South Alex celebrates emotional journey to opening
Fairfax County officials and community members joined executives from Combined Properties Feb. 22 in celebrating the opening of South Alex – the mixed-use development that replaced the Penn Daw Plaza shopping center.
The ribbon cutting ceremony was an emotional occasion for those who recalled the challenges Combined Properties faced in rebuilding the structure following a devastating fire in February 2020 followed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The real estate company’s director of construction, Chris Chacey, said it took only 902 days — just over two-and-a-half years — to move the first resident into the apartment community after the fire.
“We had to deal with insurance companies, demolish what was left, get the manpower back on site, acquire the replacement material, build and erect a new garage, do this during COVID — its labor shortages, the shutdowns and the multitude of supply chain issues,” recounted Chacey. “That was quite an amazing feat.”
County officials were instrumental in helping get the project back on track following the fire, according to Combined Properties’ founder and chair Ron Haft. He recalled how back in the early 1990’s, one of his first commercial real estate projects involved remodeling Penn Daw Plaza and bringing in Shoppers Food Warehouse as an anchor tenant. Within just a couple of decades, however, Shoppers left, and the surge in online shopping forever changed the retail industry. While some big box stores expressed interest in the vacant space, Combined Properties resisted, seeing the need to change its approach.
“Instead of thinking about big boxes, we decided to think outside of the box,” said Haft. “We started thinking about community.”
To design a space where people could live, work, eat and play while embracing art, Combined Properties had to rezone Penn Daw Plaza, which it did with the county’s help in 2014. In June 2016, demolition of the plaza began, and in December 2018, the groundbreaking for South Alex took place, with ALDI lined up as the anchor retail tenant. When a massive fire burned the property to the ground in early 2020, Combined Properties, the construction contractor and county officials were committed to rebuilding.
Now that the 400-unit property is open — occupancy began late last summer — its prospects appear bright. Haft said South Alex is nearly 60% leased, which is more than double the occupancy they had projected by this point in time.
Fairfax County officials expressed pride in the colorful and amenity-rich new addition to the Richmond Highway corridor and gratitude to all who committed to getting the project done, even in the face of adversity.
“This has been a journey,” said Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chair Jeff McKay. He thanked his fellow board colleagues, Franconia District Supervisor Rodney Lusk and Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck, for their collaboration, noting that “Nothing happens on the Route 1 corridor without this three-team approach.”
Lusk, whose district encompasses South Alex, said county officials have a vision of many projects just like it along the seven-and-a-half-mile corridor.
“You’re creating a community, making sure that people feel engaged,” said Lusk. “I think that’s going to make a huge difference.”
South Alex is located at 2803 Poag Street. The property's first retail tenant, ALDI, is scheduled to hold its grand opening March 2 at 9 a.m.