To walk around in Springfield Mall, you might think it’s already closed. Large vacant parts of it are dark and spooky. In its 2010 annual report, the owner, Vornado Realty Trust, described the mall as “a 1.4-million square foot fixer-upper.” It’s quite a tumble from the days when Princess Diana and Prince Charles paid a visit in 1985.
Now, Vornado is taking action on a plan that Fairfax County approved in 2009 and is building the Springfield Town Center, with a proposed mix of retail and commercial use, 2,000 residential units, a 225-room hotel and “an abundance of open spaces and recreational facilities.” As the Fairfax County Times first reported, the first step involves evicting all of the mall’s current tenants on 120 days notice, except for Macy’s, Target and J.C. Penney, and gutting it. The mall destruction and rebuild, and construction of the Town Center around the mall, are planned to take 10 to 20 years, depending on whose estimate you believe.
“We waited for what seems like forever for the remaking of the mall to start,” Supervisor Jeff McKay told me. “I’m delighted the day has finally come and we can be proud to have the mall in our community again. I have great childhood memories of time spent in Springfield Mall, and I want my young children to be saying the same thing soon.”
McKay correctly implies that the mall is not currently a place of pride, and Vornado (who’s not talking) hasn’t made any friends with its handling of the mall since buying it in 2006. In 2008, an Alexandria woman was abducted from the mall parking lot and killed. In 2009, Vornado obtained approval to build the Town Center, then did nothing. And in 2010, Vornado strategically defaulted on its mortgage of $171.5 million, and then rebought the place for $115 million, which is a good way to cut $56 million off your debt load.
The location would seem to be ideal: adjacent to the Mixing Bowl, the intersection of the Beltway and I-95, next to a Metro station in the heart of Fairfax County, near numerous thriving communities. But other malls popped up — Fair Oaks, Tysons II — and cut into its territory, and even as big-box stores rose around it, the mall shriveled and essentially died.
With the economy apparently reviving, Vornado’s plan calls for 3 million square feet (!!) of new apartment and office space on the 80-acre site. Vornado hopes to have the mall reopened in two years. It’s got location; it’s got demographics. It was once a thriving, popular hangout. It can be again.