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Merchants at Reston Town Center Organizing in Paid Parking Fight

by Dave Emke — February 7, 2017 at 2:45 pm 68 Comments

The battle between Reston Town Center businesses and RTC owner Boston Properties over paid parking appears to be just beginning.

About 50 people, including dozens of representatives from Town Center restaurants and shops, met Monday at Vapiano restaurant to share information, voice their frustrations and continue to work out how they should proceed. They did so as sales at their shops and restaurants continue to dip, as customers have been staying away from the Town Center since paid parking began Jan. 3.

Monday afternoon’s meeting came on a day when Fairfax County Public Schools had not been in session. Yasser Meshki, general manager of Vapiano, said you wouldn’t know that from the lack of customers in his restaurant.

“Every time, when school is off, we’re packed for lunch,” he said. “We make easily, let’s say $3,000. We didn’t make half of that today.”

Meshki’s comments were among numerous that were shared during the hourlong meeting. Aaron Gordon and Aaron Mervis, of Red Velvet Cupcakery and Big Bowl respectively, are organizing the group. One of the goals of Monday’s meeting was to begin the process of assimilating all the upset businesses under one association that can legally stand together against Reston Town Center.

“We’re not necessarily threatening lawsuit, but we are saying that we can explore a few different avenues,” Gordon said. “The first one is going to be to all get under one umbrella, pitch in a little money and then see where it takes us.”

Representatives of law firm Cohen Seglias Pallas Greenhall & Furman PC, who have not been retained by the group at this time, addressed the crowd and offered some preliminary advice regarding organizing. Gordon and Mervis had company representatives who attended the meeting sign up and show their willingness to join.

Some merchants who spoke during the meeting shared information about how much their sales have dropped from this time last year, with most falling between 10 and 50 percent. Even businesses that appear on the surface to be doing relatively well, such as Potomac River Running, are actually not.

“This weather is fantastic for us, so we’re having much higher sales than we normally would among our eight stores,” said owner Ray Pugsley. “My other seven stores are up between 10 and 50 percent in the last 30 days. This store here is down 4 percent.”

Evan Matz, CEO of World of Beer, said even the customers who are stopping into his restaurant show the effects of paid parking.

“We used to see customers come in with bags after shopping, and they would sit down and have a meal or lunch or a beer or something, but we don’t see those customers come in anymore,” he said. “They’re coming in, doing what they need to do, getting back in their car and leaving right away.”

Concerns about the paid parking are more than just about the cost, the merchants said. They also expressed opinions about the ParkRTC app they say is driving customers away, and about how designated employee parking spots blocks away from stores are causing hardships on their workers, among other issues.

Cliff Hallock, owner of the Ben & Jerry’s on Market Street, said he is extremely concerned about the coming months.

“I’m terrified of what’s going to happen in the future, in terms of lower foot traffic, when things should get busy in [the] March, April, May time frame,” he said. “Close friends of mine are telling me, ‘I’m sorry Cliff, I just don’t go there anymore. I love ya, but we’re not going to go there.'”

Anne Mader, co-owner of The Bike Lane, said she and her husband opened up shop in Reston because of the sense of community. She says that sense is now gone at Reston Town Center.

“Now it’s just disheartening, because it feels so unwelcome. It’s not the Reston community that I grew up in,” said Mader, whose shop is publicly seeking a new home. “It hurts my heart, it makes me sad. I really want to do business here.”

  • EADGBE

    Welcome to The Boston Clown Center!

    • Rhawnhurst

      Greed kills

  • MsMarlynn

    It looks like a ghost town there in the evenings when I get home from work. I live in RTC and don’t invite friends over since they would have to pay for parking. But i do NOT see the crowds walking the streets as I did a year a go – even in January.

  • American Dreamer

    I think the RTC condo owners were misled when sales promised a vibrant community with plenty of night life and entertainment.

    Should BP be held liable for breaking the constitution, “pursuit of happiness”?

    • Greg

      That clause is not in the US Constitution; it’s in the Declaration of Independence.

      • American Dreamer

        Thank you and try again:

        I think the RTC condo owners were misled when sales promised a vibrant community with plenty of night life and entertainment.

        Should BP be held liable for breaking the Declaration of Independence’ “pursuit of happiness”?

        • John Farrell

          Declaration of Independence is not binding on anyone or anything.

          The Constitution limits government’s power not private property owners.

