By Denise Dunbar | firstname.lastname@example.org
The overarching vision and a rough timeline for the redevelopment of Landmark Mall were discussed Monday night during the first community engagement session since the deal between three developers, Inova Alexandria Hospital and the City of Alexandria was announced on Dec. 22.
Seven key players in the planned move of Alexandria Inova Hospital from its Seminary Road location to the city’s far West End tag-teamed the one-and-a-half-hour session.
The lead developer on the project is Potomac, Maryland-based Foulger-Pratt, whose managing partners, Chief Executive Officer Cameron Pratt and Chief Operating Officer Brigg Bunker, kicked off the session. Jonathan Rak, a partner at the law firm McGuireWoods, moderated the virtual information session.
Pratt emphasized both his and his firm’s local ties as key differences in why the long-rumored redevelopment of the Landmark site came to fruition when it came up short several times over the last decade.
“About a year ago, Howard Hughes [Corporation] and Seritage [Growth Properties] realized that something needed to change,” Pratt said. “They reached out to gauge our interest and our thoughts.”
In addition to Foulger-Pratt’s involvement in numerous projects of the type envisioned for Landmark, Pratt has a personal connection to the mall, he said. When he was younger, Pratt worked as a construction laborer there during a previous remodel.
Redevelopment of Landmark Mall, which had been rumored to be a possible destination for Inova Alexandria for the past three years, has long proved a challenge. With an out-of-town owner in the Howard Hughes Corporation and an out-of-town real estate investment trust company, Seritage Growth Properties, involved, alongside a not-for-profit hospital and a municipal government, the result was a very complex effort.
“There was a reason this project has been delayed for many years,” Pratt said. “It’s complicated. There are moving pieces in the project that are the reason why it’s complicated. This time it’s different and we are here to tell you why.”
Pratt cited Inova’s decision to move their hospital to the Landmark location as the key reason for progress on the site’s redevelopment.
“Inova is making a huge commitment to this site and to the city of Alexandria. It’s why this time is different,” Pratt said. “What Inova brings to the project is jobs, economic vitality and demand.”
Pratt also lauded the commitment of the City of Alexandria, and the involvement of his firm as difference-makers in getting the agreement to proceed.
Inova’s desire to “raise the bar” with their facilities was a catalyst for the move, according to President and CEO of Inova Health Systems Dr. J. Stephen Jones.
“When I came to Inova three years ago, I was told Inova Alexandria was an old hospital and would need to be replaced,” Jones said. “These new facilities will be built with flexibilities. We will be able to meet the needs decades into the future.”
Tom McDuffie, president of Inova Realty, said the new hospital complex will consist of two seven-story in-patient towers, a cancer center and a medical office building. There will be both below and above-ground parking and also room for future expansion.
President of Inova Alexandria Hospital Dr. Rina Bansal provided specifics about the new hospital’s capabilities. It will be a 230-bed hospital entirely with private rooms, as well as an emergency room and trauma center, according to Bansal. The facility will also have a helipad.
“We will be able to care for complex brain injuries and provide advanced services in obstetrics and in cardiovascular,” Bansal said.
The accompanying medical office building will also be able to house 50 specialists.
“We will build a comprehensive cancer center,” Bansal said. “We will truly be able to meet the needs of the residents of Alexandria on an outpatient and inpatient basis.”
Bansal was asked to explain why there will be fewer in-patient beds in the new hospital than the 318 beds in the existing location on Seminary Road.
The current hospital actually operates as a 240-bed facility because many beds are in shared rooms, and an additional 72 beds are for observation, Bansal responded. In the new facility, only in-patients will be in the hospital beds, while patients who need to be observed will be located elsewhere.
“Currently, we only serve about 168 patients [in in-patient beds]. We are actually increasing our in-patient beds by more than 60 beds,” Bansal said.
Another question that came up at the meeting concerned the timing of opening the new facility and of closing the Seminary Road site and whether Alexandria would be without a functioning hospital at any point in the process.
“The current hospital will stay in operation during the design and building of the new hospital,” McDuffie said. “In this quarter of 2021, we will begin the detailed design. We envision that process will be completed around Q1 2023. Occupancy of the [new] hospital will be in Q1 2028. There is a separate process for Seminary Road.”
City Manager Mark Jinks explained the city’s role in the public-private partnership, saying that the city will use tax revenues that will be generated from the project to pay for its $130 million investment.
“We’ve been talking about this since 2004. The question is not if the city should invest, but how much should the city invest,” Jinks said.
The City of Alexandria will provide $76 million for roads, sewers, a park and other infrastructure items and an additional $54 million to buy the land and parking, for a total of $130 million, according to the city manager.
“The city will help [Inova Alexandria] in their $1 billion investment,” Jinks said. “This project will not draw upon the general fund of the city.”
Jinks said bonds will be issued to cover the $130 million, and the bonds will be paid off using tax revenues from the development on the site over a 20- to 30-year period.
“We expect tax revenues to generate about $778 million over a 30-year term,” Jinks said. “We will be able to finance bond repayment, leaving more than $600 million for the City of Alexandria. This will generate money for the city’s general fund.”
A questioner at the meeting asked Jinks if the city’s property owners would wind up footing the bill if the projected tax generated from the site falls well short of expectations. The city manager responded that the city would establish a community development authority, with the ability to add 25 cents to the real estate tax rate at Landmark only, in the event the site doesn’t generate the expected amount of tax revenue.
Despite up to 2,500 projected new units of housing planned for the site, the project does not call for a new school to be built. Instead, the civic use facility in the project is scheduled to be a fire station with affordable housing located on top.
City planners did note the lack of a school at the site during the planning process, but there was not room at the location for both a school and a fire station and the decision to include a fire station was based on community input, Director of the Department of Planning and Zoning Karl Moritz said.
The project will also result in some changes to nearby road infrastructure, including the removal of a ramp over Duke Street into the Landmark parking lot.
“It will be more inviting. We will be introducing more traffic lights; traffic patterns will change,” Bunker said. “… Removing the ramp makes it easier for people to cross and also makes Landmark more a part of the neighborhood.”
While there isn’t a specific design in place yet for the new central plaza, Bunker said there will be a variety of purely public spaces and the ability to close streets within the complex to have live music and farmer’s markets.
“We want this to be a gathering place,” Bunker said. “We want this to be a place where people can go throw a frisbee. … People would say, ‘Do you want to get together?’ and they would say, ‘Let’s meet at Landmark.’”