As president and CEO of Crystal City’s Business Improvement District (BID), Angela Fox has a hectic schedule: holding planning meetings with her team; giving tours to companies interested in relocating their offices; helping set up new exhibits; and, taking in an evening cultural or community event. Each day is different, but her calendar is always packed full. So what does she do to unwind? Every six to nine months she goes off on her own to recharge her batteries. Her last adventure was to the Dominican Republic where she did “tons of yoga” then jumped off a 45-foot cliff into a cool pool of water. “It was intense,” she said, with a laugh.
The Crystal City BID was created in 2006 and Angela was tapped to head up the effort. After six years on the job, Angela has brought sparkle to this section of Arlington, launching innovative events and services that continue to attract companies, residents, and visitors. This year alone, the Crystal City BID has hosted numerous wine events, including Wine and Jazz, Pups and Pilsners, Crystal Couture with runway shows, outdoor movies, outdoor yoga, an adult kickball tournament, a youth soccer tournament, and many more activities. In October, 2008, Angela created Art Walls where blank spaces have become canvasses for local artists.
Angela’s enthusiasm for Crystal City is genuine and heartfelt. An honors graduate from Georgia Tech, she moved to Arlington in 1991, recruited by Bell Atlantic, now Verizon. “I flew into National Airport and stayed in the Crystal Gateway Marriott,” she said. “I certainly felt safe which was important and I loved the convenience and access of the area.”
In 2005, Congress established the Defense Base Realignment and Closure and (BRAC) Commission that would result in many defense-related jobs moving out of Crystal City. That same year, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office relocated to Alexandria. “When you are looking to lose a large work population, that’s a significant hit,” said Angela. A task force recommended a long range plan to redo some of the older infrastructure, and suggested the creation of an organization that could change how people thought about the area. The Crystal City BID was born.
While working as an engineer for Bell Atlantic, Angela spent her off hours helping Washington theaters. “It’s engineering with a cultural bent,” she said. Serving as chairman of Woolly Mammoth’s board, she helped raise money for a theater. She was also involved in the rebuilding of the Shakespeare Theater and Arena Stage, which, before its move to southwest Washington, had its home in Crystal City. (The Synetic Theater is now in that location.) She was an obvious and popular choice to launch and head up the Crystal City’s BID. “Because I lived in the neighborhood, there were just too many reasons not to take it on,” she said over tea in Bell20 in the Crystal City Marriott. “Every day I get to feel like I’m having an impact on transforming this area, this experience. I absolutely love that.”
Crystal City was the vision of Bob Smith, whose father, Charles, headed the Charles E. Smith Company, a major real estate developer in the area. “Bob Smith basically bought a parcel of land,” said Angela. “He had a vision of what this community could be in terms of supporting the federal government and GSA.” Charles Smith wasn’t as enthusiastic about his son’s plan and asked whether he could get the money back. Bob Smith persevered overseeing the construction of numerous “crystal” properties—Crystal House, the area’s first building, which had a large crystal chandelier in the lobby, hence the area’s name, followed by Crystal Towers, Crystal Plaza, Crystal Square and Crystal Mall.
Right now, Crystal City is more bricks and mortar, but Angela said that the city is reclaiming its crystal identity. “The glassy buildings are coming,” she said, citing the luxury rental property at 220 Twentieth Street and a soon-to-be-built 24-story building at 1900 Crystal Drive. Beyond that, rebranding the area “crystal” is one that appeals on all levels. “Crystal is a wonderful word,” she said. “All of our programs are bright, brilliant, dazzling, sparkling, shiny, illuminating. We really bring that forward.”
One of Crystal City’s major selling points, for both businesses and residents, is the area’s access to transportation. “The bone structure here in Crystal City is phenomenal,” Angela said. “You can’t get a better location. To live here, you don’t have to spend your life on the road commuting.” Crystal City has a station on the Metro’s Blue and Yellow Lines and another on the Virginia Railway Express commuter train. The area is so close to Ronald Reagan National Airport that Angela said she often sees pilots walking to and from work.
Angela got out of the gate fast with one of her best events—Art-o-Matic. Two floors in an office building that once housed workers from the Patent and Trademark Office were transformed into art galleries. “Each little office became this wild and incredibly original gallery,” she said. For six weeks, more than 32,000 people visited Art-o-Matic.
“Our restaurants had some of their busiest times ever,” she said. There are now more than 85 restaurants in Crystal City, including Jose Andres’ Jaleo. Every Friday in April, the BID sponsors a 5K race. “That makes sure the restaurants are full afterwards with the 5Kers eating and sipping,” Angela said.
Crystal City’s wine festivals have been incredibly successful. “There are all kinds of outdoor wine festivals, but for most of them you have to get in a bus, you have to go a long way, maybe you’re drinking wine and you don’t want to drive. So we took advantage of our metro access and just posted this festival and it was absolutely insane. People came out in droves.” More recently, beer and dog lovers came asking for another event. Thus was born Pups and Pilsner.
Looking to promote Crystal City’s retail outlets, Angela launched Crystal Couture with a non-stop runway and more than 20 events. “Its a show and sale,” with customers being able to buy the items they see. “People love that event,” she said. With the Pentagon City Mall housing Macy’s and Nordstrom’s so nearby, Angela aims for smaller shops and boutiques and Crystal Couture is a big selling point.
Angela credits her parents for her dual love of engineering (her father) and theater (her mother). Her sister is a financial planner. Angela spends her off hours with her nine year-old son. “Last night we were on the floor laughing, just funny stuff,” she said. “He’s my helper, always pitching ideas,” including a Crystal City water gun fight.
Besides a possible water fight event, Angela’s to-do list is long and impressive. She admires the Synetic Theater’s productions—”unique and physical”—and is helping to move its entire operation, classes, camps, and rehearsal space, to Crystal City. She has a vision for Crystal City’s underground which includes interactive art events. “It’s a total rethinking of what certain portions of that space is all about,” she said.
Angela manages to have a big impact with a small “awesome” staff, only three other professionals. “It’s a very empowered group of people,” she said. “We love working with each other.” She sometimes travels with her team to other cities to find things they like that might be used in Crystal City.
And, ever the marketer, Angela is always looking for that one special ingredient that might encourage someone to take a second look at Crystal City as a place to live and work. While the city’s population is diverse, including young families with children and older workers, there’s another segment that might be of interest to single women. “Because of the military and the Department of Defense, we get a lot of single men over 40,” she said, adding with a laugh, “we’re trying to market that a bit.”
Woman Around Town’s Six Questions
Favorite Place to Eat: I’ve been a vegetarian for more than 26 years, so I’m happy with just about any place that serves mushrooms and Brussels sprouts. Fortunately, there are lots of them!
Favorite Place to Shop: Crystal Couture. It’s a big fashion “show and sale” that we host every year. I love that I can buy really cool stuff right off the runway. It’s very accessible fashion and a fun way to get me, a total non-shopper, to stay fashionable.
Favorite D.C. Moment: There are so many…though most are personal, so, I’ll just keep them for me.
Favorite D.C. Sight: I love viewing the monuments at night as I ride my bike on the Mt. Vernon Trail. It never ceases to take my breath away.
What You Love About D.C.: The amazing variety of arts and culture. It’s truly the nation’s cultural capital.
What You Hate About D.C.: There are a few things I don’t like, such as some of the traffic and inundation of all things political, but they are just part of what makes D.C. real…and, I’m a yogi, not a hater.
For more information go to the website for Crystal City.