  • Meh

    The elite experience of the Reston Town Center brought to you by Boston Properties. No problem finding parking, lots of spacious room to walk around the center and never having to deal with the unwashed masses.

    The only problem is now the merchants are losing money hand over fist and will move out. The good news is Boston Properties will buy up this land and turn it into a Tysons II with fancy high-end merchants that no one will go to.

    • lj

      Parking is free at Tysons II…

      • Steve

        Parking is FREE at Tyson’s I too!

  • Kara Gardner Wills

    I used to meet my daughter for lunch or my husband and I would go to RTC for dinner and a movie, etc. We have been exploring other dining options in the area. One Loudoun has some great choices. Mosaic District is next on our list. In addition, we continue to support our local businesses in the neighborhood village centers throughout Reston.

    I will NEVER load the ParkRTC app. There is no reason parking should be so invasive and we moved here from Chicago! LOL

  • COA

    I feel so bad for the merchants and the employees–and I just don’t understand the lack of response from Boston Properties. The community told you exactly what we were going to do, and we’re doing it. Everyone I know is boycotting RTC. It’s not just the money; it’s the violation of the spirit and culture of this community. There’s still time to roll some of this back, but if it doesn’t happen quickly RTC may not ever be able to regain its former popularity.

    • EliteinReston

      …”it’s the violation of the spirit and culture of this community.” You nailed it. Thing is, we’ve been telling Boston Properties this for nearly a year now and they have refused to compromise, or even to give their rationale. We’ve asked why this was implemented well before the Metro station opens. No answer. We’ve asked whether they could lift weeknight parking fees. No answer. We’ve asked whether the first few hours of parking could be free (so we could park to pick up cupcakes at Red Velvet without a fee, for example). We’ve asked whether they could use discretion to lift fees on special weeknights such as Valentine’s Day. No response. There is a path forward for Boston Properties to get most of what they want if they are willing to give a little.

      • Why do you bother?

        “it’s the violation of the spirit and culture of this community.”

        BP couldn’t care less about spirit or culture. They care about their bottom line. Period. All of you with your passionate appeals crack me up.

        • Adrian Havill

          The conundrum is, if the merchants leave or sales suffer then BP has less revenue, ergo less bottom line.

          • Why do you bother?

            Yes, which is the ONLY thing that will sway BP. “YUUUUUER MEEEEEEEEAN!” will not.

          • JoeInReston

            BP should very much care about these passionate appeals. Its the fuel that feeds the boycott. The boycott will starve the revenues and force BP to change their policy.

            The squeaky wheel gets free parking, or at least a reasonable paid parking policy.

          • Why do you bother?

            No, the lack of income gets free parking restored. The boycott has nothing to do with mailing letters to the CEO. Do you also believe in the tooth fairy?

          • JoeInReston

            Abbreviated transcript of **this** thread:

            COA: it’s the violation of the spirit and culture of this community

            You: All of you with your passionate appeals crack me up.

            Me: Its the fuel that feeds the boycott

            There is no mailing list in this thread. “passionate appeals” is used here in a much broader sense. Its complaining to your friends and neighbors. Its bitching on these forums. Etc

          • Why do you bother?

            Passionate appeals to our neighbors and friends fuels the boycott. What people are talking about here is passionate appeals to BP to relent. Laughable.

          • JoeInReston

            No, these comments are passionate appeals to the online community. You are taking these comments literally and not seriously.

          • Why do you bother?

            “Thing is, we’ve been telling Boston Properties this for nearly a year now and they have refused to compromise, or even to give their rationale.”

            “The squeaky wheel gets free parking, or at least a reasonable paid parking policy.”

            “Might want to send mail to Mr. Peter D. Johnson, Executive VP Washington DC Region, Boston Properties, 2200 Pennsylvania NW, Suite 200W, Washington, DC 20037”

            “Quite a few mails, Mr Johnson might send a “whats with all these mails” email to a subordinate.”

            “You think a business person would unconcerned by a flood of angry customers complaining about a corporate policy?”

            Yes, I’m taking them literally.

          • JoeInReston

            You previously wrote: “Passionate appeals to our neighbors and friends fuels the boycott. What people are talking about here is passionate appeals to BP to relent”

            Yes some of those quotes are asking BP to relent. However, by posting the concerns on a public forum, and not to BP directly, they are sharing their disgust about BP online, putting tinder on the boycott BP movement.

