Business

OPTiMO opens 8,500 square foot facility in Manassas

072914-First-on-plOPTiMO Information Technology – a software and technology solutions provider – have opened a new 8,500 square foot facility in Manassas.

OPTiMO, which was founded in 2008, works within federal, defense and commercial markets, and decided to make the move to serve customers in the Washington, D.C. and Virginia area.

According to OPTiMO’s CEO Michael Miguelez, the company chose to open their new location on Battlefield Parkway in Manassas because of its accessibility and commuting time.

“We’re delighted to be in Prince William County. We established our first Virginia location in Vienna in 2012 to better serve our federal clients, but we rapidly outgrew that facility.  We wanted a location with easy access to Washington, DC that is supported by a solid internet infrastructure, with room to support our growth, while supporting a manageable commute for our engineering teams – Prince William County has it all,” said Miguelez.

20 engineers are currently working at the new facility.

Additionally Miguelez stated that the young professionals coming from nearby universities influenced their location decision.

“Prince William County was a clear winner in our site evaluation. We gain direct access to a talent pipeline of young professionals with both Northern Virginia Community College and the George Mason University Science & Technology Campus nearby,” said OPTiMO’s vice president of engineering Jarrod Norton. 

According to the Prince William County Economic Development department, the county’s IT sector is growing rapidly.

Sterling Women group provides business women with networking, opportunities

11539005_730080840447405_7482248177901374553_oThe Sterling Women of Prince William want to help you network and grow your business.

The group, which was founded in 2008 in Reston by Kristina Bouweiri – president of Reston Limousine – started as a way for business women to meet and has grown to include chapters all over Northern Virginia.

“When you’re a business owner, you’re running around and you’re running to all of these events and if you’re the kind of owner where your hands are in everything…your time limit is very small, on events you can attend. So for her, she wanted something where she could take a lunch once a month, have it close to her workplace, network with a bunch of women and then go back to work,” said Shateaa Holmes, head of the Sterling Women Prince William group and president of Excelsior Pay Group.

According to Holmes, the Sterling Women’s group filled a void in the community for business women.

“Kristina’s business is a huge business – it’s over $20 million in revenue, and she has more than 300 employees. And for a woman owned business to have that kind of success is rare. So she wanted to market to other women because you don’t really have that type of networking event. We have the fun and fluff [in the community], but we don’t have the get down to business – where you’re coming in and networking, and your purpose is to make connections and grow your business,” Holmes said.

The group got so popular, they began to expand and add locations.

“It’s turned into this huge networking event and late last year, [Bouweiri] started allowing people to open up different locations,” said Holmes.

Holmes started the Prince William chapter in November, which meets the third Wednesday of every month in Woodbridge. Women are able to see vendors, network with one another and hear from a speaker.

Holmes decided to open her own chapter of Sterling Women, following her own positive experience with the group.

“I went to my first Sterling Women event in February 2013. I started my business in July 2012, at the same time I was working a full time job…and from July to February, I had no success in my business. I was about to close my business. Someone told me about Sterling Women, and told me I needed to go…and after all of the connections I had made…there was no way I could close my business. And I want to pass that on to other people…You’ve got a room full of women, and you’re starting out, or you’re on the spectrum where you’ve got a multi-million dollar business, and you can walk up to any of these women, and connect with them…and learn from them. I wanted to bring that to Prince William County, because I didn’t see anything like that in the county,” said Holmes.

By March 2014, Holmes was able to quit her full time job to focus on her business and currently has 7 employees.

While the group is targeted towards women, Holmes stated that men are welcome to join.

Retirees start small business, make big changes at Westminster

A small business venture at the Westminster at Lake Ridge retirement community has helped to provide its residents with equipment and recreational facilities.

Eethel Johnson – a 93-year old Westminster resident – and some other residents at the facility came up with the idea to open up a thrift store named Encore on the premises in 2001.

“We thought it might be fun to start a thrift shop, so we were allotted some space in the building. And another lady and myself heard that a shop was closing in Occoquan, so we went there and bought shelving, and the clothes racks and their cash register. And with that we were in business,” said Johnson.

From the very beginning the store has been a big success.

“Even that first year, we made $10,000 – which shocked us. Because we thought it was going to take years to get that much money. But business has grown a little bit every year, and now there is a staff of about 20 volunteers,” Johnson commented.

According to Johnson, they mainly sell furniture and women’s clothing. The store has made almost $350,000 to date.

With the money raised from Encore, Johnson and her cohorts have been able to contribute to Westminster and purchase things the living community needs.

“Every cent goes back into the [Westminster] community. We have an account from which we draw, and most of the money goes to the health center, but we do buy things for independent living too,” said Johnson.

One of the newest purchases the store has been able to make for Westminster is a new outdoor gazebo area.

“We had another gazebo previously, and it was about to fall down. So we thought it would be a good thing to spend some money on, and we have a beautiful new gazebo,” said Johnson.

Additionally, they have purchased televisions, lifts for disabled residents, treadmills and other amenities that have benefited the community and its residents.

All residents in Westminster, as well as outside community residents are open to visit the shop, which is open 8 hours a week.

