In the Richmond Highway corridor:
Population: 112, 774
Number of households: 43,017
Median age: 37
Median household income: $95,680
Source: SFDC Annual Report, 2014
Total Development Levels: The Richmond Highway corridor has approximately 7,622,000 square feet of existing development. Of this amount 89 percent is commercial development.
Source: Fairfax County Office of Commercial Revitalization
SFDC Officers and Staff
President: Walter Clarke
Vice President: John Thillmann
Secretary: Karen Pohorylo
Treasurer: Bruce Leonard
Executive Director: Edythe Frankel Kelleher
Marketing & Communications Manager: Suzanne Matyas
Administrative Assistant (part-time): Eleni Goulias
The unanswered question is whether or not Southeast Fairfax Development Corporation (SFDC) has the tools, independence, and support to achieve its mission of economic development and revitalization.
The SFDC has been promoting the economic development of an eight-mile area from the Beltway to Fort Belvoir in the Richmond Highway corridor since its creation approximately 30 years ago. But what was once a relatively straightforward challenge to upgrade the quality of development in the corridor a few decades ago is now, because of the rapid growth of traffic, grappling with a new priority for transportation improvement.
SFDC, a private non-profit corporation, was created and funded by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to promote economic revitalization and reinvestment in the Richmond Highway corridor in accordance with the county’s Comprehensive Plan. According to the current Memorandum of Understanding between SFDC and the Board of Supervisors, the SFDC is closely allied with and collaborates with the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority (EDA), and relies on the financial support of the Fairfax County Office of Community Revitalization (OCR).
“SFDC is a critical partner with Fairfax County government. Fairfax County revitalization staff, local business owners, and Northern Virginia developers have all expressed that the Richmond Highway corridor needs an organization like SFDC to continue to market Richmond Highway as a place of opportunity and to make our Comprehensive Plan come to life,” said Mount Mernon District Supervisor Gerry Hyland, who is retiring at the end of this year.
Lee District Supervisor Jeff McKay said, “I would like to see the SFDC and others with planning and marketing responsibility in the Richmond Highway Corridor continue to reflect the work we’ve been doing, especially in the area of transportation improvements. Our board has been focused on providing increased flexibility in revitalization areas and I don’t foresee the newly elected board changing that.”
The history of the organization suggests that the original purpose was to create an independent authority that would rely on private funds for its operating funds. Eventually, the SFDC shifted to rely primarily on the county supervisors for financing and this continues today. Furthermore, the EDA does not provide funding for the SFDC at the present time. According to its by-laws, the SFDC has the ability to seek out other sources of funding but right now there is only a few thousand dollars of financial support from private funding. The bulk of funding is through the county government grant.
The SFDC’s current priorities are written in its Memorandum of Understanding with the Board of Supervisors. They include:
Marketing and Promotion, aimed at improving the image and public awareness of the corridor as a place to do business, and increase market share of the corridor.
Assistance to Developers and Businesses, including assistance to businesses to obtain capital for reinvestment and capital improvements.
Community Appearance, Planning, and Urban Design, including changes to the Comprehensive Plan, and helping business, developers, and others to successfully manage their project priorities.
Develop and annually update a Strategic Plan, which identifies and updates the SFDC goals and priorities.
According to Edythe Kelleher, SFDC’s executive director, the primary source of revenue is through a grant from the Office of Community Revitalization and a small amount of in-kind contributions from businesses in the Richmond Highway corridor. The 2015 SFDC budget is: $183,320, from the county; approximately $14,300 in private sector cash grants; $2,100 in-kind contributions; $500 in interest, and $300 in revenue transfer. Kelleher has been with the SFDC for over two years and during that time, according to her, the board has substantially improved the visibility and impact of the SFDC on the business, transit, and investment priorities of the Richmond Highway corridor, and has the performance indicators to prove it. This includes growth in private investments; number of presentations to business groups; growth in website hits; growth in media placements; SFDC events; electronic subscribers; growth in sponsors; and publication of marketing brochures and reports, etc.
