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Capital Business
Posted at 10:42 AM ET, 11/17/2011

In White Flint, the mall is being turned into a town

Owners of White Flint Mall, the Rockville shopping destination whose best days are behind it, plan to tear the building down in coming years and replace it with an outdoor mix of housing, new shops, offices
A view of new developments around the White Flint Mall in North Bethesda. (Jeffrey MacMillan - For Capital Business)
and park space.

A team representing Lerner Enterprises and the Tower Cos., the mall’s owners, laid out a 25-year plan Wednesday night at the mall’s Dave & Busters restaurant to close nearly all of the mall’s existing stores and build a central plaza in the middle of the 31-acre property surrounded with new housing and shopping.

The plans ultimately call for 5.2 million square feet of buildings, including 1 million square feet offices in three buildings along Rockville Pike, 1 million square feet of retail, 2,500 residential units and a 300-room hotel. The current three-level mall is about 800,000 square feet.

Civic amenities are also envisioned. On the south side of the property the companies have reserved space for the construction of a new elementary school and on the east side plan to build a public park, part of 13.1 acres of open space on the property.

“It’s not going to be a mall,” said Michael Cohen, an architect with Boston-based Elkus Manfredi. “It’s going to be more of a town, in a way. So you’re not making a mall, you’re making a town, a community.”

All of the plans have not yet been submitted to the county and require a string of approvals. The developers declined to give a specific construction timeline, but the start of demolition may be years away given the needed approvals. The first phase envisions 740,000-square-feet of retail and 1,200 residential units, around a central “piazza.”

Still the plans, closely held by the developers until the meeting, prompted questions from members of the more than 200-person audience about when changes to the mall would begin. Some of the questions came from owners of shops currently operating in the mall. Bloomingdales and Lord & Taylor, the mall’s top anchors, independently own their spaces and would re-open in the new development.

“In terms of the tenancy, we really cannot speak cannot speak to the discussions we are having with the tenants. Those are ongoing,” said James D. Policaro, managing director of development for Lerner. The development team also declined to distribute images of the plans to the press or announce a project Web site.

The proposal represents one of the first announced plans to “de-mall” an enclosed shopping center in the area. With declining interest in malls nationwide, owners of urban and suburban malls have begun discussing the possibility of tearing the roofs off and replacing them with mixed-use, outdoor communities, but few attempts have been made.

Wide sidewalks, bicycle lanes and car-sharing services also enjoy a prominent place in the plans, as Lerner and the Tower Cos. join other White Flint developers in trying to transform Rockville Pike into a more public transit-oriented, urban environment. “We’re very serious about walkability,” said Michael Cohen, an architect with Boston-based Elkus Manfredi. He added that part of that meant reducing high-speed traffic on the property. “One of the things we're trying to do on our whole site is to slow the traffic down,” he said.

“Malls are changing,” Policaro said. “It’s a transformation — a transformation of buying habits.”

Follow Jonathan O’Connell on Twitter: @oconnellpostbiz

By  |  10:42 AM ET, 11/17/2011

 
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