BPOL in Prince William – what is it and why does it matter?

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Prince William County businesses are still paying toward the fund for the War of 1812.

The Business, Professional and Occupational License (BPOL) tax was started in the United States for that purpose several centuries ago, and has persisted today in the county.

Who pays the BPOL tax?

The BPOL tax is required of all businesses in the county above a minimum threshold, and varies by industry. The tax is calculated based on a business’ gross (total) receipts.

Over the years, people in government and the business community have lobbied for the elimination of the tax, as well as raising the threshold.

“When I first came into office 12 years ago, the county had a policy that said that BPOL taxes would be issued to all businesses with a Prince William County business license…except for those businesses that have less than $100,000 gross receipts,” said Coles Supervisor Marty Nohe.

According to Nohe, the BPOL tax makes it harder for small business startups.

“It’s important to understand that the BPOL tax is a tax on the business’ total receipts – not its profits…I have always struggled with the concept that we tax the revenues and sales of small businesses – very small businesses – even when that company may not make a profit, or may be a startup that hasn’t had the opportunity to make a startup yet… I think that BPOL is a fundamentally unfair tax,” said Nohe.

While the threshold was originally $100,000 of gross receipts, over the years it rose to $200,000, then $250,000 and this year the county board of supervisors raised the threshold to $300,000.

“I think that there’s a recognition now that if we want to encourage small business growth in the county, we’re not going to accomplish that by doing the kind of recruitment efforts we do…small businesses tend to respond to market forces. Stores open where the customers are…but one way we can encourage that business growth is to stop the disincentives against startups that exist, with the BPOL tax,” said Nohe.

Revenue generated from the BPOL tax makes up about 3% – or $25 million – of the county’s annual budget.

What does raising the threshold/eliminating the tax do?

In addition to raising the threshold to $300,000 this year – which means only  county businesses that make more than that amount each year (before expenses) will pay the tax – the board also agreed to raise the threshold even higher in the coming years.

Nohe stated that as part of the board’s 5-year budget plan, the BPOL threshold will rise an additional $50,000 a year until 2022 – when the threshold will become $500,000.

According to Brendon Shaw, a spokesperson for the Prince William Chamber of Commerce – one of the organizations in opposition to the tax – increasing the threshold will give more than 1,000 area businesses a tax savings of $850,000.

Shaw also stated that while raising a threshold is a step in the right direction, the Chamber would ultimately like the BPOL tax eliminated.

This was done in Stafford County in 2010, although they still do charge business and merchant related taxes.

“[The] Chamber is in support of continuing to increase the threshold and hopefully will ultimately see it phased out as Stafford County has done.  The trick is to do so without raising an additional tax on business to fill the hole,” said Shaw.

As an alternative, Shaw also stated that changing the structure from taxing gross receipts to net receipts (profit) would be something that the county Chamber of Commerce would support.

Nohe stated that the amount the county would “miss” from the BPOL tax revenue would not be significant, but that the board of supervisors would have to closely evaluate before making a decision on eliminating the BPOL tax.

“The amount of revenue that the county will forgo through that decision – it’s not nothing – but it’s a relatively small amount, in the context of our own budget. But it will mean that over 50% of the businesses operating in the county will no longer pay this tax and we won’t be burdening our very small businesses,” Nohe commented.

New Sheetz location coming to Woodbridge

A new Sheetz gas station is coming to Woodbridge on 2540 Caton Hill Road.

The Prince William county board approved the application for the Sheetz location at their May 12 meeting.

According to County Planning Office employee Rebecca Horner, the 12,210 square foot site will include fueling stations and food access.

“They’re proposing 12 fueling stations with double-sided pump islands. And it will have a quick service food [station] located in it, like [Sheetz] typically do,” said Horner.

The Sheetz will be in a prime location, adjacent to the new Telegraph Road Commuter Lot that was completed in 2014. It will also be close to the Horner Road Commuter Lot – the largest commuter lot in Virginia.

Additionally, it will be just a short distance from a Wawa – one of it’s direct competitors – which is located on the corner of Caton Hill Road and Minnieville Road.

This comes at a time of expansion for the company in the area, as Sheetz locations are being opened in Manassas on Sudley Manor Drive and Ashton Avenue and in Stafford on Garrisonville Road and Furnace Road.

The site had been zoned for this type of development since 1995, said Horner.
“It had reserved the potential for a motor vehicle fuel station with an associated quick service food [addition] in the original rezoning…the proffer specifically stated that [it] would be an allowed use,” Horner commented.

As part of the plan approved by the board, the new Sheetz will have to pay $75 per acre on the 2.04 acre lot, towards water quality monitoring, stream restoration and drainage improvements conducted by the county. They will also pay $0.61 per square foot for fire and rescue services.

There is no set date for the Sheetz location to be built as of yet.

Stafford #1 for job growth in Virginia

Stafford County is now number one for job growth in Virginia.

Last week, at the 24th Annual Business Appreciation Reception held by Stafford’s economic development department, they made the announcement about the county’s job growth numbers.

