From afar, the community clustered near Alexandria’s Eisenhower Avenue Metro station looks dynamic and appealing, but it disappoints upon closer inspection. Though the new buildings are attractive, with awnings advertising activity, the area has little life of its own. High-rise apartments are served by a few scattered shops, and the neighborhood is dominated by office buildings that clear out after 6pm.
Looking to maximize growth potential, Alexandria’s government has tagged much of the area for continued redevelopment. Starting as early as next month, a “town center” will rise on many of the vacant parcels and parking lots that surround the Metro station, hopefully bringing an injection of vitality to a neighborhood that needs it.
Pretty Dead After Dark
The Eisenhower Avenue corridor is located just north of the Beltway and west of Alexandria’s Old Town. Understanding the area’s layout can be tricky. In city planning parlance, the geographic region is known as Eisenhower East, to distinguish it from the much more industrial area west of Telegraph Road. But much of Eisenhower East comprises the Carlyle District, a neighborhood that was built from scratch about six years ago.
The community was created as a setting for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which has a campus of sleekly modern buildings. The thinking at the time was that creating spaces for office, residential, hotel, and retail use all at once would have a synergistic effect. It hasn’t happened. While the offices are hopping during the day, and apartment, condo, and hotel buildings are generally full of residents, the area isn’t the bustling shopping destination that was envisioned.
“These have been empty the whole time I’ve been here,” said two-year resident Josh Bernstein, gesturing to the retail spaces located on the ground floor of his apartment building.
Luxury Living and Dogs
Bernstein lives in one of the tall, luxury apartment buildings that sit on and surround Eisenhower Avenue. One-bedroom apartments rent for between $1,700 and $2,200 a month; two-bedroom units go for $2,300 to $2,800.
Nearby, and virtually indistinguishable, are condo projects like Carlyle Towers, which is composed of three 20-story buildings. Prices vary depending on floor plans and amenities, but a one-bedroom unit at Carlyle Towers goes for around $375,000, and a two-bedroom can fetch roughly $425,000.
Lacking a range of activities for kids, the area is not particularly family friendly, and the buildings tend to be populated by singles and young couples. Dogs are a very frequent sight; several buildings are dog-friendly, and a nearby dog park and several grassy spaces are used by residents to walk their animals.
No One is Going to Starve
The area isn’t completely lacking in amenities that urban dwellers want close by. Most notably, there’s a smallish development just west of the Metro station that includes a popular AMC movie theater and several restaurants, including Delia’s Mediterranean Grill and Brick Oven Pizza; Galae Thai; the steakhouse Ted’s Montana Grill; and a few chains, like Coldstone Creamery, California Tortilla, and Ruby Tuesday.
A few more eateries lie within the Carlyle District itself, but the vast majority are sandwich shops that close after 5pm. A main exception is Zikrayet Lebanese Restaurant and Lounge, which is just a block away from the Patent and Trademark Office. Online reviews have been mixed, but with outdoor tables lining the sidewalk and a cozy interior, the restaurant is one of the few places in the area that provides a metropolitan vibe.
The Solution — If It’s Executed Well
The Eisenhower Avenue neighborhood’s strength lies in its proximity to other Washington communities. It sits virtually on top of the Beltway and is close to Route 1. It also lies between the Eisenhower Avenue and King Street Metro stations, both on the Yellow Line, which means a ride into the city takes about 20 minutes. Josh Bernstein added that Old Town, with its wide range of interesting restaurants and nightlife options, is also close by; getting there takes about 25 minutes on foot, or ten minutes by car.
The location combined with an ambitious development agenda could solve the vibrancy problem. Hoffman Management, the company that first developed the area around Eisenhower Avenue, has big plans for the empty parcels around the Metro station.
Hoffman Town Center is slated to spread over 56 acres, and the new development’s plans call for three high-rise residential buildings containing almost 1,200 units, a 50,000 square-foot Harris Teeter, and over 350,000 square feet of new retail space. Also on the drawing board is a redesigned, pedestrian-friendly Metro station, and several new parks and nature trails. It could be something like the re-imagined Crystal City or the new Rockville Town Center—neighborhoods that, in their efforts to capitalize on Metro’s proximity, have been more successful than the Carlyle District in drawing shoppers and late-night revelers.
Construction on the residential towers is supposed to begin next month, but plans still need to be fully approved by the city of Alexandria before they can move ahead. Completion is slated for 2020.
The Bottom Line
The Eisenhower Avenue area is a bit of a puzzle. The community has the crisp atmosphere of a new neighborhood, but not many of the amenities that tend to come with it. Instead, it feels a bit like an office park: you might work or sleep there, but there’s not much reason to hang out on the streets after dark. Of course, that might all be different in a few years.