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Milde Wants Action on Idle Aquia Town Center Project

By Potomac Local News February 15, 2013 9:52 am

12 Comments

A Regal Cinemas is one of the last buildings standing in what used to be a busy Aquia Town Center shopping destination in North Stafford. Six years ago, the property’s owner began demolishing portions of a strip mall to make way for new businesses and apartment buildings yet to be built. [Photo: Mary Davidson / Potomac Local News]

A Regal Cinemas is one of the last buildings standing in what used to be a busy Aquia Town Center shopping destination in North Stafford. Six years ago, the property’s owner began demolishing portions of a strip mall to make way for new businesses and apartment buildings yet to be built. [Photo: Mary Davidson / Potomac Local News]

By KEITH WALKER
For Potomac Local News

Stafford Aquia Supervisor Paul Milde

Stafford Aquia Supervisor Paul Milde

NORTH STAFFORD, Va. – The big pile of rubble that has been sitting at Town Center at Aquia for six or seven years now is beginning to get on peoples’ nerves.

Stafford County Supervisor Paul Milde III, R-Aquia, said he’s been working all along with owner Ramco-Gershenson Properties in efforts to keep mixed-use development project on track, but nothing has worked.

Milde thinks maybe it’s time for the county to break a little bad on the company and resort to imposing county ordinances and enforcing code violations.

“The residents of Aquia Harbour are not going to stand for looking at that any longer as they drive in and out,” Milde said of the fenced property where weeds grow through the cracked blacktop of a vacant parking lot. “There’s no excuse for the way Ramco-Gershenson has left that site. That needs to be corrected now.”

Ramco-Gershenson’s could not be reached for this story, but their website states that the company’s primary business is “the ownership and management of multi-anchor shopping centers in strategic, quality of life markets throughout the Eastern, Midwestern and Central United States.”

The company, based in Farmington Hills, Michigan, has developed property in Michigan, Florida, Ohio, Georgia, Missouri, Colorado, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, New Jersey, Virginia, Maryland, and Tennessee.

According to county records, the Stafford County Board of Supervisors rezoned the property to Planned-Traditional Neighborhood Development so Ramco-Gershenson could build 750,000 square feet of commercial units, 287 small residential units and a new movie theater in a

The company completed some of the commercial development after the rezoning, but ultimately left a substantial portion of the property vacant.

Milde said the work stalled because of “issues with the economy” when the Great Recession hit.

“The economy just wouldn’t support this type of development. Ever since about 2009, they’ve been saying, ‘Look, we’re almost there,’” he said.

Milde also said he’s had 30 to 40 unproductive meetings with the company, its lenders and potential tenants since the project began.

“The latest story is a financing story where they’re just a little bit shy on what the lenders will lend and what they need to move forward,” Milde said.

What is this?

Milde went on to say that the Board of Supervisors approved loaning the company money for improvements to roads, parking and sewer in exchange for future incremental tax increases.

“Some of it can come back and pay down local debt service on an infrastructure loan to the tune of several million dollars,” Milde said

According to Milde, company representative have recently asked county officials if it could start development on the residential units.

Milde said he wouldn’t support that.

“I do not want the apartments built separately,” he said. “That’s just not the deal that we made.”

Milde said Ramco-Gershenson planned to model the development after Monument Place in Arlington and Oyster Point City Center in Newport News.

Milde said he doesn’t know why the company can’t proceed with the project which he thinks would be successful.

“Frankly, I’m baffled that they can’t make the numbers come together on this,” he said.

At any rate, Milde said he’s finished with the delay.

“We think we’ve been more than patient, he said. “It’s my intention, if I don’t see movement very quickly on this, in the right direction, to bring something to the board.”

Picture 1 of 5

[Photo: Mary Davidson / Potomac Local News]

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  • Janet Paton

    Yes, something needs to be done to get this project completed! I am a resident of Aquia Harbour and it is a disgrace to Stafford to have such a prime piece of property with so much potential stand idle in a pile of rubble for SEVEN years! Perhaps residents can start flooding Ramco-Gershenson with email demanding some action!

  • Danny Jasso

    Working in the real estate environment, my guess is that the company has bigger cash flow issues that are hindering them acquiring more working capital in any form, and since this is still undeveloped, it’s a heck of a lot cheaper to maintain rental fence than empty buildings. While I understand the dilemma, it makes no sense to me that it cannot be pre-sold enough to make a profitable return within 1-3 years of opening. Further, having just seen what Woodbridge did with the area around Wegmans, there is no reason why that could not have been Aquia TC. Can you imagine having those restaurants and shops in Stafford. Dare to dream…

  • Danny Jasso

    Working in the real estate environment, my guess is that the company has bigger cash flow issues that are hindering them acquiring more working capital in any form, and since this is still undeveloped, it’s a heck of a lot cheaper to maintain rental fence than empty buildings (Ask the folks that own/manage Stafford Market Place about their empty space). While I understand the dilemma, as a consumer, it makes no sense to me that it cannot be pre-sold enough to make a profitable return within 1-3 years of opening. Further, having just seen what Woodbridge did with the area around Wegmans, there is no reason why that could not have been Aquia TC. Can you imagine having those restaurants and shops in Stafford. Dare to dream…

  • Tango Willie

    All of Stafford is tired of this. Not just Aquia Harbor. You kick out tenants, leave rubble, make promises, and don’t deliver. For over 6yrs. Action need to be taken. Now.