“Today is a great day for business in Stafford. None of these achievements were random. We deliberately set out to attract businesses that our citizens wanted and that would bring jobs home to the county. We created and followed plans for economic development and those efforts have paid off with more than 2,400 businesses calling Stafford home and more than 40,000 jobs located in the county,” said Chairman of the Board of Supervisors Gary Snellings in a release.

Over the past six years, Stafford has had around a 2.6%increase in job growth annually.

Additionally, Stafford was ranked third in the state for overall business growth. There are currently more than 2,400 businesses in the county, according to a release.

“We are delighted with Stafford’s business success in the last few years but there is more work to be done. We will continue our push to attract and retain quality commercial business to Stafford County,” said Chairman of the Stafford County Economic Development Authority Joel Griffin, in a release.

New businesses coming to Potomac Mills

Front Sign

In the coming months, expect to see some new retailers and restaurants moving in to Potomac Mills.

According to Rocell Viniard, the area director of marketing and business Development for Potomac Mills, the new businesses are meant to bring some excitement to the mall.

“At Simon, we’re really trying to continue to push and expand our offerings at Potomac Mills by bringing in high profile brands and restaurant names, and really continue to refresh Potomac Mills. We are trying to enhance the overall experience for our guests – offering the best selection of brands and restaurants,” said Viniard.

There will be three new retailers, and two new restaurants.

A North Face outlet – the only one in the area, according to Viniard – will open in November 2015. Francesca’s will be opening in August 2015, and Rue21 will be opening in October 2015.

Within the exterior area of the mall, a Matchbox Pizza Bistro will be coming in, and a Boston Market will make its appearance the food court. There is no set timeline for the opening of these eateries as of yet.

Esguerra heads Novant Health Foundation Prince William

Abigail Esguerra is the new executive director of the Novant Health Foundation at the Prince William Medical Center.

She replaces Ken Collins, who retired in December 2014.

Esguerra comes to Prince William Medical Center from Paul VI Catholic High School in Fairfax County. While there, she was director of advancement and oversaw fundraising and communications efforts.

This new position will allow her to give back to the community, as the foundation supports many local health initiatives in the community and Manassas City Public Schools.

“I come from a long line of health professionals and educators,” said Esguerra, who originally attended college to become a family counselor.

“I found that I’m not made of the same tough stuff actual medical professionals,” she added. “A career in philanthropy is my way of doing good in this world.”

The Novant Health Foundation Prince William Medical Center handles all of the center’s philanthropic and investment activities.

Five-star hotel, resort and spa may be coming to Potomac Shores

Potoamc shores, dumfries, virginia

Residents in the Potomac Shores development may soon see a multi-million dollar spa and resort.

According to Potomac Supervisor Maureen Caddigan, there has been talk of being a resort and spa within the development, to help boost economic development in the area.

“That is our future – this is what our community is about. We want it to be first class,” said Caddigan.

Caddigan stated that the goal was to have a five-star hotel on the water, and a spa.

In order to move the project forward, there will need to be 50 more houses built in the development, and a hotel will need to sign a contract to build on the site, said Caddigan.

“We’ve been pushing this. The community really needs it,” said Caddigan.

Serious Games Institute expanding, Mason Enterprise Center closing

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It’s time to find new office space.

The Mason Enterprise Center, a business incubator at the Science and Technology Campus of George Mason University, will close June 30. In its place will be an expanded Virginia Serious Games Institute, which is currently located in the campus’ business incubator.

In addition to the gaming institute, the center housed eight clients, known as residents, and all have relocated to new office spaces. The center’s virtual clients – those who claim the center’s street address as their own and use the center’s conference room space for up to eight hours per month – have been offered space at other Mason Enterprise Centers in Leesburg, Warrenton, Springfield, and Fairfax.

“We’re working with our partner, George Mason University, to define what the next step is for the Mason Enterprise Center in Manassas or Prince William County,” said center director Renne Younes.

It’s not yet clear where, or if, the center will relocate in the region. Manassas Economic Development Director Patrick Small says such a business incubator would benefit Downtown Manassas, but would not say if he or anyone from the city is in talks with the university to relocate the center to the city.

The closing campus business incubator is located inside Innovation Park, a developing center for bio science and technology firms. In the future, another incubator catering to these types of firms could pop up.

“You can see the future opportunities when you see these kinds of incubators mature.  Firms like life sciences and serious online games incubate and then move out into their own space.  So you can really see how the industries start to prosper,” said Prince William County Economic Development spokeswoman Ginny Person.

Once companies graduate from the incubator, the hope is they acquire office or lab space in Innovation Park and spur economic development.   However, there are no plans currently in the works to create a third incubator at Innovation Park, added Person.

A Mason Enterprise Center once located in Woodbridge closed in 2013. Some of the most successful centers, such as the university’s business incubator in downtown Leesburg, are located in walkable neighborhoods, added Younes.

The Serious Game Institute, known as SGI, recently released new training simulators for those work in the healthcare and firefighting fields. 

George Mason University last month changed the name of its campus outside Manassas from “Prince William Campus” to “Science and Technology Campus of George Mason University.”

