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RCA Hosts International Visitors on Metro Development

Last Friday, RCA hosted a delegation of European visitors to Reston. We showed them the upsides and downsides of the Silver Line -- and what makes Reston a special community.

As you know if you’ve been reading me regularly, RCA has been a leading voice for our citizens on the Silver Line and the development around the stations.  Our advocacy paid off in a unique way last Friday, when RCA had a rare and exciting opportunity to show Reston to a delegation of international visitors. 

This adventure began in January, when we received an email from a representative of the Mississippi Consortium for International Development (MCID).  MCID was arranging a visit to the US for a delegation of government and business leaders from Central and Eastern Europe.  The visit was part of the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), cultural and business exchange program designed to bring current and emerging international leaders to the US, where they visit 4 cities in a 3-week period, arranged around a common theme.

The theme of this visit was public-private partnerships, and how they can help local economies redevelop.  The delegation was visiting Washington to look at the Silver Line and the public-private partnership to build the Reston Station development.  MCID was looking for a citizen’s perspective on these partnerships, someone to discuss some of their downsides as a counterpoint to the enthusiasm of the business and government leaders behind these partnerships.  MCID heard about us, and they asked us to provide a presentation.  Our local and national reputation was becoming an international reputation!  We were delighted to particpate.

A crack RCA team of Terry Maynard, Tammi Petrine, Dick Rogers, Rob Bonham, and myself set to work planning the visit.  We knew what a tremendous opportunity this was; to my knowledge, this is the first time in decades that RCA had hosted an international delegation.  We put together an agenda that would spotlight the public-private partnership issue, but would also provide a taste of Reston and what makes our community special.

Our visit began at the offices of Comstock, the developer of the Reston Station development.  Over lunch, Maggie Parker of Comstock talked about the history of the project, the huge quantity of raw materials going into the construction, and how the project represents the mixed-use, transit-oriented development that Fairfax County wants to see around the stations.  Maggie noted that the footprint of the project was about the size of 22 football fields, which led a visitor from Austria to quip, “Your football, not ours.”  After fielding questions, Maggie led us over to the project site, where we got to tour around and view the construction in progress.

The project superintendent led us around the future site of the pedestrian plaza, and then took us down into the parking garage.  Maggie showed us where the bus drop-offs and kiss-and-ride will take place (the second story below grade), and then pointed out the “elephant stand,” which is the construction team’s term for the concrete-and-steel structure designed to support the weight of the garage and the high-rise buildings that will rest atop it. 

We then went down to the fifth level of the garage, which is all but complete.  We got to see the structure that will host street-level retail when Reston Station opens, and will eventually be converted into the lobby of the hotel to be built on the site.  We saw the pedestrian bridge connecting the development to the Wiehle station; the last span had just been laid the night before.  Kudos to Dick, who arranged with Comstock to allow the delegation to visit the site and see the construction in progress.

After we left the site, seeking something quieter and more peaceful, we took the delegation to the Nature House.  This served two purposes: first, we wanted to demonstrate the importance of nature and the environment to Reston; and second, the Nature House is a sort of public-private partnership, between the Reston Association and private donors to the Friends of Reston, which allowed the Nature House to be built. 

Nature House director Katie Shaw provided a tour of the building, describing the history of the project and the decades it took to come to fruition, and also explaining the many eco-friendly components that went into the project, allowing it to earn LEED Gold certification.  (I had no idea that the floors of the Nature House are made from reclaimed woods from old barns.)

After that, Katie led us on a short nature walk.  For the visitors, who have spent much of their visit on construction sites and in meeting rooms, the fresh air and the trees were a welcome change of pace.  I was delighted that the weather allowed us to show our visitors a bit of Reston’s natural beauty.  Thanks to Tammi for arranging the Nature House’s participation.

From there, we drove past the Reston National Golf Course and up to Lake Anne, where our visitors posed for a picture with Bob Simon’s statue.  (Told that Bob himself lives at Lake Anne, one of the visitors commented that it was strange to see a statue built for a person who is still alive.) 

At RCC Lake Anne, we treated the delegation to coffee, cookies, and fruit while we presented our citizen’s view of the Silver Line and its challenges.  I presented a brief history of Reston and of RCA. Terry gave a good analytical presentation of RCA’s views on public-private partnerships and some of the downsides, including excessive secrecy, potential political blowback, and high costs.  Terry also explained the Master Plan Special Study process, and the challenges of balancing the desire to allow new growth and transit-oriented development in Reston without imperiling our quality of life. 

Tammi followed with an emotional counterpoint to Terry’s fact-based presentation, walking the visitors through the history of the Metro project and the impact that higher Dulles Toll Road tolls might have on our community.  By the time we were through, the delegation had a thorough understanding of both the advantages and concerns of the Silver Line and the development it will bring.

Thanks to Terry, Tammi, Dick, and Rob for your help and hard work in making this visit a success.  It was highly educational and enjoyable for our visitors, and another success for RCA.  Thanks to Comstock for hosting our visitors and showing them the construction, and thanks to Katie Shaw and RA for a great visit at Nature House.  As a fellow native Restonian, Katie has a great love of our community, and that shone through in her presentation.

If you’d like to see some highlights of our trip, check out the pictures accompanying this piece.  I was delighted that RCA had the chance to be a voice of Reston’s citizens not only here at home, but internationally as well.

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Kathy February 22, 2013 at 04:56 PM
I would be interested in knowing which other cities this group visited, just for curiosity's sake. The building of the Nature House was not built from a public-private partnership. Reston Association is private, not public. It is not a government. The Friends of Reston is a charity that belongs to RA. PPEAs (public private partnerships) in Virginia are, by state law, kept secret until the agreement is final. There is no community oversight whatsoever. It's a problem. I'm glad the group got to tour the Nature House and the Walker Nature Education Center. Our natural areas are what make Reston a very special place. I looked at the graphic about the Toll Road increases you showed them. In two years we will be paying $2,000 a year, and in five years we will be paying $3,000 a year to commute on the Roll Road. I think that many people who live here have no idea. I hope Comstock bought good cement for the "elephant stand." http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/01/26/AR2008012601981.html Thank you for representing Reston. Kathy Kaplan
Colin Mills February 22, 2013 at 09:05 PM
Thanks for the comments, Kathy. Regarding the other cities the group is visiting: After leaving DC, they went to Akron, Ohio. I believe they made mention of visiting somewhere in Florida as well. I don't know what their other stop(s) are. You are correct that Nature House is not a true public-private partnership, but it is an example of cooperation between the private sector and a non-governmental entity that performs quasi-governmental functions. We definitely raised the Virginia PPEA secrecy concerns in our presentation; it's one of the biggest challenges with P3s here. Thanks for referencing our analysis on the Toll Road increases. We've raised this issue in other venues before, but it's one worth repeating, so that our citizens are aware.

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