  • Michael

    You desperately need an editor.

  • patrick walsh

    Well, there you go. This is all Mr Milde’s doing, well intentioned as it was. Ramco-Gershenson previously let the property go the hell in a hand basket. The county, led my Mr. Milde came to their rescue. How anyone thought Ramco-Gershenson would act differently this time given their track record for that property is beyond my comprehension. Perhaps, the next time, more attention will be given to the applicant’s track record! It was a nice idea Mr. Milde. Unfortunately, Ramco-Gershenson wasn’t up to the task in the first place. Maybe the site will become something we can be happy with. Maybe Ramco-Gershenson needs to sell it.

  • Frank McKinney

    If the numbers don’t work for the company because of the economy, then I don’t see how government can ethically move against the developer. There is still a lot of empty commercial real estate on the market these days. This economy is not the best in which to get businesses up and running, especially if they have to sign commercial leases with personal guarantees. Why not let them build the residential units first and get them sold/leased to help with cash flow?

    One of the things that I’ve learned while scouring the northern Virginia area as a franchisee looking for suitable locations, is that what the municipal planners want and what developers and business owners want don’t always jive and the customer loses out. To maintain a certain “look”, customers have to deal with teaser street parking, which is always full, and park some distance away in a parking deck, and no drive-throughs, which hampers business in inclement weather or decreases business because the customers want that convenience and will drive a short distance away to get it.

  • Rick Griffis

    Go to any resturant in stafford and wait for 45min to an hour to be seated ,Olive Garden , Red Lobster , Cracker Barrel right off of the interstate will thrive and then some as well as add to the tax base for the county dont tell me something can not be put there that will not survive . More Commercial ,Retail , Resturants will help with taxes the citizens of Stafford Pay enough as it is .

  • Stafford Govt

    The developer recently stated that they intend to sell Aquia Towne center to a developer who only does office building development. I got news for Ramco. Just try it and see how the Board of Supervisors and Stafford EDA react to that. DOA. The problem has been magnified because of allowing developers to have too much leeway related to the when and what and that can’t ever happen. The Board will do the right thing and give the people what they want in Aquia Towne Center. Commercial development.

  • Frank

    I just wonder where members of government, both local and national, think they get the authority to dictate what people do on their private property. According to the Virginia constitution, all power is vested in, and subsequently derived from, the people. The people do not have the authority to tell someone what they can do on their own property, so they can not give that authority (that they do not have) to their elected servants in government. To do otherwise is exercising arbitrary authority, which our founders called tyranny. If you support government exercising arbitrary authority when it comes to dictating property rights, then you have no place to complain when it exercises that same arbitrary authority to impose healthcare requirements on you. Artibrary authority has no bounds.

  • Piper

    It is a disgrace that nothing has been done with that property. When I drive from 610 to the 495 beltway I am astonished at the amount of commercial construction along the freeway. There is obviously a need for more commercial/retail space along the I-95 corridor. There are a couple thousand residents of Aquia Harbour, including myself, who would just love having the convenience of a grocery store, retail shops and more restaurants just outside the gate. If I would let my property sit like that for 7 years, you can be the government, property owners association and my neighbors would be screaming and taking me to court. It’s about time someone steps up and does something about that wasteful eyesore. Thank you Paul Milde for looking out for us.

  • #newaquia

    Well, well, well, so what do we have here? An owner, property mgmt and citizens fighting over such obvious misunderstandings. We as citizens of the great area must voice our opinion, however it will not in any way effect those who own or manage the property which does not do the proper market research. It’s time to be a willing participant in your way of deciding what and who you will support. Since the developer and owner are not looking out for our best interest, we can always protest the proposal to develop on said land. So if they don’t want to build, do not support them or our officials whom will not enforce our county rules and or regulations. 6 years is a long time to have a pile of rubble. Had it been one of our neighbors, the county would be all over it. You as the consumer always have the last say in your own market place. So, if you feel that we’ve been jerked around, do not support the business, just remember that Business is just that Business. Fairfax county citizens always get what they want because they advocate for it and they support their way of life in their county. I can guarantee you now that the HOV lanes are being extended and PW County is being saturated with over growth, we will see prosperity in our county. I paid 500k for my house in Stafford and now I demand to see an equivalent atmosphere. Not just with a town center, but with Staffords overall appearance. If Aquia Harbor has such great distinction, why hasn’t any of that distinction put forth an effort in the last 6/7 years? There you have it, community involvement is key! Let us put our collective resources together to start the movement, otherwise it will be another 6 years of broken promises. The county doesn’t care, as long as the land taxes are paid.