Developers move forward with renovation of former Lorton Reformatory

As part of a five-year, $190 million redevelopment, you’ll find a village of apartments, townhouses, single-family homes, as well as office and retail spaces in place of a former historic prison.

Lorton Reformatory
Photo courtesy of Alexander Company

Over the course of the past five years, a historic prison that once housed suffragettes, musicians and juveniles alike in the 1900s has become Liberty at Laurel Hill, a mixed-use development for NoVA residents to live, work and shop in.

Construction for the project, located at the former Lorton Reformatory,  first began at the end of 2015, as Fairfax County hoped to give an economic boost to the region. Development is set to continue for another estimated two years, and the county partnered with Wisconsin-based Alexander Company, as well as Elm Street Development, Inc. in McLean to transform the entire 80 acres of land. 

two brick archways
An image of the former entryways to prison cells (left), which is now an outdoor hallway leading into apartments (right). (Photo courtesy of Alexander Company)

The former prison complex, once known as the District of Columbia Workhouse and Reformatory, was created by Theodore Roosevelt as a facility for rehabilitation, offering prisoners a place to acquire trade skills and reinvent themselves. This concept is weaved into the fabric of the new development, which features 165 apartments, 83 townhomes, 24 single-family homes, a clubhouse, a swimming pool and, eventually, retail and commercial space as well. Plus, local ties remain in place, as Alexandria-based design firm Spaeth Hill created all of the signage on the property, keeping in theme with the site’s historic roots.  

brick building in Lorton
Local design firm Spaeth Hill created all of the signage on the property, keeping it in theme with the site’s historic roots. (Photo courtesy of Spaeth Hill)

The base-building renovation of the historic penitentiary is complete, according to Vice President at Elm Street Development Jack Perkins, and all seven buildings are ready to be leased by tenants. 

As for the retail side of the operation, as well as how the ongoing threat of coronavirus will affect the completion of the project, Perkins shares details below. 

rendering of market place called liberty
The Liberty Market will feature a wide variety of retail and commercial offerings, two of which will be local brands. (Rendering courtesy of Elm Street Development)

What retail shops are expected to open in the reconstructed space?

We are courting a variety of neighborhood-serving retail uses to fill approximately 100,000 square feet of space. We are currently working with a nationally recognized store operator to build a 30,000-square-foot store that will anchor the shopping center. We are also looking for a mix of food service offerings, ranging from sit-down to fast-casual restaurants. I think the old dining hall would make a fantastic brewpub! There is also an opportunity for small businesses to carve out office space within the historic buildings.

Is there a timeline for when retail options will open?

We have two signed leases with a children’s dance studio and an artist’s workshop. We are very excited that our first two leases are with existing local businesses. They are processing plans and permits with Fairfax County now to perform the interior work required to finish their spaces. We are hopeful that they will be ready to open for business by the end of this year. Because the anchor tenant is proposing to build a new building within the penitentiary walls, that process takes a little longer. We expect that store to open some time in 2022.

How has the coronavirus impacted progress of the Lorton Reformatory project?

Fortunately, we are not in the middle of a heavy construction phase the way we were a year ago when we had upward of 100 workers on any given day. At the moment, we are working on leases, plans and permits. Fairfax County remains open for business and our team of architects, engineers and leasing professionals can do most of their work remotely or in small groups. We are trying very hard to minimize the disruption and are actively following the guidelines set forth by public health officials.

Find more images of the now-available living spaces below.

blue bed in white brick walled room
Photo courtesy of Alexander Company


living room in white brick walled room
Photo courtesy of Alexander Company


Photo courtesy of Alexander Company


open room with three blue mats and a TV
Photo courtesy of Alexander Company

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