If attendance at a meeting of the Arlington Committee of 100 is any indication, interest and concern about a proposed regional shopping mall for the Ballston area is running high.
About 200 persons, described as a record attendance, gathered at a dinner meeting of the committee last week. the question raised at a panel discussion presented by the Arlington Economic Development Commission was: "Can Arlington attain a successful regional shopping mall?"
The answer given by commission Chairman James McMullin and other commission members was an emphatic "yes." But while many members of the Committee of 100 -- a group of Arlington civic leaders -- were clearly in support of a regional mall in the Ballston area, others at the meeting raised a host of questions about the impact such a development would have.
The thrust of McMullin's and others' remarks was "to brief community leaders and enlist (political) support for" a regional shopping mall.
There are several proposals for a regional, "urban" mall for the Ballston area -- including a new plan McMullin presented at the meeting last week. The Ballston area will soon include a completed link of i-66 and a Metro station, which is to open Dec. 1.
A mall in that area, McMullin said, should be smaller than Tyson's Corner but larger than Seven Corners, and would draw Arlington residents and commuters away from Fairfax County and Alexandria shopping centers.
McMullin outlined several advantages of such as mall:
It would offer a change for "positive redevelopment" of a part of the county in "need of replacement."
It would greatly increase the county tax base.
It would give the community a downtown and an indentity.
"Access is the key to the success or failure of such a facility," McMullin said in explaining why Ballston, instead of the Clarendon area, is the best location. McMullin added that the size of the potential market gives Arlington the "opportunity for one such mall."
McMullin warned, however, that "it will require political resolve" to win support for the mall and to prevent a redevelopment program "of marginal value."
Commission member Betty Clements, in agreeing with McMullin's assessment, said, "We must use ourselves as the opinionshapers we're reputed to be. Arlington badly needs up-to-date shopping facilities."
"Is the only kind of development worth considering a shopping mall?" asked one member of the Committee of 100.
Clements answered that the county has developed a master plan for the area, and the most difficult part of the plan to achieve is a regional shopping mall. a
Committee member Bob Reynolds asked how a shopping center built with money borrowed at 15 percent interest could compete with existing malls that only have to pay off loans at "6, 8 or 10 percent" interest.
"I'm not put off at all by the numbers," replied McMullin, who said be believed interest rates would drop in the future.
In response to another question, McMullin said plans by the may Department Stores Co. for a mall at Parkington will determine the viability of several other proposals.
"They could foreclose the other options," he said, since the area can support only one mall.
One audience member, who observed that shopping in Crystal City was similar to walking in "an empty canyon," asked about the possibility of increased crime, vandalism and traffic if a mall were built.
McMullin conceded that a "facility of this size is not trouble-free," but contended the major problem would be traffic. He said crime and vandalism should be minimal since any mall would be enclosed.
Another resident asked what effect such a mall would have on the Clarendon area.
"Clarendon will be relegated to simply a shopping center," said commission member Preston Caruthers. "It would simply cease to be the Clarendon we know. It's very unlikely Clarendon would ever be a major center again, whether or not a mall is built."
The evening concluded when Clements asked how many members of the Committee of 100 actually were wearing clothes purchased in Arlington. The minimal scattering of hands underlined Clements' argument: What we're trying to do is develop a total community of the future."