Going ‘Downtown’: Eating, Drinking, And Hanging Out At One Loudoun

Jan Mercker Leesburg Today

Conceived a decade ago as a new downtown for Loudoun County, One Loudoun is beginning to live up to that promise.

For commuters who pass by on Rt. 7, the project appears as just one more group of buildings rising out of the most recent construction boom. Those who take the exit are finding a hip new place to shop, eat or just hang out. And while many of the One Loudoun’s amenities are still in the works, a sense of its urban vibe finally is emerging.

One Loudoun has a decidedly urban feel by design. With brownstone-style townhouses on small lots as well as single-family homes and downtown-style common spaces, including its fountain plaza surrounded by restaurants and the aptly named Central Park, a 100-acre green space located between commercial and residential areas.

“Our vision has always been to create a more urban, walkable environment where you can live work and play all in the same place,” said Bill May, the development’s managing director. “The kind of environment that up until now has not existed in Loudoun County…We thought there was enough critical mass in the area to support and sustain a real downtown area.”

That urban feel was an important selling point for Stephanie Knackstedt and her family. Knackstedt moved to Ashburn Farm from Old Town Alexandria with her husband Chris and daughter Madison, now 8, at the beginning of this decade because of Loudoun’s highly rated school system. But as One Loudoun’s residential component came online, Knackstedt saw it as a way to have the best of both worlds.

“The whole idea of being able to park your car on the weekends, being able to walk to some of the fun events or the restaurants is really nice,” she said. “It’s pretty hectic during the week and for us it was the thought of going home and not having to get in your car again and being able to relax and walk to the grocery store and walk to the restaurants and walk to the park and meet your neighbors.”

Both Knackstedt and her husband commute to work, and One Loudoun’s location at the nexus of Rt. 7 and Loudoun County Parkway was a big part of the neighborhood’s appeal, as was its more urban feel. “It reminds us of Old Town and we like that,” Knackstedt said.

Residents have been flocking to monthly Saturday evening open-air concerts at the development’s central fountain plaza this summer and children’s concerts featuring the popular kids’ band Rocknoceros. The developer showed World Cup soccer matches on permanent large screens on the plaza, which also offers free Wi-Fi. The centrally located Alamo Drafthouse has been up and running for over a year and draws residents from across the region with its mix of films, including regular repertory classics, food and beverages.

This spring, the developer celebrated the completion of a rebuilt barn, moved from a nearby property, as the anchor of its amphitheater entertainment area just beyond the retail plaza. The barn’s inaugural event was this year’s Loudoun YouthFest concert featuring top teen bands from around the country. May said his staff is working on fall programming for the barn and the plaza, as well as the development’s clubhouse, which is still under construction and slated for completion in November. This fall, the clubhouse site will be the new home of the Ashburn Farmers Market, a member of the Loudoun Valley Homegrown Markets Cooperative currently located at a shopping center off Ashburn Village Boulevard. The market will move to the clubhouse site Sept. 6 and will be renamed the One Loudoun Farmers Market.

As the development’s planned restaurants come online, they’re drawing a mix of 20-somethings, young families and empty nesters. For Alicia Keen, 23, who lives in Leesburg and owns a Pilates studio in Ashburn, Bar Louie is a favorite hangout.

“I like the atmosphere—it’s a cool place and the food is delicious,” Keen said. One Loudoun’s central location is appealing to her group of friends scattered across Loudoun and Fairfax counties, and they regularly meet up for its $5 burger night on Tuesdays.

“Half my friends live in Leesburg and half live in Herndon,” Keen said. “It’s a good meeting spot.”

And, the current restaurant offerings are just the beginning. Loudoun’s restaurant culture is getting ready for a shift with the advent of some of the county’s first celebrity chef-driven restaurants at One Loudoun. Bryan Voltaggio will open his second Family Meal restaurant near the already-open Fresh Market grocery store later this year. And Robert Wiedmaier, known for DC hotspots like Marcel’s and Brasserie Beck, will open his first Italian-style restaurant at One Loudoun next year.

Voltaggio’s company has several different restaurant concepts, from fine dining to more casual. The chef said he and his staff work to make sure the concept fits the community and One Loudoun fits Family Meal’s high-end comfort food model.

“It’s about taking really approachable family fare and using great ingredients and focusing on technique,” he said. “One Loudoun is a fast growing community and seems to be appealing to families. The other great thing about that development is we like mixed-use tenants like retail and office space.”

One Loudoun also will feature upscale regional chains popular in more urban settings like Arlington, Bethesda and Reston, including Uncle Julio’s Mexican, Matchbox and a branch of the Arlington farm-to-table favorite Copperwood Tavern. According to May, leases have been signed with a number of ethnic eateries and the Redskins Grille, operated by the G3 restaurant group through a licensing agreement with NFL and slated to open next spring.

The blossoming downtown vibe has been a long time in the making. Developer Miller and Smith began planning One Loudoun 10 years ago and took title to the land in 2007. The company conveyed a school site to the county for the construction of Steuart W. Weller Elementary, which opened in the fall of 2008. But by the end of 2008, the economy had crashed and residential building at the development was put on hold until late 2010. So far, the developer has sold 379 houses, of which 295 have been completed and conveyed to owners. The developer is currently in discussions about building apartments at One Loudoun.

While things are moving along at One Loudoun, the road has not been without a few bumps. Ground was broken at One Loudoun more than a year ago for the construction of a stadium for the Loudoun Hounds minor league baseball team, but construction of Edelman Financial Field has been on hold as the investment group behind the franchise works to put together a financing package, leaving an empty space at the community’s gateway on Rt. 7.

Also still in the planning stages are a hotel deal and construction of the World Trade Center Dulles Airport, which would be a member of the international World Trade Centers Association and would help foreign companies launch projects in the United States.

May said the developer had originally envisioned the community as appealing to younger first-time homebuyers, but he’s been surprised by its popularity with empty nesters looking to downsize, drawn in part by the lawn care services included in the development’s HOA fees.

“It’s a bigger mix than we originally thought perhaps that we would get,” May said, adding that the generational diversity is an asset. “An integral part of being a real place is having that multigenerational community. I think that’s critically important.”

One Loudoun’s new “downtown” also is drawing residents from nearby older adult communities Potomac Green and Ashby Ponds for shopping and dining.

“From a socialization point they’re very much a part of One Loudoun,” May said.

Ed Good and his wife Margaret recently moved to the neighboring Potomac Green 55-plus community from Waterford, and the retail, restaurant and cultural offerings at One Loudoun were a big part of the appeal. Breakfast and lunch at Fresh Market and Zoës Kitchen have made the unpacking process easier.

“We’ve been going every day for lunch and breakfast,” Good said. “We certainly like having Fresh Market close by. We like having the Alamo close by. We like the outdoor concerts with our grandchildren. It’s going to be very interesting to see what else goes in there.”