Gerald Halpin’s vision for Tysons transformed with the times

Gerald Halpinwho has died at the age of 94, hadn’t been through Tysons much in recent years as high-density mixed-use development began to replace the office parks he had built there a half century earlier.

But his impact can be seen in every Silver Line Metro car and tower crane as Tysons slowly morphs into a transit-oriented suburban center, said Mark Lowham, the CEO and managing partner of TTR Sotheby’s International Realty. Lowham spent more than 20 years working for Halpin’s West-Group Management, Tysons’ dominant landowner until 2011.

“Much of what we did in the last 20 years was lay the groundwork for Tysons today,” said Lowham, who served as West-Group’s executive vice president. “Jerry understood that Tysons had to be mixed-use and had to have transit infrastructure to be viable. Jerry was instrumental in the planning and construction of the the Silver Line, which he understood was a critical part of any plan to enhance economic development in the region.”

Lowham said he was working on tax increment financing for the Metro line under Halpin’s direction in the mid-1990s.

The Silver Line opened to passengers in 2014, the same year Halpin sold his Mount Vernon estate for $18.6 million, clearing the way for his full relocation to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. He was inducted into the Greater Washington Business Hall of Fame in 2010. Watch the video from that honor below.

“Jerry was one of the true ‘founding fathers’ of the real estate development community in Northern Virginia, joining the likes of Milt Peterson, Ted Lerner and Til Hazel in transforming the sleepy country crossroads of Tysons Corner into the international economic powerhouse that it is today,” said Ray Ritchey, senior executive vice president with Boston Properties Inc.

To prepare for rail, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in 2010 approved the Tysons Comprehensive Plan Amendment to boost density around the four planned Metro stations with the goal of increasing Tysons’ population to 100,000 by 2050 and its workforce to 250,000. Since 2014, 4.2 million square feet of transit-oriented development has been built in Tysons, with more than 40 million square feet in the pipeline.

Halpin’s transit-oriented outlook was itself an evolution. It was he and his partners who purchased the 125 acres of dairy farms that would eventually be developed into Tysons’ trademark sprawling office parks in the 1960s and ’70s.

It was a sign of the times, said Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. The coalition recognized Halpin in 2013 for his determined leadership in the transformation of Tysons.

“He was proof that an old dog could lead the way in learning new tricks,” Schwartz said Tuesday. “Tysons was created during the time when people had a big love affair with the auto. It was the height of suburban planning at the time. That’s why it is important to note that he recognized the problem he created, then led the way of thinking about how the new Tysons should work.”

Schwartz said West-Group’s commitment to change is “an important part of the story” for the new Tysons. He remembers seeing a wooden model of Tysons as a walkable, urban place in Halpin’s office well before government officials came to the same realization.

His vision is being carried out, in part, by Cityline Partners, which was formed in 2010 by an entity of Credit Suisse Group AG after it paid $222 million to buy more than 15 buildings and 115 acres from West-Group. A number of West-Group workers joined Cityline to manage the portfolio.

Donna Shafer, managing director at Cityline Partners and former West-Group executive vice president, said Halpin was a big proponent of placing Tysons’ rail stations underground, even paying out-of-pocket for tunnel engineering drawings.

“He was lobbying for mass transit as far back as the 1960s,” said Shafer. “He knew right away that it was the next wave.”

Ultimately, the lobbying for the underground tunnel was not successful. The price tag proved too much.

“For the Silver Line to be viable, Jerry believed it needed to be underground,” said Lowham. “He thought it would lead to a much more integrated, walkable community. He used the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor as an example. He thought it was an opportunity for Tysons. He was at least pleased the Silver Line moved forward, though.”

According to his online biography, Halpin was responsible for the development, redevelopment or construction of more than 12 million square feet of office, retail, residential, resort, and industrial space for West-Group and its affiliates. A World War II veteran, the Syracuse University graduate had national reach and influence dating to the early 1950s.

His projects were as diverse as an 85-acre office park in Springfield, office parks in suburban Maryland, a missile launching site in Utah, manufacturing plants from Gainesville to Los Angeles, the 1,500-acre Bellevue Estates in Warrenton, Virginia, and the Cottonwoods resort in Scottsdale, Arizona. He owned and operated hotels in the Mid-Atlantic as part of the Alexandria Management Corp., built Alexandria’s Landmark Center, the predecessor to the Landmark Mall, founded the World Resources Co., and developed the 1,200-acre Indian Springs Ranch in Jackson, Wyoming.

But nowhere is his influence felt more than in Tysons. Developers working there today certainly recognize Halpin’s more than 50 years of involvement there — and the framework he set for the current wave of development.

“We would not have the opportunity unless Jerry did what he did from the beginning,” said Meridian Group President and Co-Founder David Cheek. The Meridian Group and Kettler are teaming on The Boro, a 4.2-million-square-foot mixed-use development that is expected to serve as Tysons’ new “downtown.”

“The West-Group did get the benefit of pioneering Tysons and turning it into what it is today — an urban place,” Cheek said.

Photo courtesy of Joanne S. Lawton. Click here to read the original story.