By Chris Teale (Photo/Chris Teale)
Landmark Mall owner The Howard Hughes Corporation announced Monday it has purchased the soon-to-be shuttered Macy’s department store, and other retail outlets at the mall will close on January 31.
The acquisition of the 11.4-acre store and parking lot at the Duke Street shopping mall came less than a week after Macy’s announced it will close its location at Landmark Mall, and could bring further progress on the beleaguered redevelopment of the site.
“Our vision is to revive the site and create a new urban hub on the West End of Alexandria,” said Mark Bulmash, senior vice president of development for Howard Hughes, in a statement. “This acquisition enables us to increase the scale of this catalytic redevelopment and transform Landmark into a vibrant destination attracting area residents and visitors.”
City council approved Howard Hughes’ plan for the site in 2013, then amended it in 2015. Under that proposal, the current Macy’s and Sears department stores would have stayed in place, with the existing mall demolished and replaced by a mixed-use development of retail, restaurants and more than 400 residential units.
Ownership has been a complicated issue. The Dallas-based Howard Hughes owned the mall, while the two retail anchors owned their respective properties. Any agreement on the site’s future required all three to be on the same page, so Vice Mayor Justin Wilson said efforts to consolidate the properties are positive news.
“One of the challenges for over a decade in Landmark redevelopment has been the complex ownership situation,” he said. “Anything that gets us closer to a place where we have a more simplified ownership structure there, ideally getting down to one owner or at least one entity controlling anything — it doesn’t necessarily need to be ownership of everything — anything that simplifies the ownership structure there is a positive for future redevelopment.”
The mall is now a far cry from its heyday. Opened in 1965, it was the first mall in the D.C. region to feature three department stores as anchors.
The third anchor department store — most recently a Lord & Taylor — closed in 2009, the same year Howard Hughes took over ownership from General Growth Properties.
Since then, the mall has declined as more and more retailers left and were not replaced. Now, there are around 20 retailers including Sears and Macy’s, as well as other services like hair salons and massage parlors.
All three floors are dotted with empty storefronts, including the third level that once housed the food court, which is now closed to the public and appears more or less abandoned.
On Monday afternoon, a number of stores had signs posted announcing liquidation sales with deep discounts, in- cluding Macy’s. Meanwhile, Sears advertised its “semi-annual blowout” sale, and showed no sign of closing.
And for store owners, the future may be uncertain as the mall shuts up shop at the end of the month. Youssef Zaraket,
owner of wig and beauty product store Beauty Mania, said he was notified at the end of December about the mall’s closure and asked to vacate by January 31. After seven years at Landmark, Zaraket said he was un- sure if the store would open a new location, but hopeful for the future of the site.
“It’s a good plan, a mix of commercial and residential,” he said. “I’ll be interested to see how it turns out.”
Macy’s announced last Wednesday it will close its department store at Landmark this year as part of a nationwide decision to shutter 68 stores nationwide by mid-2017.
A total of 119 employees work at the Macy’s at Landmark Mall. The firm said it saw a 2.7 percent decrease in national comparable sales — online and in-store — between November and December.
Alexandria Economic Development Partnership president and CEO Stephanie Landrum said that a number of options had been explored between Howard Hughes, Macy’s and the city, including a purchase of the department store to make the ownership situation less complex.
“AEDP and the city consider ourselves partners with Howard Hughes, ever since they [acquired] the property,” she said. “This whole time, we’ve been talking to them about ways that we can help speed up this project. We have talked about a variety of scenarios for months and months now, and certainly a scenario with them acquiring the property is one of the alternatives we talked about.”
Still unclear is the future of Sears, which announced it is closing 150 stores nationwide to stem financial losses and selling its Craftsman product line. The Landmark store was not included in the locations set to be shuttered, but Wilson said with Howard Hughes controlling much of the property on site, the redevelopment plan will be easier to implement.
“We approved that [plan] and discussed it with Howard Hughes as incremental steps that once they got full site control, they would be able to achieve the full vision and there was nothing in there that was precluding that,” he said. “That was always the case, and from what I understand it’s going to be easier for them to do what they want to do, cheaper among other things and logistically to potentially have one or both of those other folks out of the way.”
In a statement, Howard Hughes officials said they have not finalized a definitive timeline for when the redevelopment will get underway.