Officials optimistic on further Landmark Mall progress

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Officials optimistic on further Landmark Mall progress
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By Chris Teale (Image/Howard Hughes Corporation)

More than a year after city council’s approval of amendments to its site plan, the redevelopment of Landmark Mall appears to have moved forward and may gather steam next year.

The Washington Business Journal reported earlier this year that developer Mill Creek Residential anticipates construction of the residential units to begin in early 2017, according to a presentation its officials gave to the City of Falls Church.

Rob Kerns, development division chief in Alexandria’s department of planning and zoning, confirmed that is the timeline under which the city is operating at this point. Mill Creek confirmed the project’s timeframe on its website.

The redevelopment of Landmark has been a sore subject in the city for many years, but appeared to make concrete progress last year after previous abandoned attempts. Under the plan, the anchor department stores Sears and Macy’s would stay in place and be joined by a mixed-use development of retail, restaurants, and more than 400 residential units where the mall currently exists.

Sears and Macy’s both own their stores at the property, while the central portion is owned by the Dallas-based Howard Hughes Corporation. Caryn Kboudi, spokeswoman for Howard Hughes, declined to comment for this story.

Last year’s approval increased the square footage of the center’s development by approximately 54,000 square feet, with extra space planned for additional retail and amenity areas. The latest plan approved by council had been slated to begin construction in late 2014. It has not been renovated since 1990. The mall first opened in 1965, and at that time was the first in the D.C. region to feature three anchor department stores.

Since the approval, Kerns pointed to Howard Hughes’ launching of a new website — thenewlandmark.com — as one sign that the company is serious about redeveloping the mall. He said the appointment of Cindy Harris, the company’s vice president of development, as the project’s manager showed a willingness to work with the city and other stakeholders. Harris was not available for comment.

“She’s a real positive, get things done kind of person,” Kerns said. “Various members of [planning] staff have met her, so that’s where things stand. It’s a working relationship at this point. We know the history of getting to this point, but it’s definitely a working relationship.”

In the meantime, Howard Hughes officials have aggressively marketed the coming retail space to potential tenants, with help from the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership. Stephanie Landrum, AEDP’s president and CEO, said she was particularly encouraged that Landmark was held up as a project of focus for Howard Hughes at the Inter- national Council of Shopping Centers’ annual trade show in Las Vegas last May.

Landrum said there has been plenty of excitement among retailers who see a golden opportunity to capitalize on a new development, while Howard Hughes is making the right moves to choose businesses that are different from those in other malls in the region.

“I think the other thing that’s exciting is that Howard Hughes is very knowledgeable and conscious of the other regional malls or retail centers, and they want to make sure that they’re differentiating this site from the others,” Landrum said. “They’re conscious of what’s happened in Springfield [Town Center] and who’s moving into Pentagon City and who’s out at Mosaic District and making sure that what we curate here, there might be some similar uses, but making sure some of that next level of retail which you would consider anchors or draws are different from some of these other competing developments.”

But a source of contention still may be the proposed tax-increment financing to help fund the redevelopment. Under that plan, the city would issue bonds for the development and repay them with taxes that are generated by the property. A proposal for that financing would need to be presented to councilors but is similar to funding for Potomac Yard Metro station, a project where the city looks to recoup revenues from new developments nearby.

The balancing of three owners’ needs makes this project a complex one, but Landrum said there has been progress on that front too. Both Macy’s and Sears went through corporate restructuring and have separated their retail operations from their real estate, meaning negotiations can focus on the highest and best use of the properties.

“The complexity on Landmark has always been that you have three landowners there going in different directions,” said Vice Mayor Justin Wilson. “We have an agreement that says nobody can do anything without the approval of the other two, and for the longest time that was a barrier. I think the good news is now you have the interests of those three landowners finally get close to being in alignment.”

But with redevelopment occurring across the West End, including the project at King and Beauregard and others, Kerns said the future is bright for that area of the city.

[Landmark] is still considered a catalytic project,” he said. “The West End is being discovered, just in terms of the Eisenhower West small area and the potential for the Van Dorn Street Metro station. That area of the city in general, there are good plans in place, there are catalytic projects planned, so I think that’s why the activity is rising, because people see that as an area for strategic investment.”

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