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Three years ago, Manassas attorney Michael R. Vanderpool built a four-story structure in Old Town Manassas that set a trend and probably has forever changed the skyline of the historic downtown area.
Since then, three more multi-story buildings have been completed, another is under construction and many more are on the way.
“The one-story buildings are giving way to a minimum of three stories and as high as five stories throughout the city as land values increase,” said Liz Via, director of community development for the city.
The change is evident everywhere.
Via said the ReMax Olympic Building with 18,342 square feet over three stories opened last year, as did the Judiciary Place, Old Town/Courthouse with 45,000 square feet.
The three-story Morias Building with 33,938 square feet is nearing completion, and the three-story Logan Office Building with 17,595 square feet is expected to be ready for occupancy in the spring of 2006.
Pending site plan approval is the development of Courts of Historic Manassas, which will be 94 multi-family condo units in one five-story and two four-story buildings at the corner of Prince William Street and Grant Avenue.
Also awaiting approval is Lee Square, 140 multi-family condo units in a four-story stacked town house configuration at the corner of Lee and Stonewall.
Additional planned projects over the next three years are the Prescott Arms, 40 multi-family condo units in a four-story stacked town house project at the corner of Prescott and Quarry; Van Meter at Old Town, 182 multi-family condo units over first-floor commercial use (24,450 square feet) in a five-story building at Center, Zebedee, Quarry and Fairview streets; and The Chapel at Old Town, high-upscale, 60-multi-family condo units above first-floor commercial space in a five-story building at Church and East streets, which includes the restoration of the church steeple at Main Street.
While these structures will have the most impact on the Old Town area, other similar tall buildings are becoming more popular outside of the downtown area. The 38,000-square-foot, three-story TML Building in Gateway Business Park near Manassas Regional Airport opened in December 2004, and under construction is the 73,750-square-foot, four-story Gateway Professional Building expected to be completed in the summer of 2006 next to the TML Building.
On the other end of the city adjacent to Wal-Mart, the Signal Hill Professional Center is under way and its 48,700-square-feet over three stories is expected to be ready for occupancy next spring.
The fact that Manassas is such a desirable place to live and conduct business is making this area a hot market in which to build.
“All of the developments are having a positive and beneficial impact on the city. The commercial, retail and office complexes mean more tax money for the city, as a multi-story building and its occupants will generate more revenue than a single-story structure,” Via said.
“Also, with more people moving into the area the retail shops, restaurants, attractions such as the Harris Pavilion and the Virginia Railway Express, will benefit as people will be able to walk to them and not have to fight for parking spaces,” she added.
The new complexes will fill most of the vacant sites in the city. Via said that as land values increase even more, old one-story buildings will be replaced by the multi-story structures.
“The market demand for new retail, office and residential units will determine when it will happen,” she said.
Vanderpool, whose office was formerly in the old Piedmont Federal Building, said he could have moved his firm out of the downtown area but the reason he decided to erect the 26,000-square-foot VF&N Building at 9200 Church St. was that he wanted a firstclass, visually attractive building for his employees and clients, as well as a convenient location to the restaurants and shops in Old Town.
“I’m very happy with my decision, as an image is important to our clients. With my 40 employees, we occupy about 15,000 square feet of the available space and the rest was rented out before we occupied the building,” he said.
Vanderpool, who as an attorney is representing some of the builders in the site plan process, said that for the Old Town area to remain vibrant, it must grow but retain its character.
“New housing developments means more people will be living in the Old Town area and supporting the retail shops and restaurants. Old Town runs the risk of becoming stagnant if it doesn’t grow,” Vanderpool said.
“When the Virginia Railway Express was first discussed as having a stop in Old Town, many people expected the riders to have a boost on the Old Town’s economy, but for the most part people get on off the train and never step into shops or restaurants. They just want to get home,” he added.
Vanderpool said all of the city’s newest attractions, such as the Harris Pavilion, the Center for the Arts and the Manassas Museum, will benefit from the planned multi-story structures.
“If the city wants to continue to grow and attract top-notch businesses, it must have appealing multi-story buildings to house them,” said Vanderpool.
Joanne E. Wunderly, president of the Old Town Business Association and owner of The Things I Love retail shop for the past nine years, said that “while I’m not against expanded growth in the city, I’m a little wary of what will happen to the Old Town core area surrounded by the large buildings.”
She added, “The Old Town is such a wonderful place now. I can remember when it wasn’t. I don’t want it to get so big it loses its small-town atmosphere. I love it the way it is.”
Bill Gilbreth, broker-owner of ReMax Olympic that opened in February 2004 at 9214 Center St. with a three-story, 18,342-square-feet structure, said the location of the firm in Old Town has been a plus to not only his firm but to the city in general.
“We bring upwards of 8,000 people each year into our office … and while here many of them patronize the restaurants and shops. Our seven employees and 118 agents who are mainly home-based also like its convenient location,” said Gilbreth.
Gilbreth said his firm occupies the first floor, and before the building was even completed M&T Bank’s commercial division took the second floor, and the law firm of Curran & Whittington the entire third floor.
His building was the second major addition to the Old Town area, located across the street from Vanderpool’s.
Judiciary Place, located near the corner of Center Street and Stonewall Road, was the third. It was developed and built by Rector Construction, and is two-thirds leased out by a civil engineering firm, a kidney dialysis medical company and a defense contractor.
The newest multi-story building to go up in Manassas is Morias Plaza, owned by Joe Morias and built by Gregory Construction Company in Manassas.
Carter Wiley, with Wiley Companies, said negotiations are going on with a variety of different general office clients including legal, title, lending and insurance firms.
“We plan to have the building completely filled by early spring 2006, when it will be ready for occupancy,” said Wiley, adding “we believe the structure is very attractive and adds a lot to the landscape of Manassas.”
Kevin Kelley, an Old Town businessman and chairman of the Prince William County-Greater Manassas Chamber of Commerce, said, “personally I think the new growth is great. I’ve been in Manassas since 1971 and can remember when it was nearly a ghost town with about 30 empty store fronts. To see how it has evolved and become so energized is thrilling for me. It’s wonderful to see the new buildings going up.
“Manassas has a long history, but it has to keep changing to keep thriving,” Kelley added. “I’ve seen many towns in Pennsylvania become as Manassas once was because they failed to expand. When I see empty lots or deteriorating buildings being replaced by a new upscale one in Manassas, that to me is very positive.”