It was like throwing a party for a guest who never came when Prince William County officials gathered this spring to cut the ribbon on the new Dale City interchange.
The $38 million clover leaf on I-95 four miles south of the Fairfax County line was built to facilitate traffic generated from a massive regional shopping mall proposed by Ernest W. Hahn Inc.
But there is no mall on the 150-acre track of land on Opitz Boulevard near the interstate interchange with Smoketown Road (Rte. 642) and Hahn executives are making no promises there will be one in the near future. Indeed Prince William County officials say they haven't heard anything from the developers in the past three years.
"Sure we're disappointed," said State Del. David G. Brickley, who led a contingent of Prince William residents with mall proposal in hand to lobby for state and federal funding of the interchange in 1977. The California-based developer then spoke of a giant mall with about 135 stores and said large department stores were interested in the project.
"The state bent over backwards to build the interchange with the Hahn mall in mind," Brickley said. "We planned the finishing of the interchange to coincide with the grand opening of the mall. Then there we were with a finished interchange and no mall in sight."
Daniel T. Felix, Hahn's vice president of redevelopment, said earlier this week in a telephone interview from the company's headquarters in San Diego that plans for the Dale City mall have been put on hold indefinitely "due to a slump in the economy.
"We are hopeful we can continue with the plan to open the center sometime in the future," he said, adding "that doesn't mean it's going to be tomorrow or anything."
The firm, which bills itself as the third largest mall developer in the country, submitted draft plans to Prince William officials in the late 1970s for a mall complex with four major department stores and 131 smaller stores.
Brickley said 2,400 Dale City residents signed a petition in favor of a mall, which he said would be a boon to the county's economic and social development. Although the fast growing county has more than 145,000 residents it has only one modest sized mall in Manassas and a handful of shopping centers. County officials say recent studies show that most residents shop at Tysons Corner, Springfield and the Fair Oaks malls in Fairfax County.
That Prince William residents are spending their money in Fairfax is particularly bitter news to the county's Board of Supervisors, which has pushed long and hard for business development in the county.
County Board Chairman Kathleen K. Seefeldt said the county, booming with new housing, needs businesses and manufacturing to broaden the tax base and provide jobs within the county limits. The Hahn mall was expected to do both.
"This county is booming," said county planner Roger Snyder last week. "It seems someone should jump through the window and start moving dirt. This place is a virtual gold mine for retailers."
Brickley said the county will continue to wait for the Hahn mall and hope other business developers will settle in the county. In the meantime, he said the interchange is handling residential and commuter traffic from Woodbridge and Dale City, two still-growing communities in the eastern, more developed half of the county.
"The interchange is by no means a loss in that it is now serving a useful function," said Brickley, who said because of this the county's chances at further state funds for road projects have not been jeapordized by the collapse of the mall.
Prince William officials said they are aware that nearby Loudoun County has the opposite problem--too many mall proposals and too few roads to serve them. "It is an ironic twist," said Snyder. "Maybe we can trade off."