Before mixed-use live/work/shop developments began popping up all around the county, there was only one. Today, the Lansdowne Town Center is undergoing a bit of a rebirth.
The trend often is described as a lifestyle shift, but it is rooted in the region’s evolving real estate market, primarily the decreasing demand for large corporate office parks. Planners in the 1980s and 1990s envisioned office buildings one day would line Rt. 7 between Sterling and Leesburg.
Hobie Mitchel and his Lansdowne Development Group saw a different vision. They began buying properties in the Lansdowne area in pieces in the early 2000s. The land was initially envisioned for hundreds of thousands of square feet of office space, a market Mitchel described then and now as “soft.” So he and his team looked east to projects inside the Capital Beltway and at Fairfax Corner, where a mix of retail, residential and office uses, located within one development, sought to create walkable environments where residents and office workers could have all their needs met. A rezoning process ensued and soon Mitchel had all the tools he needed to lay the groundwork for Lansdowne Town Center.
“For a suburban area, it was sort of outside the box,” he recalls. “We were introducing some really neat things that had never been tried at the time.”
Mitchel notes his luck that the development got out of the ground in ___, before the economic recession hit, although that did delay work on some aspects of the town center, including the residential-above-retail live/work units. The town center core is owned and managed by B.F. Saul, while Ellisdale Construction adding new mixed-use buildings.
Ward Bell, vice president and COO of Ellisdale, said the property was attractive to purchase because of the growth potential of the area. He notes that while retail has struggled during the town center’s first decade—most notably in terms of the turnover in full-service restaurants, with stalwart Not Your Average Joe’s an exception—the tide appears to be turning. Recently, both Ford’s Fish Shack, a family-owned restaurant which started in Ashburn, announced its third location will be coming to the town center in April. Middleburg staple The French Hound will also be relocating to Lansdowne.
While leasing is picking up, the market is hotter for the condo-style retail spaces that allow businesses to own their shops.
“We put our retail on the market and within 60 to 90 days we had multiple offers. It went a lot faster than we could’ve anticipated,” Bell said. “I think that with a couple of the better anchor stores over there and some other better retail, it’s helping stabilize the town center. And now that this last parcel is being developed we’re certainly seeing a lot of interest here.”
Cathy Frye and co-owner Mary Battaglia opened their Lansdowne Town Center business, Brew LoCo, two and a half years ago. Frye recalls how the two noticed, ahead of opening the store, smudges on the outside of their store windows. They finally figured out those smudges were coming from their soon-to-be neighbors, curious to find out exactly what was coming in the shop. And it has been that same community that has driven its growth over the years, with the purveyor of coffee, tea, beer, wine, and more, adding to its own menu to cater to its neighbors. While Brew LoCo started out with only coffee, tea and beer for purchase, Frye learned that many of her customers followed a gluten-free diet. So, wine, cider and mead were added to the offerings. Then, many said they wished they could enjoy a drink in their shop, so the sisters pursued and gained a license to serve alcoholic beverages on site and added a lot of food to help support the financial commitment for that license.
“We have grown organically as the needs have presented,” Frye said.
And it is that same community feel, and attention to its neighbors, that Bell believes drives the town center’s growth and sets it apart from its competitors. Since Lansdowne Town Center’s first tenants opened their doors, competitors have sprung up to the west and east—the Village at Leesburg, One Loudoun and Loudoun Station, with more on the horizon.
“For Lansdowne Town Center to be viable it’s going to have to cater to its neighborhood. It’s going to have to be the go-to place for Lansdowne residents, be it the people actually living in the town center and the thousands of homes around it,” he said.
Tapping into that huge population of Lansdowne was a big draw for Ford’s Fish Shack owner Tony Stafford in picking the location for his third restaurant. He also believes the town center location will draw from the west and north.
“There’s more volume out there than 11 years ago,” when the town center opened, he said. “It may not have been mature enough yet to support several full-service restaurants. But B.F. Saul, who is our landlord, has been very generous with us. I think they really have learned the hard way that you have to support tenants and be successful along with the tenants.”
Looking back to its humble beginnings, Mitchel said he is pleased with how the town center has developed, despite the bumps in the road. He believes Lansdowne Town Center started a huge sea change for development in Loudoun County, with mixed-use communities now the standard rather than the exception.
“I think it really is a new era coming in to Loudoun,” he said.