Reston Town Center History

Reston Town Center, now more than 20 years old, was actually part of founder Robert E. Simon’s original master plan approved by Fairfax County more than 50 years ago.

Today Reston Town Center is a bustling and prosperous downtown for the community of Reston and a destination for the entire Region. The 85 acres of the “Urban Core” is full of retail stores and restaurants with national reputations and offices for international, national, and local companies. There are also high rise luxury condominiums and apartments overlooking stylish urban parks and plazas. The remaining 360 acres of the district has additional retail and office buildings, a hospital and a range of housing types from single family townhouses to low-rise multi-family buildings. Visitors come from all over the world asking, how was this done?  What makes it work?

Cow pasture where Reston Town Center now stands.

Cow pasture where Reston Town Center now stands.

The beginning…
It’s hard to imagine that this cow pasture was located on what is now the core of Reston Town Center. Its development had to wait until Reston itself had grown up itself to become more of a diverse community with employment opportunities close at hand. That major turning point came when Fairfax County emerged as a competitive and key location for the high tech industry in the region in the 1970s and 1980s. When the Dulles Toll Road opened in 1984, it connected Reston directly to the Capital Beltway and to Washington DC. The cow pasture was in the perfect spot for a major town center development.

The concept…
The planners of Town Center took a long-term perspective in guiding the development of Town Center to fulfill the vision that they had. That vision was defined through a process of design, planning and changing the zoning to create a flexibility to change uses and phase development that was unusual. To do this, Fairfax County planners worked closely with the developers to come up with a workable and new zoning concept. The adoption of a grid plan for streets in a suburban area was not very common at that time but reinforced the feeling of urbanity. It was felt that providing a total visual experience of street, storefronts, trees, sidewalks would give a feeling of “place”. Special spaces were created, like the iconic Mercury Fountain and its brick plaza shaded by trees and the quieter Town Square at the other end of Market Street.  Designers were directed to use the highest quality materials and design details to create a memorable and unique identity for Town Center.

St. Clair Cemin Mercury Fountain

The bricks and mortar…
The Grand Opening for the first phase of Reston Town Center took place in fall 1990 when the Mercury Fountain by noted sculptor St. Clair Cemin was unveiled. Market Street stores, movie theater and the Hyatt Regency Hotel began to open. Hundreds of community events during those first years drew many thousands of visitors who began to feel that Reston Town Center was their place, their downtown. Despite a national recession, which slowed some development, the Town Center was able to attract international, national and area businesses.

The initial developers of Town Center had special qualities – including a sense of stewardship and also the patience and the “deep pockets” to develop the property on pace with the market but without compromising the plan. Mobil Oil, as the primary investor, provided the financial stability in the first decade, and Reston Land Corporation saw the project through a major recession continuing its commitment to the public experience, quality development and community building.

The Town Center’s second decade saw the vision, dedication and talent of the next generation of developers carry out and expand on the original plans. These included Boston Properties who built out the remainder of the Urban Core with high-rise office, quality retail, and up-scale restaurants, as well as other large office complexes in the District.  Meanwhile residential developers like Kettler were planning and completing high-rise luxury condominiums with first floor retail –a totally new look and concept in Reston. Unique high-density housing, which mixed townhouses and other building styles, created another residential option.

Reston Town Center Holiday Activities

Lighting of the Christmas tree.

Building Community…
From the very beginning the builders of Town Center wanted to be clear that this was a community center, not just another shopping center. Once the first buildings and streets were open they began having community events of all shapes and sizes almost every weekend.  There were concerts and festivals and fundraisers. Millions of dollars were raised for charity.  Hundreds of community events during those first years drew many thousands of visitors who began to feel that Reston Town Center was their place, their downtown.  Once residents began to move into the residential buildings next to the Urban Core, they definitely saw this as their neighborhood. They walk to the shops, meet friends for coffee or a meal, volunteer at big events and enjoy the Town Center life-style.


Wiehle Reston East metro station

The Future…
The Reston Town Center is always evolving and hopefully inspiring others about how to live in the 21st Century. The Metro’s Silver line will open its first stop in Reston in 2014 and the Reston Town Center Metro stop is expected to be finished in a few years. There is still tremendous growth potential in the Town Center under the planning guidelines so we know there will be more exciting buildings and public spaces to be enjoyed by more people. That will include more public art which is becoming a stronger part of Town Center’s identity. In addition there is now a lot of more interest in creating environmentally friendly buildings and working with earth-friendly materials. New buildings currently in the design stage are all trying to achieve the highest LEED (Leadership in Environmental Energy and Design) standards possible. Existing buildings are being retro-fitted to make them more environmentally and financially efficient. Reston Town Center hopes to be a hub for bike-share – an alternative transportation mode that is becoming very popular around the country. Those of us who live, work and play here know this is not a static place but a community that will grow and change and become better with every decade.