Virginia Chamber of Commerce economic forecast mixed

Barry DuVal, Virginia, business

The future of Virginia’s economy looks much different from its recent past.

Virginia, a state traditionally reliant on government jobs, is seeing fewer of them due to spending cutbacks and sequestration. That prompted Virginia Chamber of Commerce President Barry Duval to visit Manassas on May 20, where he provided business owners an outline of what to expect as the economy improves.

What’s holding the state’s economy back? Projected slow job growth and competition from other, comparable southern states, said Duval, the former Mayor of Newport News and a self-proclaimed “recovering public official.” Duval said Virginia’s entrepreneurial spirit, access to international markets through an airport like Dulles International, and an educated workforce would make the state competitive in the coming years.

“You will not find a region in the world growing and prospering without an institution of higher education,” Duval told a crowd gathered for a Prince William Chamber of Commerce event held at the Hylton Performing Arts Center.

He called George Mason University – the agency that operates the Hylton – key to the success of the region. He also said the partnership of the university, Prince William County, Manassas City, and the private organizations that utilize the Hylton, a shining example of what success looks like the new economy.

Pro-business policies that have taken hold in the state continue to attract small shop owners to the area, he said.

“You don’t have to go too far north of the Potomac River to find businesses in states suffering from ‘non pro-business’ policies,” said Duval.

The Federal Government can help spur growth in Virginia by creating a new energy policy, promoting free trade, and improving the national transportation infrastructure, said Duval.

Manassas bakery offers options for those with food allergies

The Lemonade Bakery creates treats that are peanut, nut and egg-free.
They are hoping to open a storefront location in Manassas.
The bakery does a lot of custom orders for schools and daycare centers.
Their most popular item are their glazed sugar cookies.

The Lemonade Bakery, a home-based Manassas bakery – owned by Kelly Stroh – gives individuals with food allergies an opportunity to enjoy yummy treats.

“My third son has severe allergies…and I had to learn to bake for him. And after working on some of that, I realized that I enjoyed baking and it was something I could do with four small children,” said Stroh.

Stroh started off making cookies and cakes in her own kitchen, and the business has grown over the years.

According to Stroh, all of her products are peanut, nut and egg-free, but they can also accommodate other food allergies.

“We do custom orders primarily. We do orders for individuals – a dozen cupcakes or a cake – all the way up to schools, where we do over 1,000 cookies at a time. We do a lot of [orders for] local schools and daycares centers, a lot of them that have a nut free policy…we’re one of the few [commercial bakeries] that are peanut and nut free,” Stroh said.

The bakery’s most popular item are their glazed sugar cookies, which can be made in any shape and decorated.

Right now The Lemonade Bakery offers cakes, cupcakes and cookies, but they’re hoping to add donuts and cinnamon rolls to their lineup.

In the next few months, Stroh and her family plan to move forward with finding a storefront in the Manassas area.

They attempted to fund the expansion through a Kickstarter campaign, which was not successful, but they were able to identify investors to help make the store a reality.

“We didn’t meet our goal – but we got pretty close…what we’re doing now is rounding up a team of private investors for us,” said Stroh.

For Stroh, the business signifies a way to deal with a difficult situation in a positive way.

“A big part of why I wanted to do this was to show my kids that everybody has their challenges, and it’s what you do with them. So you have your lemons – which are your food allergies – and we’re going to make lemonade by making something we enjoy, but it helps others also,” stated Stroh.

Food distributor to bring facility, 100 jobs to Prince William

The food distribution industry is expanding in Prince William, as Reinhart Foodservice – the 5th largest food distributor in the United States – announced they would build a distribution hub in the county.

According to a release from the Prince William County Economic Development Department, Reinhart will be investing in a facility in the county, and bringing in 100 new jobs.

Currently the company has more than 65,000 customers, 16,000 employees and $23 billion in annual sales.

“We are delighted to welcome Reinhart, our newest addition of Reyes Holdings businesses to Prince William County. Just one year ago we revised our targeted industry sectors to attract additional ‘growth industries’ to the County.  Having an industry leader, like Reinhart join our growing food services distribution companies reaffirms this decision,” said board of supervisors Chairman At-Large Corey Stewart in a release.

Reinhart will be joining another business – the Martin Brower Company – that has a facility in Manassas.

James Reyes, chairman of Reyes Holdings, stated that the proximity to major roadways and the customer base are major reasons why Prince William could see continued business growth.

“Our new location, which is situated just off of Interstate 66 offers immediate access to rail, allows us to optimize delivery times and better serve our core customers based in the Greater Washington, DC metropolitan area and beyond,” said Reyes.

 

Why is Prince William using an economic development plan from 1993?

According to the Prince William County Planning Director Chris Price, the economic development piece of the county’s comprehensive plan is a little out of date.

And by a little out of date – we mean that the document was created back in 1993. While little in the document has changed since then, there’s been a lot of change in the county.

“[The comprehensive plan] was substantially written in 1993 and it’s been updated minorly a couple of times. But it has such gems in it as attracting a computer museum…and maybe that made sense at one time…but I have no ability to influence that. That’s really where the economic development chapter of the comprehensive plan should be – can we do the development review process to facilitate economic development,” said Price.