The SFDC is governed by a board of directors that includes two members each appointed by the Mount Vernon and Lee District supervisors. Other members are appointed by the Mount Vernon and Lee Civic Associations, and one member from the Mount Vernon-Lee Chamber of Commerce. All other members are selected and appointed by the SFDC board.
“I am satisfied with the adequacy of financial support and responsiveness to our priorities by the Board of Supervisors,” said Walter Clarke, chairman of the SFDC board of directors. “However, one can always use more money to do more of what we are now doing. For example if we had more money I would like to see an expansion of our marketing activities. In that connection I am pleased with the work of Ms Kelleher and her staff. Also, I am looking forward to working with the new Mount Vernon supervisor who will be elected this November.”
For the past decade the most talked and written about public policy concern in the Mount Vernon and Lee Districts is improving transportation and upgrading the quality of economic development in the eight-mile stretch of Richmond Highway. The average traffic counts per day is now more than 44,200 vehicles and growing. This is due to Fort Belvoir’s expansion because of the federal Base Realignment Commission’s (BRAC) decisions that added thousands of additional employees to Fort Belvoir. In the absence of timely transit improvements this placed pressure on the existing transportation networks to handle the growth in thousands of people daily going to and from the base.
However, most recently, local officials, state legislators and congressional representatives have responded to the outcry of residents and businesses for traffic relief by securing funding for planning, design, and actual implementation of transit improvements. But much remains to be done and the SFDC is increasingly involved in the effort. Thus, the SFDC, which was historically focused on economic development and revitalization has of necessity placed a high priority on what it can do as an advocate to bring relief to the traffic congestion. Right now an array of actions by local, state and federal agencies to improve traffic flow is underway but the delays will be a continued sore spot with residents and the commercial enterprises that must rely on transportation improvements to move traffic along and build confidence in developers that the Richmond Highway corridor is a good place to locate businesses. Depending on the project, such as the expansion of parts of the Richmond Highway corridor from a four-lane to a six-lane highway, and the design and actual implementation of mass transit systems, the realization of progress will take anywhere from an estimated few years to 10-20 years.
“The Richmond Highway Corridor is second only to the Tysons area as a source of economic expansion and job opportunities,” Kelleher said. “But progress in realizing highway and mass transit improvements are a critical adjunct in order for the county to realize the economic development and job producing potential of the Richmond Highway corridor.”
SFDC staff and the board of directors are now participating heavily in the transportation improvement deliberations. Here is a partial list of projects which the SFDC Board members and staff are engaged in to promote and market Richmond Highway expansion and upgrade the reinvestment and development opportunities of the corridor:
Support over $1 million in construction projects.
Sponsor business roundtable speaker sessions.
Participate in the Route 1 Multimodal transportation study with the Virginia Department of Transportation.
Participate in the EMBARK Task Force to plan and design the myriad of transportation improvement projects; from widening the highway, to what extent should the Richmond Highway be reconfigured to accommodate mass transit systems. One-half of the SFDC board is involved in this four-year effort.
Networking and presentations to business, community; attend events where SFDC representatives promote opportunities for business location, expansion, reinvestment opportunities in the Richmond highway corridor.
Participation in Joint Incubator Partnership with George Mason University to promote small business development.
Martin Tillett, former president of the Spring Bank Civic Association, and an environmental protection advocate, said, “I am very pleased to see the SFDC sponsor Business Roundtable discussions such as the recently concluded one entitled ‘Sustainability & Resiliency Summit’ in which the speakers representing the development community emphasized the importance of building ‘green’ to realize sustainability and resiliency as part of the design of new building projects in the Richmond Highway Corridor. Up until now I have been troubled by the fact that environmentally sensitive development priorities of the county seemed to be concentrated in the Tysons area, and did not include the Richmond Highway corridor. So this is the kind of emphasis by SFDC that I will look forward to seeing reflected in actions by the county government.”