          • Mike M

            Then you are a fool. If they succeed, it’s a big accomplishment. Very specific pressure point. Not like wearing pussy hats and bashing in the Starbucks windows. I have not been to RTC since it started.

          • Mike M

            Bingo! Just like how Liberals take the Donald! Big mistake.

      • Tom H

        Hey, they certainly have provided their rationale.

        “Well, I don’t think we want to get into necessarily quantifying it. I would say that there’s approximately 8,000 parking spaces there. We undertook this for a couple of reasons. Obviously, revenue is one” — Peter Johnston, Boston Properties, Inc. – EVP, Washington, D.C. Region

        Source: http://finance.yahoo.com/news/edited-transcript-bxp-earnings-conference-164433250.html

        • EliteinReston

          I remember that quote Tom–thank you– and think that adding revenue is the obvious motive. But as you can see, he said he would not be transparent in quantifying the reasoning. Nor would he expand on “a couple of reasons” beyond adding revenue. He gave some vague reason about “honoring our commitment to the retailers and residents” but failed to say what that commitment was. We are left unsatisfied that Boston Properties has given its side so we can see what they are up against, and why they refuse to compromise.

  • Reston Realist

    When the paid parking was first announced, I was neutral, thinking that a couple of more $$ to go out for dinner was no big deal… but since they have implemented this albatross, I have not even attempted to go to RTC. We used to go out with friends to various RTC restaurants and bars at least once per week and spend a fair amount – but no longer…. we are going to Loudoun One, NYAG and Tysons to spend our entertainment dollars.

    If there was a different mechanism, like meters or tickets, I would not have a problem paying for parking, but the current program is a complete CF!

    BP scored a big miss on this and need to get it right and need to do it quickly.

    • JoeInReston

      This ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

      I am more of a cut off my nose to spite my face type, so I refuse to go on general principle. My wife, on the other hand, rolled her eyes at my stubbornness and visited the RTC. The parking experience was awful. She is not going to do it again.

      • Reston Realist

        EXACTLY! Well said.

  • Chuck Morningwood

    Sucks to be them. On the other hand, Dulles Town Center is experiencing a bit of a Renaissance with my dinner dollars.

  • Greendayer

    Some nice merchants, but who needs the added cost and confusion. Fortunately, there is competition so we no longer patronize the town center. Hopefully, other landlords will learn from Boston Properties’ mistakes and not make them elsewhere.
    Yelp and Google reviews are good places to write about the problems athough it’s easier just to go elsewhere.

  • Drip

    Remember when RTCA Executive Director Robert Goudie proclaimed RTC an “elite destination” in justifying paid parking? What happened to that clown? A ghost town with sagging sales under a collective, unorganized boycott sounds more like a pariah in the area as opposed to an “elite destination.”

  • John Weis

    Might want to send mail to Mr. Peter D. Johnson, Executive VP Washington DC Re
    gion, Boston Properties, 2200 Pennsylvania NW, Suite 200W, Washington, DC 20037

  • Why do you bother?

    NOW we’re talkin’

  • America

    Totally true, I live in reston so I have the app and everything but friends of mine wanted to about the Town Center for a dinner so we went somewhere else

    • America

      I’m sorry I meant they wanted “to avoid” instead of “to about”

    • 30yearsinreston

      I live in Reston and will never have the spyware app on my device

  • JoeInReston

    On the bright side, those of us who are against paid parking are blessed that Boston Properties has created this incompetent parking policy.

    I believe there are two different types of people in the boycott:
    1 Those who oppose paid parking at RTC on sheer principle (me!)
    2 Those who would begrudgingly go along with it if it was reasonably priced and well run

    Had Boston Properties run a competent, simple, and intuitive paid program at RTC, people from camp 2 might have never joined the boycott. A big part of the reason this boycott has taken off is due to sheer incompetence at Boston Properties. Thanks BP!

  • freestylergbb

    Boston Props (BP) was betting on RTC’s captive audience. So yes, it is convenient for Reston residents despite the lack of independently owned (vs chain) restaurants and stores. But if you’re willing to drive outside of this enclave, there is another world of food and shopping. No, it’s not all together lined up in rows, but it’s accessible and not just in that madness called Tyson’s. RTC was a turn-off to me including the fact that recycling bins are rare (another topic, sorry).

