The owners of Tysons Corner Center, already the region's largest mall, are developing a plan that would double its size and move toward transforming the iconic suburban shopping destination into something like a small city.
According to documents presented to Fairfax County planning leaders last week, the mall would be ringed by office, residential and hotel mid-rises, essentially increasing the amount of floor space on the property to more than 5 million square feet, or more than twice as much as in the Empire State Building.
This rendering shows additions proposed for Tysons Corner Center, including a hotel, offices and condominiums. The project would take about 10 years.
Transformation Forseen: A proposed construction project would transform Tyson's Corner Mall in some ways into a small city.
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The center's managers describe the proposal as another step in the competitive evolution of the mall, which opened in 1968, was transformed in the mid-'80s by the addition of another floor and new anchor stores, and now seeks to capitalize on opportunities presented by the proposed Metrorail extension at its front door.
"This is one of the top 10 centers in the United States," said Charles R. Cope, director of special projects for Wilmorite Property Management, which runs the mall, now owned by Wilmorite Inc., and Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. "This is what needs to be done to keep it successful."
The proposal comes as more than two dozen Tysons Corner landowners, seeking to exploit the arrival of rail, have asked for county permission to double the amount of development allowed on their properties.
The project faces at least two hurdles.
First, it must win the approval of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. The board has previously called for creating a traditional downtown at Tysons Corner, and the current proposal moves that vision closer, especially given the proposed rail station on Route 123 in front of the mall. The plan also would partly knit the mall, now an isolated suburban building surrounded by parking, into something more like a city block, with buildings facing each other across streets and outdoor sidewalks.
But if other recent development debates in the area are any guide, the board probably will have to come to grips with some vehement opposition from homeowner groups concerned about traffic problems and the effects of even more buildings, cars and people.
"There? Oh my god!" said Adrienne Whyte of nearby McLean, who is active on planning issues, when told of the proposal. "We'd like to be able to drive from McLean to Vienna in less than a day."
Fairfax County board Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D) praised the plan for some of the public spaces it shows, including a central plaza with an ice skating rink. Tysons Corner is an area that, he has noted, lacks outdoor gathering spaces. But he said the size of the expansion and the ratio of office and residential space would have to be carefully studied. He said he would not make up his mind on the project until public hearings had been held.
"It is an ambitious plan," he said.
Project leaders said that they would soon begin soliciting the input of neighborhood groups.
"We'll be happy to meet with anyone who has an interest in the project," said Antonio J. Calabrese, a land-use lawyer representing the project. "We're really in the infancy of the county process."
The second hurdle is that only about a third of the project can be built before funding for the $1.5 billion Metrorail extension from West Falls Church through Tysons Corner is approved, according to the terms of the proposed rezoning for the expansion.