When Reston Town Center’s phase I officially opened on Oct. 18, 1990, there was no assurance that the then-innovative mixed-use development would become the lauded and copied success is today.
It was the heyday of indoor shopping malls, plus the start of an economic recession that had begun just that July, recalled James Cleveland, who was president of the Reston Land Corp. at the time and led the team that developed the center.
Another atypical aspect, he noted, is that it was “dropped” into the center of an already built, thriving community. “That’s not the way it was usually done.”
Although reserving judgement on the outcomes of future development surrounding the center, primarily because of density concerns, “overall I think it turned out great,” Cleveland said. “It’s exactly as the master plan envisioned if not better.”
Though far from a new idea—“its planners,” Cleveland recalled, “took us all the way back to the Ancient Greek agoras”—its success, he said, “proves that mixed-use works,” and it “set off a revolution” by creating a prototype for other such developments.
On Sunday, Oct. 18, the center will celebrate its success and its first 25 years with “Reston Town Center Day” from noon to 4 p.m. Festivities—including free refreshments, live entertainment, games, horse-drawn hayrides, pumpkin decorating and more—will take place surrounding Phase I’s two centerpieces, the iconic Mercury Fountain and nearby Pavilion. VIPs will make remarks at 1 p.m. on the Pavilion stage.
Joe Ritchey, principal of Prospective Inc., which oversees all of Reston Town Center’s office leasing for Boston Properties, is equally enthusiastic. “I really am amazed at how well Reston Town Center was planned and has come together,” said Ritchey, whose entire professional career has revolved around the center. “It’s been thrilling to watch.”
Ritchey, a longtime Reston resident like Cleveland, cited three key factors for the enormous success of the center, which started as four blocks of shops and restaurants anchored by the movie theater at one end and the Hyatt Regency Hotel at the other and the fountain by famed sculptor Saint Clair Cemin in the center.
First, Ritchey suggested, is the “positive impact of density” in an “urban-built environment.” Quoting Reston’s late founder, Robert E. Simon Jr., he explained: “‘Density creates community,’ and Town Center’s mix is working together to create a much more powerful environment.”
Secondly, its streetscape--which, in addition to buildings, sidewalks and connecting roads, also includes fountains, gardens, sitting areas and public art--creates a real sense of community.
“There are places for people to interact and form bonds,” he said. “It demonstrates how architecture and public spaces become greater than their individual parts. It’s a joy to see people interacting in these spaces.
And thirdly, Ritchey said, alluding to the seventh of Simon’s founding principles, it has been a financial and marketing success. For example, as of Oct. 1, he noted, its 4 million square feet of office space has a remarkable vacancy rate of less than one percent. Plus, its office space rents for $20 more per square foot than office developments only blocks away.
Both Cleveland and Ritchey are confident about Reston Town Center’s future, too. They point not only to the strength of the master plan established and executed by the original development team but also the future course now being set by Boston Properties, the center’s current primary owner.
“Boston Properties has had a powerful effect on its success,” Ritchey enthused.
Cleveland added, “I worked originally with some really good people, and I’m very pleased that Boston Properties was able to buy Phase I, too. … That there’s one owner for commercial, one control, it really makes for a more coherent plan.”
Two years ago, Boston Properties, which has been the prime developer of the center’s later phases, purchased a 50 percent interest in the office and retail space of Phase I. Just this month, it became Phase I’s single owner.
With this acquisition, it currently owns all of Reston Town Center except for the Hyatt Regency Hotel, the Metropolitan and Midtown high-rises and the condos built by Trammell-Crow that houses the Greater Reston Arts Center (GRACE).
Robert Goudie, who became the executive director of the Reston Town Center Association (RTCA) in March, is, likewise, one of its most vocal boosters. “The reason that I took the job,” Goudie said, “is that Town Center is poised for dynamic growth.”
He explained, “Town Center has had an incredible first 25 years. … We already have dynamic mixed-use space, and the idea of doubling that is empowering. … I’m totally bullish about its future.”
Although new to the more operational role of RTCA executive director, Goudie is no stranger to Reston Town Center. In addition to living nearby, he previously served on the RTCA board and currently also chairs GRACE’s board of directors.
Goudie’s confidence stems from what he calls a “beautiful trifecta” of factors: “a powerful original vision, a dynamic future vision and a partner to take you there … who sees the future and is in it for the long haul.”
In addition to the fundamental partnership with Boston Properties, Town Center’s success, he also maintained, is built on its various long-term cultural and community partnerships, which make it an increasingly “robust … elite destination.”
Among those partners, he noted, are GRACE, whose own recent “dynamic growth” he sees as paralleling Town Center’s; the Initiative for Public Art-Reston, which has sponsored major public art projects at both ends of the center, and the Reston Community Center and Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce, which frequently sponsor major events there.
Undergirding all those factors, Goudie said, is Reston’s own unique five-decade history. “Reston,” he pointed out, “has had a unified vision and the singular ability to execute that vision. … Building unique visionary places is hard to do when the [involved] parties are splintered.”
Pete Otteni, Boston Properties’ vice-president for development, is among those responsible for executing that “dynamic” unified vision for Reston Town Center’s future.
“We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished,” said Otteni, who has been with Boston Properties for about 16 years. “We’re executing a plan so well thought out by those who preceded us and to whom we owe a lot of credit. … Reston Town Center is seen in our company as a great example of neo-traditional, mixed-use development.”
The recent total acquisition of Phase 1, Otteni explained, “made a lot of sense” because it diversified the type and size of office and retail options that Boston Properties could offer.
And while the Mercury Fountain area in Phase I is still a favorite gathering, shopping and dining space, “ground zero,” Otteni suggested, “has shifted a bit,” moving increasingly toward the center’s newer mixed-use developments surrounding the promenade between Market Street and Democracy Drive and Reston Town Square Park and the new Avant high-rise, which Boston Properties owns.
“Not resting our laurels,” Otteni further noted that Boston Properties currently is in the process of developing Town Center’s “blocks 4 and 5.”
Block 4, which is Town Center’s only remaining surface parking lot and its last undeveloped lot, will become two high-rise residential buildings with just over 500 units, underground parking and 25,000 square feet of retail.
The adjoining block 5 will be Town Center’s first redevelopment in 25 years. The site, which currently houses the Anne Taylor and Fed Ex/Kinko stores, will be redeveloped as the office piece.
Also looming large in the Town Center’s future is the development of the 22 acres Boston Properties owns near the Silver Line’s future Reston Town Center Station, scheduled to open in 2020. “We’re well positioned to deliver Metro-related, mix-use development there,” Otteni said, noting that up to 4 million square feet will be permitted.
Whatever is developed in the future, Otteni promised, will be “pretty consistent” with the “urban experience” that is already there.
He said, “We don’t want to do anything that makes it less. … Reston is a special place in many ways; it’s hard to put your finger on. … It is a sad time with Mr. Simon’s passing, but it is an exciting time for Reston and Boston Properties.”