  • RestonDi

    I find it hard to believe that the execs at BP are really dumb and didn’t understand this crazy parking deal would kill business. It seems to me they must have some ulterior motive that we are not aware of. Perhaps they intend to chase away all the current merchants in favor of some other grand plan they have for RTC (they couldn’t kick them all out because of the leases, but they could kill their business and make them want to leave). Then they will be free to execute whatever their grand plan is.

    • 30yearsinreston

      Never underestimate the stupidity of apparatchiks
      I’ve seen dumber actions

      • Why do you bother?

        BP is the opposite of apparatchik – capitalists all the way!

        • Mike M

          Um, if they get killed commercially for their actions, they are not very good Capitalists.

  • 30yearsinreston

    The highlight and largest splurge of the restaurant calendar is coming up next week
    Lets see the numbers after that

  • Rezzie

    Hey – let’s not forget little Lake Anne as an alternative to the spyware and greed. Sure, it’s not all sexy and well-lit like RTC, but you’re literally supporting your neighbors, the craft-beer, fresh coffee, gyros and drunken-noodles are exceptional and a little more foot traffic will go a very long way. Who knows, it may help fill up the spaces with even more local fare and encourage a re-boot of the needed redevelopment/expansion. At least go have a Pad Thai and a Lake Anne Brew House stout for ol’ Bob Simon’s sake. We owe him that much and we owe ourselves to have more & better options to the RTC shake-down.

  • Big Drop

    It’s going to affect condo sales and apartment rentals (Signature, under construction, will be interesting.) Boston Properties probably believe that the Metro will benefit them but RTC West is closer and there are 400 units under construction next to Oracle, 500 at Weihle and 450 across the Toll road by the Sheraton. The character of Town Center could change if this continues into summer. That will influence them more than anything else because it will impact their 97% occupancy rate. Problem is that it might be too late. With every passing week this receives more press and many more will just not even bother to come. Even if they change and revert to free parking it could take several years to recapture leasing of office and retail space.

  • Newport

    I finally am working closer to home and was looking forward to ‘dropping in’ at the RTC to stretch my legs before heading home. Now I wait until the weekend and opt for Tysons even if RTC is free on the weekends. Even if there was a valid compromise I think the damage will take longer to mend.

  • Gregg Rosenberg

    I haven’t been to RTC since Jan 1 and will not go back. Greedy Boston Properties has robbed Reston of its town center. The RA needs to pass an ordinance prohibiting paid parking within Reston city limits.

    • Motoring

      Gregg,
      While I share your frustration there is nothing RA can do to RTC. They are completely separate. RTC is not part of RA.

      Your frustrations need to be shared with Supervisor Hudgins and other local legislators.

      • 30yearsinreston

        Asking Hudgins and Plum to do anything is futile unless you are a developer

  • LakeNewportGuy

    I think they are trying to create Tysons II in Reston. That is their vision. A bunch of high end women’s clothing stores. I only ever go to Tysons II to eat but looks entirely empty every time. I guess great for a small community of folks (Great Falls), sucks for people who live in Reston.

    • Why do you bother?

      With the notable exception that Tysons has free parking…

  • jmsullivan

    This is the sort of thing that happens when you let private interests build what should be public space. RTC isn’t a real downtown, although it’s meant to look like one, and that’s a big part of why people are so upset that it’s not acting like one. But at the end of the day, it’s a mall, albeit one without a roof, as is the new fashion.

    The solution to that would be to take it by eminent domain and make it public space. So the legal magic word you’re all groping for is “blighted.”

    Instead of talking about it being a “ghost town,” or “not the Reston we knew,” you need to say things like, “Doesn’t the town center seem awfully blighted these days?” The more you say it, the more real – and legally actionable – it becomes.

    Yeah, my tongue’s partly in my cheek here, but not all the way. Honestly, screw these guys.

  • Judy in Reston

    Many of my friends and I have found great alternatives. Lake Anne for dining is one and Vienna and Herndon.

  • Jeremy Bentham

    Well, I usually only go to RTC during the weekend anyway, so no impact for me. No need for me to boycott. I like the improvements to the garages though I can understand why people who go there everyday would be upset with the extra cost, though I don’t buy the anti-app hysteria argument. Unfortunately I just discovered that my 401k (and probably many of yours) holds Boston Properties stock so I don’t want them to collapse quite as passionately as some of you. I guess if it’s between them getting my $2 and overpaying at one of the stores, at least I have some slight upside on one end of it. “I want my $2” – paperboy, ‘Better Off Dead’.

