Mount Vernon area to boost tourism in Fairfax

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Fairfax County officials on Wednesday unveiled a campaign aimed at attracting tourists to the county’s historically rich southeast, a part that includes George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate and is poised for a massive transformation of ‘main street’ “.

The area, recently renamed “Potomac Banks”, is located along the Richmond Freeway corridor, which has already seen decades of neglect and uneven economic development. It currently comprises a mix of lavish homes and low-income apartments.

State transportation officials are working to extend the Richmond Freeway about 1.5 miles, converting the often congested thoroughfare from four lanes to six. The county will also add rapid transit bus lanes, as well as bike lanes and overpasses — part of a nearly $1 billion “Get on Richmond Highway” plan to create a neighborhood friendly to people. pedestrians of restaurants, hotels, and up to 13,000 homes in what is now mostly a canyon of malls and fast food restaurants.

With a 3.1-mile Metrorail Yellow Line extension also planned and several residential developments under construction, county officials hope to raise the profile of the area by boosting tourism to the southeastern range of historic landmarks. Fairfax, a challenge complicated by new coronavirus concerns.

Supervisor Dan Storck (D-Mount Vernon) said the flash marketing would add energy to a corridor that, although a short drive from the Mount Vernon estate, has long been associated with seclusion: motels economy, old tire shops and junkyards.

“That area has long been known as ‘over there,'” Storck said Wednesday at a news conference in Mount Vernon. “Little by little, we are making a difference. Little by little, we are bringing people together. Little by little, we are creating a true ‘Southern County’.”

How a tired strip near the Washington Estate could be a magnet for residents and tourists

At the heart of the Potomac Banks countryside is a newly created Tourism Improvement District for the area where local businesses help with marketing and other programs aimed at attracting more customers.

Through the campaign, Visit Fairfax — the county’s nonprofit tourism arm — will sell 90-day passes offering a discount to area historic sites and museums.

Besides Mount Vernon, these include Washington’s historic River Farm, George Mason’s Gunston Hall, and Woodlawn Estate, once owned by Washington’s nephew and granddaughter-in-law. The Woodlawn Museum is also home to the Pope-Leighey House, designed by legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

County officials said the tourism campaign also aims to draw people to other area attractions, such as the Workhouse Arts Center, once the site of a mid-20th-century prison, and the National Museum of 80 acres of US Army which opened at Fort Belvoir in 2020.

Bringing these sites together under one campaign “isn’t just important for attracting tourism to Fairfax County,” said Jeffrey C. McKay (D), chairman of the county board. “It’s also important for people who live in Fairfax County and that area because, tragically, too many people who have these assets in their backyards don’t even realize they have them.”

The revitalization effort has, for the most part, received broad support from local community organizations. But some residents were unhappy with the development plans.

In September, residents of the historically African-American neighborhood of Gum Springs protested the state’s plan to add turning lanes to the Richmond Freeway, which would have more than doubled the number of lanes in their neighborhood. , at 13.

Virginie is now revising downwards these plans, after county officials agreed with residents that the initial plan would create a hazard for people who walk or cycle to get around – subverting the idea of ​​building a walkable community.

Affordable housing advocates have also argued that too few new homes being built are targeted at low-income families. With rising property values ​​and rents in the area, some of those families are being displaced, said Mary Paden, South County Task Force Leader for Social Services.

And Paden said the scarcity of affordable housing for families earning 60% or less of the region’s median income — about $77,400 for a family of four — means long waiting lists for the cheapest units.

“Every time they build new affordable housing, they have far too many people asking for it,” she said. “If you have less than 40% of the AMI, you really can’t afford anything.”

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Barry Biggar, president of Visit Fairfax, said the Potomac Banks campaign will help bring additional dollars to tourism in the county, after two years of slow sales due to the pandemic.

Biggar noted that in 2019, tourism in Fairfax County generated more than $3 billion a year in economic activity, before those numbers began to decline under pandemic guidelines. With concerns about the virus waning, the county hopes to earn $4.5 billion a year in tourism dollars by 2027, Biggar said.

“What we launched today is the start of that,” he said.

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