According to Price, the comprehensive plan is a major tool that the Planning Commission uses when looking at permits and plans in the county – including land use in schools, transportation, housing and community design.

“When you look at a community, especially like Prince William County, with almost any discussion you have with folks about planning…economic development and transportation and schools – those are the three really big issues that folks talk about. And economic development almost always rises to the top of that list because they [become] ways to address the other two issues,” Price commented.

What’s missing from the plan

And while there’s areas of the comprehensive plan that are outdated, Price said that there are crucial pieces of the economic development puzzle that makes up Prince William County that are not there at all – including small business.

“Small business has virtually no mention in the comprehensive plan, in the economic development chapter right now – and that needs to change. We have targeted industries we want to bring in, but by and large, economies are much more successful when you’re growing your current economic base…I think a small business section in the [revised] chapter is going to be important,” Price said.

In addition to small business, one area not addressed in the economic development chapter of the comprehensive plan is agricultural related business and tourism.

“We do almost nothing in our policies and our vision to address agri-business, so the rural area has kind of become largely a residential holding place…you have a lot of counties like Loudoun that are really, really aggressive in their agri-business and agri-tourism and they treat it like an economic development sector – we are not,” said Price.

What comes next for the county

According to Price, the county has several opportunities to grow economic development and modify the Planning Commission’s plan, to better reflect the needs of the community.

One thing that Price mentioned was a joint land-use study conducted by the county, in partnership with the Quantico Marine Corps. Base.

“The base is a very significant economic driver in the county, but we’re not taking advantage of it…knowing know what we know about the bases’ existing and future plans on land use…we should be redesigning a land use and infrastructure plan around the Marine Corps. Base – taking strategic advantage of what we know they’re going to be doing,” said Price.

Mixed use land development is one area that Price felt needs to be addressed, given it’s inability to really take off in the county up to this point.

“We could bring mixed use districts all day long, every day, 365 days of the year, if we’re willing to allow residential to be the driver and hope for offices and commercial to come in the future. And that’s a challenge for us. Because we always hear from our advocates that, ‘Let me build the residential. And then at some point in the future, the market will pick up’…people buy into these communities that never come,” said Price.

The Planning Commission will be holding public hearings, so that residents can weigh in on what they feel the future holds and what they want to see in terms of economic development in Prince William County.

Price said that the plan is meant to serve as a 20-year vision for the county.

 

Wood, Bailey seek support of business community leading up to primary election

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The primary candidates for the Potomac district supervisor seat – Derrick Wood and Andrea Bailey – spoke to the business community at the Prince William Chamber of Commerce headquarters this morning.

Wood is currently a councilman for the town of Dumfries. The incumbent for the Potomac district seat is Supervisor Maureen Caddigan.

Bailey and Wood are both small business owners in the county. Wood runs a BBQ catering company, and Bailey runs an event planning business.

When speaking to the group, they shared their thoughts on how to improve the business climate in Prince William County.

“I own a company called Affairs Remembered…I’m a small business owner – I do event planning. And I left corporate America to do so…I’ve been in and out of Prince William County since 1976. I’ve studied Prince William County – I know [the county]…I understand that Prince William County is one of the most up and coming world-class communities in this country,” said Bailey.

Wood stated that during his time as councilman, he has voted to reduce BPOL (Business, Professional and Occupational Licensure) tax, and property taxes in Dumfries.

“I’m always thinking from the business perspective. How can the business community make more money? Because as a small business owner, I want to know how we can increase our profits…not so much to have so much regulation. Because I think regulation is the key to a dying society…but just to be able to put some guidance in place, but not make it so hard for business owners,” said Wood.

In addition to their thoughts on business, both candidates shared information about their priorities for the community, including transportation and education.

“We need to build a stronger relationship with the PRTC [Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission] organization – we need to build a stronger relationship with the VRE [Virginia Railway Express],” said Bailey.

“I feel like widening the roads is like loosening the belt on the obesity problem…all you’re going to do is put more cars on the road…I believe we’ve got to study ways on how to bring jobs down here, and bring in pedestrian walking communities and get people out of their cars and off the road,” Wood commented.

During a question and answer session, Wood and Bailey fielded questions from the audience, including a question on the viability of the county board’s revenue sharing agreement as the funding source for the county’s school system.

“I think there needs to be some reform. It’s an outdated system. We can come together to find a better solution. We can bring together administrators and teachers and figure out what’s a better, feasible solution than this revenue sharing program,” Wood stated.

“I think part of [the] solution is sitting down and understanding what the issues are, in terms of managing the budget…I think there is an opportunity for us to build relationships across the county and the school board, to make sure that we are retaining the resources within the county that we want to retain, in terms of teachers and resources in terms of our students,” Bailey said.

They will meet on Thursday night in Dumfries for a candidate debate. The vote for the primary is on June 9.