  • Umman Khawaja

    I work in Reston and sometimes go to RTC for lunch. We had our Toastmasters meeting in the Leidos building, but the majority of the group decided it was a good idea to move our meeting.
    Now, we host our Toastmasters meeting at my Reston office away from RTC because of the hassle of parking.
    I still go to lunch at RTC once in a while.

    Here’s a tip: you can go to Jackson’s and get some of their validation slips from the bar. The bartenders don’t care and even encourage it, “Here, take some more! Give some to your friends!”
    You just have to park in the Orange garage and type in the validation code.
    I have a stack of these validations and I’ll just grab some more when I run out.

  • Big Drop

    My wife and I are 70 years old. Most of our friends are 50 and over. We’ve lived in Reston for almost 30 years and spent a great deal of time sharing Town Center with family and visitors. Over time, because of my business, I’ve also had many stay at the Hyatt because a world showcase, Reston Town Center, was outside of their back door.

    We have also assumed for the past several years that now retired we’ll sell our house near South Lakes and make one last move, to Town Center. We spent several months last year looking at condos in and around Town Center. We’ve also considered the Harrison and Avant and might have had interest in the upcoming Signature. Rental can be interesting when there is little appreciation.

    But nobody who would visit us would use an app to park. I can’t imagine telling them what to do once they pulled into a Town Center garage. I can’t imagine if they would even have a smart phone with them. Or know what to do with a kiosk that demands answers to a lot of questions. At some point the attendants with their portable heaters will be replaced by agents writing tickets.

    Much of our attraction, much of my pride in living here was the character, the personality of Town Center. Part of it felt like Munich’s Marien Platz or a stroll in Vienna or in Koln near the Cathedral. A planned community in the suburbs of where I was born actually had captured the ambience and character of a European town centre where Friday nights and Saturday and Sunday afternoon centered on the life and magic of the Town Center.

    That’s in danger. Thirty five people at the skating rink this past 55 degree and Sunny Sunday. Not one hundred and twenty five or one hundred and fifty. 35. I counted them. I walk through Town Center almost every day, just as I have for several decades when not travelling. I know what it felt like in the early ’90’s as well as last February…and now. The personality has changed.

    It’s just not as alive.

    I wrote a letter to Boston Properties and e-mailed it a week ago: we are no longer looking for a condo at Town Center. Nor a rental apartment. Whether walking out our door or explaining the app to visiting friends, it’s just not as friendly.

    For myself I have a great deal of respect for the restaurant and shop owners. And for what those such as Google and Rolls Royce will go through with their employees who may feel a bit differently about their commute and even their lunch hours. But for us it is about our future. This will be our last move. And it is the most important of all.

    We had planned on living in Town Center. On buying a condo that would appreciate in value if we needed to borrow on it in ten years. On having friends and grown children visit us. But we no longer have the confidence, Metro or no Metro, that the condo will appreciate in value. Or that our friends or children will want to deal with the app.

    We also don’t believe very many other Baby Boomers, even any 50+ year olds will want to live at Town Center. We fear it has become too complicated to explain, to visit.

    A few days ago I walked around National Harbour which I love. MGM opened a large casino and resort hotel a half or so mile away on the hill overlooking it. In the six weeks that it has been open National Harbour has become something of a ghost town. I realize that it is the middle of winter but there just doesn’t seem to be the same life in the planned Reston like riverside city that was there only a few months ago.

    Not that dissimilar from the introduction of the app and paid parking to Town Center. Of course National Harbour (and the MGM) are free.

    Boston Properties bought and developed something special. Now, that they own all of it, they are going in another direction. It’s not just the retailers and restaurants who are being hurt. There are 1,600 condos and apartments with another 500 on the way. The several thousand people who live in Town Center-or who may move there-have an opinion, too.

    I listened to BXP’s conference call last Wednesday. There was no mention of any of this. Only the 97% occupancy rate. And Boston Properties’ extensive national experience including Marriott in Bethesda, downtown and near Fort Belvoir in the D. C. area. Plus literally millions of square feet under their control around the United States.

    Including Reston Town Center.

    I am sorry because I love living here: this was special. But it has changed. And we don’t have a lot of years left for them to realize their mistake. Or to buy a condo and see it go down in value rather up.

    For ourselves it is more about Boston Properties and less about the Metro.

    .

  • Joe

    You for “one” – – you got that right!

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