The Town of Vienna has chosen Natalie Monkou as its first economic development manager, the town revealed on Nov. 18.
A resident of Annandale, Monkou will assume the newly created position after spending the past four years working as a business development manager for Arlington County, where she helped sell Amazon on the Crystal City area as the site for its second headquarters last year.
As Vienna’s economic development manager, Monkou is responsible for building relationships with the town’s business community and positioning the town as an attractive location for both new and existing businesses.
“It’s an opportunity to make history and also do economic development in a place that people really love already and feel is charming and attractive,” Monkou said. “Already the great bones are there and so, that is a part of the appeal of working for Vienna specifically.”
A graduate of the University of Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s in public administration, Monkou served as the special assistant to the deputy chief of economic development in Prince George’s County prior to working in Arlington.
Her work with Arlington involved acting as a liaison between the county and its three business improvement districts and strengthening good governance practices, according to the Town of Vienna.
In addition to landing Amazon’s HQ2, Monkou’s relatively brief yet eventful tenure in Arlington included luring Nestlé’s American headquarters from Glendale, Calif., to Rosslyn in 2017 and bringing in March of Dimes, a nonprofit organization dedicated to maternal and infant health that opened new headquarters in Crystal City in December 2018.
Monkou’s wealth of experience is ultimately what distinguished her from a “very competitive pool” of candidates vying to become Vienna’s first economic development manager, according to Vienna Town Manager Mercury Payton.
“This is an exciting time for the Town,” Payton said. “Having a strong person in this new and critical function may be a catalyst to achieving levels of success that the Town hasn’t yet experienced.”
Monkou’s hiring comes at a crucial time for the Town of Vienna, as officials seek to energize the town’s commercial downtown, while also navigating residents’ concerns about traffic, parking, and density.
Established by the Vienna Town Council in October 2014 to encourage pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use development concentrated within the town’s central corridor, the Maple Avenue Commercial zone has gotten mixed results in its early years of existence.
The first property redevelopment approved under the MAC came to fruition over the past two weeks with the new Flagship Carwash at 540 Maple Avenue West launching on Nov. 15 and Chick-fil-A, which occupies the lower level of the 42-foot-tall building, opening its doors at 538 Maple to customers on Nov. 21.
A Wawa convenience store retrofitted into a vacant building at 465 Maple Avenue is currently under construction with an anticipated opening date of April 2020.
However, other development projects have hit roadblocks.
Plans for a 77,000 square-foot Sunrise Assisted Living facility on Maple Avenue fell through when the Vienna Town Council voted on June 17 to reject a rezoning application for the site, citing parking concerns raised by a building that would have supplemented 82 assisted-living units with ground-floor retail, according to the Sun Gazette.
Sunrise Development Inc. responded on July 17 by filing a lawsuit against the town that accuses the council of discrimination and seeks at least $30 million in damages, plus legal fees.
A four-story, mixed-use complex proposed for 430, 440, and 444 Maple Avenue West is still under a site plan review by town staff after narrowly receiving approval from the town council on Oct. 29, 2018.
Resident opposition to the project from Vienna Development Associates LLC led the Vienna Town Council to vote unanimously at a public hearing on Sept. 17, 2018 to place a moratorium on new MAC rezoning cases until June 27 so that the town can reevaluate the ordinance.
The moratorium remains in place after the town council voted twice to extend it, first on May 13 and again on Nov. 4. Rezoning applications are now suspended until June 30, 2020 as officials continue looking at amendments to the town’s zoning code.
Tensions over development, coupled with pressure from the increasing urbanization of Tysons down the road, have town leaders and residents alike contemplating what kind of place they want Vienna to be going forward.
Citing the creation of an economically prosperous community with strong local businesses and a vibrant downtown as a strategic plan goal, the Town of Vienna believes having an economic development manager will make it better prepared to address existing and future challenges.
“The Northern Virginia region is in a transformative time, and the Town of Vienna is feeling and seeing the impacts of this transformation,” Payton said. “We need to be more focused than ever on helping to shape those changes and opportunities in ways that fit and serve our community – and so this seems like an ideal time to bring on board our first economic development manager.”
In other words, Monkou has been tasked with not just working with businesses in Vienna, but also helping shape the town’s identity.
Fortunately for the Town of Vienna, it sounds like she is more than up to the task.
Monkou declined to comment on the MAC, saying she needs to learn more about the situation before forming her own thoughts, but she says her general approach to balancing the need to retain existing businesses with the desire to draw new ones is fairly straightforward: she focuses on filling vacancies while also looking for ways to make the environment more attractive.
“Maybe we look at the storefronts. Maybe we look at how people navigate the streets to get in and out of the shopping centers, or where they want to eat,” Monkou said. “So, there’s different ways to look at it…As long as we fill [spaces] and we have occupants that are contributing to the town in that healthy, attractive way, that’s what we care about.”
With the town working on a market study that she cites among her priorities, Monkou is kicking off her tenure in Vienna with a listening tour to connect with civic associations, business owners, developers, residents, and other stakeholders so she can learn more about their needs, concerns, and goals.
Monkou’s experience pitching Arlington to Amazon taught her the importance of understanding a community in order to market it clearly and concisely to companies. The Town of Vienna has to figure out what message it wants to present, she says.
“Being able to market a new Vienna to the world is a really exciting thing for me, and I think it should be really exciting for them,” Monkou said. “This is a great time to start thinking strategically about economic development, and I think it says a lot about the town too that they are ready to do more work in this subject.”