Apple Federal Credit Union celebrates 1 year in Gainesville

Apple Federal Credit Union
Apple Federal Credit Union
Apple Federal Credit Union
Apple Federal Credit Union

The Apple Federal Credit Union branch in Gainesville turned one-year-old this week.

A business after hours event held on Tuesday, May 12, attracted members of the Prince William Chamber of Commerce lined up for networking. They also dined on fresh-off-the-bone barbeque catered by “The Bone” in Downtown Manassas.

The branch on McGraws Corner Drive in Gainesville is one of 23 branches in the company. It is one of the three Apple Federal banking centers in Prince William County. Others branches in Prince William are in Woodbridge and just outside Manassas.

Residents of Prince William and Fairfax counties may join the credit union, said Bill White, the bank’s regional vice president.

An Apple Federal Credit Union branch is soon to open in North Stafford, at Stafford Marketplace next to Firehouse Subs. Stafford residents cannot simply sign up to join the credit union as Prince William or Fairfax may, added White, due to banking rules.

Long-time employee named manager at Prospero’s

Gary Belt, owner of Prospero’s Books in historic downtown Manassas, Va., has announced Erika Walser is the new sales manager of the independent bookstore. Walser takes over for long-time sales manager Bob Chase, who retired May 13. 

Walser is a 2009 graduate of Osbourn High School and earned an associate’s degree from Northern Virginia Community College in 2010. She has worked alongside Chase at Prospero’s for nine years.

“Bob hired me at age 15,” said Walser. He taught me everything I know about books and much, much more. He has watched me grow up, go off to college at Virginia Tech, get married and become a mom. He has been much more than a boss, he is a great friend.” 

Prospero’s sells, trades and consigns books in the 104-year-old Hibbs & Giddings building at the corner of Center and West Streets. The currentinventory of about 85,000 volumes includes general hardback and paperback fiction and non-fiction, with extensive collections of military history, especially the American Civil War. On-line book listings through AbeBooks make it easy for customers to purchase and send gifts of any book in the inventory anywhere in the world. Prospero’s has access to rare, collectible and out-of-print books, and offers a growing inventory of antique maps and prints.

“Being a specialty book shop in such an old and beautiful building, we have become a destination store for a lot of people,” explained Walser. “We have regulars who come in every week, and out-of-towners who shop whenever they’re visiting.” 

Belt, who has owned the building since 2003, recently freshened the interior and exterior of the century-old building with the approval of the city’s architectural review board. “No one loves this building more than Gary does,” said Walser. “He’s always saying he can’t imagine anything but a bookstore being here.”

Prospero’s is named after the character in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, a duke who valued his books more than his dukedom. The shop’s beloved and creatively aging cat, Pringles, passed away last year. “Sometimes I think the Ghost of Pringles Past is following me around the store when no one else is around,” said Walser.

Bob Chase has been a well-known and vocal advocate for “shop local” campaigns. Walser plans to continue that advocacy, as well as support for local authors with book signings that complement Historic Manassas Inc. events, such as the upcoming First Friday on June 5 and the Railway Festival on June 6. “I’m currently filling all our summer weekends with book signings. Any interested parties should give me a buzz!” invited Walser. 

Walser will represent Prospero’s at meetings of the Washington Antiquarian Booksellers Association (WABA) and the Old Town Business Association (OTBA).

“We also belong to the exclusive, coveted, and absolutely non-official guild of independent bookstores,” she added. “Sadly, the last one loses members every year. We’re competing with smartphones, tablets and short attention spans.”

Virginia Living Magazine’s 2015 “Best of” Readers Poll recently named Prospero’s Books the Best Locally Owned Bookstore in Northern Virginia.

Bob Chase attended his last OTBA meeting May 13 at City Tavern in Manassas. He plans to travel and take advantage of a free schedule to pursue other projects and activities. His favorite quote is from Mark Twain: “The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.”

Why you should expect new apartments, food trucks at The Town Center at Aquia

Aquia Towne Center
Aquia Towne Center
Aquia Towne Center
Aquia Towne Center
Aquia Towne Center

Part 2 Read part one.

Aquia Towne Center may finally be rescued from the eyesore it has become. North Stafford residents have been waiting for years for Ramco-Gershenson Properties Trust to fulfill its promise to rebuild it. Ambitious plans for a mixed-use town center were put on hold not long after the recession hit in 2008. Since then, the center has consisted of old one-level buildings, vast spaces of asphalt, gravel and dirt, and one modern five-story office building.

Ramco is the company that owns most of the property, which is now known as The Town Center at Aquia. At this time, Ramco is keeping the office building, which also requires about 400 parking spaces. But much of the rest of the property may be going to two companies that plan to revitalize the dilapidated shopping center. If all goes well, the new town center will provide some desired retail establishments, host brand new apartments and improve property values for nearby subdivisions.

APARTMENTS

The Franklin Johnston Group of Virginia Beach has purchased the southeastern portion of the shopping center where it plans to build apartments. 

Stafford County Supervisor Jack Cavalier (I-Griffis-Widewater) said the residential component is likely to happen before the commercial component. Jeff Harvey, director of planning and zoning for the county, agreed and told Potomac Local News that the developer plans to break ground in two weeks.

