By Chris Teale (Image/City of Alexandria)
The redevelopment of the Mount Vernon Village Center in Arlandria, which many anticipated to be a catalyst for growth in the area, likely will not take place as previously approved.
At a March 16 meeting at Cora Kelly Elementary School summarized on the city website, Christina Mindrup, vice president for commercial real estate at the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership, said retail brokers Dochter & Alexander have been hired by the property owner to begin marketing the center for lease. It is listed on the broker’s website and known as Del Ray North.
Mindrup said during the meeting that My Organic Market will be renovated and expanded to nearly double its current space, while tenants are sought for the remaining 35,000 square feet of additional vacant retail space. Improvements to the building’s facade and its surface parking lot are planned as well. Mindrup declined to comment further.
Originally, the project proposed by developer PMI would have demolished the existing shopping center and replaced it with two six-story mixed-use buildings with 53,000 square feet of retail space at street level and upwards of 480 multi-family housing units. Of those residential units, 28 would have been designated as affordable housing units for 30 years.
A total of 940 underground parking spaces would have been made available under the project along Mount Vernon Avenue, which also would have brought improvements to nearby parks and transit links.
The redevelopment project hit choppy waters after city council’s initial approval in 2011. Attorney Duncan Blair of Land, Carroll & Blair PC joined project partner Kingdon Gould III at council’s May 6, 2015 public hearing to request an extension to the project, which was granted unanimously. If a project is approved but then does not begin construction within three years, the developer must seek an extension, or the approval is voided.
At the 2015 hearing, Gould said that the project’s revenue yield was projected at less than 6 percent, which meant the developer struggled to attract capital investment. He and Blair blamed rising construction costs due to the development boom in the region and lower rents, as well as other nearby projects that did not proceed as planned.
In a recent interview, Blair said economic conditions prevented the project from moving forward, and so plans had to change.
“Despite the best efforts of the owners and the city to try to bring this project to fruition, it was a victim of the economy and is not moving forward as approved and is going to be re-tenanted as a first-class neighborhood retail center,” he said.
Emails between city staff obtained by the Times under the Freedom of Information Act confirm the project fell victim to economic factors, although the extension for the approval will remain active until May 2018 if things change.
Maya Contreras, principal planner in the city’s department of planning and zoning, and Carrie Beach, division chief of neighborhood planning and community development, in emails confirmed the change, although they noted the active approval as an available avenue.
Both Contreras and Beach declined to comment.
Kevin Beekman of the Arlandria Civic Association said the project tried to solve several issues in the neighborhood, including housing affordability and offering more retail options. He said it was a shame to see everyone’s efforts not result in the project moving forward.
“[It’s] just disappointing, because it’s a waste of time, a waste of effort, a lot of waste of resources,” he said. “The city and the property owners have been trying to get something done.”
After work on the Arlandria neighborhood plan began in June 2000 and was subsequently adopted by council in 2003, Beekman said the center was a key component of helping the area become pedestrian-oriented and mixed-use as envisioned. He said it was not the first time the center had been slated for a revamp, only to see those plans fall through.
“There had been renovations and attempts to try to make a going concern of the shopping center,” Beekman said. “After years of not being able to fill the space, they were able to fill it with MOM’s since then, but they had trouble trying to get retailers to rent there for the longest time. This seemed like the thing that would happen.”
According to the meeting summary posted online, Mindrup said leasing targets include neighborhood-serving retail; quick service and full service restaurants; specialty fitness and hardware stores, among others. Arlandria-Chirilagua Business Association president Juan Nelson Zavaleta did not respond to requests for comment.
Beekman said residents would like to see the area move in a positive direction, whether it is as a re-tenanted strip mall or a larger scale revamp.
“I’m happy to see any kind of progress,” he said. “It hurts me to see shuttered buildings and some deterioration too. When they aren’t rented out, you see buildings start to deteriorate and not just vacancies but other bad stuff can happen.
“I’m happy to see whatever works. If this is what’s going to work, [if] it’s going to become a thriving strip mall, I’m happy to see that happen.”