almost 30,000 residents — a 75% increase from 2010. It has 120,000 in its workforce — a 14% jump since 2010.
  • Tysons' population growth outpaced Fairfax County's and the region's at-large between 2018 and 2021.
  • Anecdotally, Iams says he sees a lot of 20- and 30-something professionals who live in Tysons getting on the Metro during his commute.

Meanwhile, residential development is racing to keep up.

  • 82% of current units are multifamily and multiplex, and available housing is expected to jump 82% within the next decade — far higher than the county's expected 25% at large.
  • Under 1% of Tysons' housing stock is single-family, detached homes.
  • Two million square feet of its development over the past year has been mixed-use, with 12 million total built since 2010.

Tysons also continues to bet big on the "work" part of the equation, even amid post-Covid office uncertainty:

  • Its office supply has expanded 7% since 2015, outpacing the county and the DMV — 900,000 square feet of office space is currently under construction, with another 1 million proposed.
  • Its office visitation rate is currently at 77% of what it was pre-pandemic, higher than D.C.'s 70%.

Reality check: TCA's study also found Tysons has much to accomplish concerning transit, biking, and walking — likely not shocking to anyone who's recently tried to go carless there.

Zoom in: When it comes to walkability, Tysons ranks "somewhat walkable" — better than nearby Reston and Bethesda, but lower than Crystal City.

  • Its transit score is considered "good" and its no-car households have jumped 50% since COVID.

Yes, but: Its bike score is lacking, worse than Reston, Bethesda, and Crystal City. This is partly thanks to busy roads like routes 123 and 7 and a lack of safe ways to cross them.

The bottom line: Tysons' residential addresses are still more likely to be located in less walkable and bikeable areas farther away from transit options, the study found.

  • "We are well on our way," says Iams of meeting Tysons' 2050 goal. "[But] there's a lot more work to do."

What we're watching: Fairfax has allocated $25 million toward biker and pedestrian updates, part of its $100 million commitment to improving pedestrian safety over the next six years. A new pedestrian/bike bridge was recently built over the Beltway.

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