“The proposed development includes 256 apartment units in eight multi-story buildings [that] include an in-ground pool with a community center,” said Harvey.  

The residential portion of the development is expected to take more than a year to complete.

FOOD TRUCKS

“I just built relations with the developer to allow food trucks in [The Town Center at Aquia],” declared Steven Cook of Steve-O’s BBQ, Burgers & Bacon, a mobile restaurant. Cook made the surprise announcement online May 13. “I will be coordinating a rotating schedule of trucks… during construction,” the post said.

Speaking to Cook via instant messaging, he shared that he has an agreement with Issac Pretter of Mosaic Realty Partners of Maryland to station food trucks in the town center at least until construction is complete. Mosaic plans to redevelop a large portion of the shopping center for commercial use.

TAXES

The Stafford Board of Supervisors unanimously approved $6.25 million in tax breaks to Mosaic Realty Partners, according to county documents. The tax breaks are an effort to get The Town Center at Aquia project out from under the rubble. 

“The Town Center at Aquia… has long been a key commercial gateway to the county,” stated the supervisors’ resolution for the tax break. “The board believes that an active and vibrant major commercial gateway located adjacent to Interstate 95, Route 1 and Garrisonville Road is in the best interest of the citizens of the county and that attractive mixed-use properties significantly increase the potential of attracting much-desired high-end retail to the county.”

It goes on to say the county worked hard to attract an investor for the property and that the board determined that incentives were necessary for the town center to be revitalized.

EASEMENT REQUIREMENT

The most anticipated component expressed by nearby residents is the possibility of a grocery store in the shopping center. 

Eron Sodie of Mosaic wouldn’t say which grocery store the company plans on bringing into the site, but he gave a few hints and let it slip that the grocery chain was based in North Carolina. Residents of Aquia Harbour, the neighborhood located behind the town center, have come up with a number of possibilities, but most seem to think Sodie was referring to Harris Teeter. 

But there’s a small hiccup. According to Cavalier, the grocery store that is expected to come into the center requires an easement that it will use to create a second entrance on Washington Drive, which is the road that leads into Aquia Harbour from Jefferson Davis Highway. Cavalier said the second entrance would sit approximately 400 feet outside of the Harbour’s front gate. Such a transaction would have to be made between Aquia Harbour and Mosaic since the Harbour owns that portion of the road. 

Supervisor Paul Milde III (R-Aquia) said the second entrance being proposed is supposed to be only for traffic in and out of Aquia Harbour.

Sodie said a traffic study will be done. He added that delivery trucks will not be allowed to use Washington Drive, though it’s unclear how that promise would be enforced.

According to site plans, the new grocery store would be built where the movie theater is currently located, at the rear of the shopping center. As for the businesses at the front of the shopping center, they are independently owned, according to officials. 

 

Why the tourism industry wants Prince William hotel rates to go up

The cost for a government employee booking a hotel in Prince William County may be changing, as organizations fight to raise the rates.

When a government employee travels, they book a room using a “per diem” rate – a rate set by the General Services Administration (GSA), that is different from the rate any other traveler would pay.

Using a formula, the GSA looks at these rates each year, and despite Prince William County’s proximity to Washington, D.C. the current per diem rate for the county is far lower than other localities.

According to the GSA, the per diem rate in Washington D.C. is $177 off peak – $229 per night during peak occupancy. Fairfax also has the same rate. But for Prince William, the rate is only $85 a night.

“There’s a huge disparity between the per diem rates that are charged in Fairfax, and those that get charged in Prince William and Loudoun…huge disparities between where the GSA determines [whether] they’re ‘in’ [Washington] D.C. or not. And there’s not much rhyme or reason to that,” said Eric Terry, president of the Virginia Hospitality & Travel Association.

Terry stated that the process for determining these rates is very arbitrary, and sometimes doesn’t make sense.

“I think it’s just arbitrary decisions that got made by the GSA. To tell you how arbitrary it is – one side of Dulles Airport, on the side towards Fairfax, you’ll pay $177 for a room. If you go to the other side, you’ll pay $96,” Terry said.

What does a lower rate mean?

While a person may think that a lower cost for booking a room would bring more government travelers to the area – which would in turn be beneficial to the county – that isn’t actually the case.

Terry said that while it’s technically cheaper for the government to book rooms in the county, because the rate is lower, the county gets a much smaller percentage of profit – as compared to localities like Fairfax.

“A portion of the [transient occupancy taxes] go to roads and other things in the county, so if you start with a lower rate, and the [taxes collected] are a lower part of the revenue – it’s a percentage tax, rather than a hard dollar number – yes it does in fact effect the counties,” Terry commented.

What is the impact?

The impact of the lower per diem rates is felt by the county, in relation to their tourism growth efforts according to Discover Prince William & Manassas President Ann Marie Maher,

“The per diem issue has been one that has been challenging for Prince William County in terms of securing government business here,” said Maher.

Maher also stated that Prince William is being clumped together with localities that are further south – including Spotsylvania and Stafford counties.

