Traffic and parking top concerns about Old Town Fairfax arts center plans

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Traffic and parking top concerns about Old Town Fairfax arts center plans

June 25, 2024

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The Ox

(A new performing arts center is proposed in Old Town Fairfax (via DMS Architects/City of Fairfax)

Community members recently got a closer look at the proposed performing arts center in Old Town Fairfax, including plans to mitigate traffic and increase parking.

Fairfax-based developer Ox Hill Companies held a virtual town hall on June 12 where it unveiled initial designs for a 2,410-seat concert hall that could accommodate up to 4,127 standing guests, along with a 170-room hotel, a 100-seat black box theater and a 26,000-square-foot convention center.

Dubbed The Ox Fairfax, the project is set near the heart of Old Town and spans three parcels, covering 3.5 acres at the intersections of Sager Avenue, Chain Bridge Road, and University Drive.

In addition to the performing arts spaces, hotel, and conference center, The Ox Fairfax will also house an art gallery, café, five restaurants, and 18,500 square feet of retail space, according to the developer. South Street would also be extended through the property to connect to Chain Bridge Road.

“The idea was to build something here that activates this location and provides the city what it’s looking for in the small area plan adopted over four years ago for this area,” a managing partner at Ox Hill Companies said during the town hall.

Many of the questions raised at the meeting, which attracted about 75 attendees, centered on parking, traffic, noise and the different functions of The Ox complex.

According to representatives, the performing arts hall would host various events, including musical performances, graduations, proms and fashion shows.

“For example, the main music venue and the black box theatre can host performances from local groups. City of Fairfax Band Association, Fairfax Ballet Company, City of Fairfax Theatre Company, even school performances can be held here. With the art gallery, local art organizations can host exhibitions,” Kathleen Moran, the interior designer for The Ox, said at the meeting. “This is so much more than just spaces for use; it’s about nursing creativity and inspiration; it’s about connecting people across diverse cultures and generations.”

During an April 30 meeting, the Fairfax City Council took a closer look at the project, raising concerns about community outreach, traffic mitigation, and parking. One council member even suggested hiring an outside consultant to review it.

To address those concerns, the developer increased its on-site parking from 527 spaces to over 600, including a 454-space, four-story underground garage and a 147-space interim parking lot on the western edge of the parcel. A senior executive at Ox Hill, Chris Smith, said the facility’s location also converges with several bus lines and is surrounded by multiple public parking lots.

(A parking study commissioned by the developer of The Ox, Fairfax showing parking supply versus demand- courtesy of Ox Hill Companies)

The developer recently conducted a traffic study to demonstrate there would be little impact on traffic, finding that most performances won’t overlap with peak rush hours.

“The performances take place, for the most part, in the evenings and most of that [rush hour] traffic…is subsiding…and the traffic after the performances will leave over a period of time,” Smith said.

In terms of noise, Ox Hill Vice President of Construction Joe Gonzalez says the venue is designed to block out noise from both the outside and the inside.

“The theater is designed to keep the noise inside the theater no matter what’s going on, whether it be a wedding, a graduation with lots of cheering, or a big rock concert of any sort,” he said.

Representatives say most existing buildings on the site will be demolished, but a vacant two-story bank at 4029 Chain Bridge Road will be preserved, and the new facility will be designed to blend with the surrounding architecture.

“What we’ve done is developed a somewhat Federalist design that provides a nod to the history of the area,” Gonzalez said. “The design of the building fits the neighborhood that has been built. Our goal was not just to drop some abstract design into this neighborhood that didn’t fit it, that didn’t blend into the neighborhood.”

The city council has not scheduled a public hearing on the proposal yet, but Smith says he hopes it will vote by September.

If approved, Gonzalez estimates the project will take about three years to complete.

“Once we get approval, and when we get those designs finished up, and we get the general contractors on board, and we can knock down the old building, clear the property, and get it prepped for construction, we’re looking at about a three-year timeline,” he said.