Forest City has a makeover in store for mall

Rendering of the remodeled Ballston Mall.

The de-malling of Washington continues.

Forest City Washington is planning an upgrade of Ballston Common Mall in Arlington that would include adding a row of sidewalk retail along Wilson Boulevard and building 306 residential units above the property.

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Thomas W. Henneberry, chief operating officer at Forest City Washington, said he has begun discussing the future of the 579,000-square-foot mall with county officials and pitching the idea of a reconfiguring it with prospective restaurant and shop owners.

Many of the mall’s most popular features would be upgraded or expanded, including the Kettler Capitals Iceplex — which hosts Washington Capitals practices and public skating hours — a Regal movie theater and a Sport & Health Club.

Under the plans (which require county approval) the mall’s eastern end at North Randolph Street would be torn down and replaced with a row of outward-facing shops and residential towers above.

In trying to open the mall up to the street and add housing to it, Forest City is pursuing a similar strategy to other mall owners in the area who have watched shoppers migrate to more urban, mixed-use projects.

In Tysons Corner, Macerich, the owner of Tysons Corner Center shopping mall, has begun building an office building, a 395-unit apartment tower and a hotel next door. Lerner Enterprises and the Tower Cos. have announced plans to turn the White Flint Mall into a town center over the next 25 years, while a remake of Springfield Mall into Springfield Town Center is already under way.

Ballston has long been a shopping destination for Arlington County, and its changing styles have reflected the shopping trends of the era. It was home to the Parkington Shopping Center with an Hecht Co. store anchor beginning in the 1950s. Forest City Washington, the local arm of Cleveland-based Forest City Enterprises, developed it into Ballston Common Mall for a 1986 reopening. Hecht’s gave way to J.C. Penney, which was replaced by Macy’s Furniture.

But Forest City faces some of the same challenges other mall owners are facing in convincing a mall’s many stakeholders of a new vision, particularly when ownership of the properties has been split among different companies. “Finding common ground to get people’s common interests aligned has been difficult,” Henneberry said.

For instance, although Forest City would like to tear down the Macy’s Furniture Gallery, Forest City does not own it, and Henneberry said the redevelopment plans hinge upon a deal being completed. “I think we’re very close to closing a purchase agreement with Macy’s,” he said of the negotiations. Macy’s spokeswoman Elina Kazan declined to comment.

Forest City will also have to receive a number of county approvals and has not yet submitted a formal proposal. Arlington County planning director Robert J. Duffy, one of the officials Forest City briefed on its plans, said the county would like to “see the mall become a much more open and attractive mixed-use project.”

“We need to encourage ... a vibrant place-making development that has a strong and active presence on the street as well as an interior space that is a place-making element as well,” Duffy said.

Henneberry said, however, that getting zoning changes could be a “real challenge.” Duffy acknowledged that the county would have to grant Forest City additional building rights. “The concept is certainly very exciting,” he said.

 
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