Jennifer Decker, a general manager at the Manassas Hampton Inn, expressed her frustration with the county’s lower per diem rates, and how it effects their own bottom line.

“Since Prince William County is situated just outside of DC, it is predominantly a government market and it is definitely by far our largest market for our hotel.  There are many large local government contracting companies, state government employees, state universities, etc that are requesting the government per diem rate so it reaches far beyond just the federal government,” stated Decker. “The per diem rate being as low as it is definitely affects our business and makes it hard to continue to grow year after year when the per diem rate continues to decline.  It affects our bottom line which in turn affects our decision to hire verse lay off employees and that affects the local economy.  It’s almost like a snowball effect for the county… It is very frustrating knowing that you can drive just 10 minutes away and the per diem rate increases by $100.00 or more especially when we provide the same services as they do.”

What will it take to change the rate?

Maher said that the county is currently fighting to get the per diem raised, and they are working with the county’s lobbyist – Jon Stirrup – to explain to the GSA why the rate needs to be adjusted during their next rate assessment period.

“The only way that our rate can be changed, according to the GSA is if a government planner basically sends a request to the GSA, letting them know that they can’t find rooms in Prince William County. That they’re running into trouble getting their needs met in a particular area…when a government planner calls – let’s say they call Quantico – and they say ‘hey we’d like to book’, [the hotel] can say ‘sorry we don’t have any rooms for the per diem rate’. Even though they have rooms – they don’t want to sell them at that rate because they know they can get a higher rate from people on the street,” said Maher.

Terry anticipates that in the next year the rates in the county will increase a bit, but they will not catch up with the rates of surrounding localities like Fairfax.

Aquia Towne Center to finally be redeveloped

Aquia Towne Center
Aquia Towne Center
Aquia Towne Center
Aquia Towne Center
Aquia Towne Center
Aquia Towne Center
Aquia Towne Center
Aquia Towne Center
Aquia Towne Center

Purchase of Rite Aid, Regal Cinema buildings at Aquia Towne Center expected to close this month

Part 1

For the better part of a decade Aquia Towne Center has been in limbo. Older businesses sat scattered among rubble and pavement while one modern office building towered above them like a beacon, which in a way actually made the preceding structures appear even more stale. It would be an immense understatement to say that residents of North Stafford and tenants of the town center have been annoyed at the lack of progress by Ramco-Gershenson Properties Trust, a Michigan company that owns most of the property. Some citizens of Aquia Harbour, the subdivision that sits directly behind the shopping center, have been downright angry about the matter. 

The Stafford County Board of Supervisors changed the zoning to mixed-use years ago so Ramco could build a totally new town center with offices, retail stores and residential apartments. Many tenants of Aquia Towne Center were told to vacate, and most of the strip mall type of buildings were demolished in preparation for the rebuild. 

Then the recession hit in 2008. It hit particularly hard in Michigan and other parts of the Midwest where Ramco does much of its business. 

A lone five-story office building was erected in 2007. The demolition of the strip buildings (with the exception of Rite Aid’s location) continued through 2008. Then construction appeared to stop. 

Occasionally, a construction vehicle would be seen pushing some dirt along an empty plat of land while rumors of a new movie theater or some other improvement would make its way around the community only for nothing to come of it.

Now, after years of rumors, hopes and let-downs, plans to revitalize Aquia Towne Center, renamed The Town Center at Aquia, may actually go through. 

Two separate companies have been in negotiations to purchase the available property since last year. One company reportedly just closed on a site and plans on building apartments within the boundaries of the shopping center. (More on that in Part 2.) While another company has plans to rebuild the commercial section.  Keep Reading…

Barbershop opens its doors in Downtown Manassas

Cutrate Barbershop opened this past Saturday.
Cutrate Barbershop made a point to make their location comfortable for its customers.
They offer hair services for men and women.
They are one of several barbershops in Downtown Manassas.
The corner location once served as a post office.

Cutrate Barbershop had its grand opening last weekend in Downtown Manassas.

The unisex shop is located on the corner on Center Street across from Okra’s, in the old Post Office building.

“You can’t beat a corner shop. No matter where you go, the best location is always the corner shop – because it’s always a bigger shop, and you’ve got everything sitting right there and everyone can see you,” said Shaun Lewis, manager at the shop.

According to Lewis, a lot of time and investment was put into the shop in order to make it comfortable for customers.

“We were going for that old-school [feel]. You know you’re going to come in, and if you ask for a shave, you know you’re going to get the lather, the hot towel – the whole nine yards…we want everyone that walks into the shop to feel comfortable,” said Lewis.

Lewis said that having the barbershop in the downtown area of Manassas has already proven to be good for business.

“We’ve been getting a lot of phone calls lately from people that have gone over to like Okra’s at night, when we were closed, and [asked for] our store hours, because they like the spot,” Lewis commented.

The shop has both barbers and stylists who can work on men and women’s hair.

The standard hair cut pricing ranges from $18 to $25, and $20 for a shave. There is also coloring service available.

The store will soon have a full service shoeshine as well.

“A good atmosphere, a good clientele and a good haircut can change anybody’s day,” said Lewis.

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