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Loudoun supervisors consider larger signs at South Riding’s Avonlea in a bid to attract tenants

What Avonlea’s identification sign and seven tenant signs along would look like along Route 50 if approved.
After winning approval about a decade ago, the Peterson Companies’ South Riding destination retail center Avonlea is now asking the Board of Supervisors to approve bigger, fancier retail and site signs around the property to woo more tenants to the development.

The $70 million retail, shopping and entertainment site anchored by luxury theatre Cinepolis located near the intersection of Pinebrook Road and Route 50 was supposed to have broken ground in 2015, the Washington Business Journal reported. In 2015, the company said the theater would open in 2016.

But as more and more retailers are forced to compete with online sales, Peterson Companies Vice President of Retail Development Jim Mertz told supervisors at a public hearing Sept. 13 that many prospective tenants simply do not want to commit to leasing space at Avonlea if the site is not more visible.

Avonlea is situated on the county’s prime Route 50 business corridor that includes Dulles Landing across from Avonlea, the Shops at Arcola, Gum Spring Village and the Shoppes at East Gate.

However, buffers and setback designations from Route 50 would prevent people from accessing the site directly from the road.

“The retail climate in general is very, very difficult. We actually started site work on this project about a year ago, got half way through the site work, and we shut it down,” Mertz said. “The reality is -- it’s difficult getting tenants to commit to projects. They’re not expanding like they used. You’ve got internet sales competing with their brick and mortar business, they’re having to compete with Amazon and other retailers. You’ve got a number of bankruptcies that are hitting the front page of newspapers almost everyday.”

The Peterson Companies’ request includes more than a dozen unique signs at the entrances of the development along Pine Brook Road and Tall Cedars Parkway, directory signs, Avonlea identification signs around the perimeter of the site, as well as seven 22-inch by 21-feet-tall tenant signs for the development’s premiere tenants.

Peterson Companies, which developed Commonwealth Center, where Top Golf and iFly are located, said they hired a California design firm to help them design those businesses' signs, which they said look better than your average shopping center sign.

County staff warned that approving the seven tenant signs along Route 50 could set a precedent and encourage other developments in the county’s key business corridor to seek similar signs.

But most supervisors said they disagreed the signs would set a precedent along the Route 50 corridor, while others argued that applicants needed more flexibility to be creative in their signage.
“I am pretty big on design standards and how things look,” Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D-At Large) said “ … I don’t imagine that we’re going to create a precedent, where everyone will do this, because everyone is not the Peterson Group to be quite honest. And even if they wanted to, we can put things in place like height and width and what we want to see on the Route 50 corridor.”

Supervisor Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles), who represents the Avonlea area, argued that the magnitude of project on the Route 50 corridor coupled with its lack of direct access along Route 50 were reasons the board should make an exception.

“This applicant’s given up their access [to Route 50] because of the 50 limited corridor plan,” Letourneau said. “So, we’re asking them to use the collector roads that we’ve built … They’ve chosen to do that, they’ve chosen to work with us on that, so I think we do need to go a little outside of our norm and do something as long as it’s tasteful and as long as we have solid reasons for approval which I think we can develop.”

Asked when Avonlea planned on breaking ground and what tenants had expressed an interest in the site, Mertz declined to say.

“Unfortunately, I cannot answer either one of those questions,” Mertz said in an email to the Times-Mirror. “We said at that public hearing that we are still in our ‘pre-leasing’ phase on Avonlea to have enough tenants committed to be able to finance the development. While we are encouraged and have good momentum, the overall retail market is difficult and tenants are not expanding as much as they have in the past. We are not announcing any tenants at this point until such time as we kick-off the project.”

The board voted unanimously to take the issue up again at its Oct. 3 business meeting.

Contact the writer at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or on Twitter at @SydneyKashiwagi.


I don’t see any problem allowing for larger advertising for businesses paying a premium due to location near a main roadway like 50.  I think the point that is missing (other than the soil issue that is supposed to be fixed) in not getting tenants is planning and design. 
Maybe if there was an actual hook to residents to go to this site in the future, then maybe it would be filling up.  If I’m not mistaken the Dulles Outreach with feedback from the community wanted things to do or go.  So having a complex that has a movie theater and restaurants is fine, but it lacks the family fun connection. Maybe something similar to what Ashburn has done (Top Golf, I-Fly) to hook people in for both entertainment and shopping.  I’m not saying exactly like TopGolf or I-Fly but having family fun activities in the planning would help.  If it is just another shopping center with a gym and theater, then it is not very original.  Not saying it won’t work, but there needs to be more in this area for residents and along 50 is a prime location for a variety of entertainment/shopping and even mix is affordable housing to some degree along with an arts center.  I believe the developers could be good if there was greater flexibility in design and what is allowed.

If consumers want something in those stores, they’ll find you via Online sources and using Waze. Bigger signs won’t bring in more customers.

If the retail market is “very difficult” then why are they still building so much of it? 

Who is going to occupy all of that (extremely expensive) retail space at the dozen or so mixed-use developments being built over the next 5-10 years?

Has the world of retail changed? Absolutely. Is more signage going to undo that? Absolutely not. A 20th century solution to a 21st century issue. Customers at Avonlea will either live nearby, or will find it on the web. Who are these 20-foot tall monoliths aimed at? Passing tourists headed to wine country? They won’t be stopping.

Perhaps the developers/landlords should lower the rent. Most of these retail center charge Fairfax rent and do very little for the small businesses.

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