In another step toward revitalizing the Route 1 corridor, the developer responsible for the popular Village at Shirlington in Arlington County has bought adjacent shopping centers in southern Fairfax County.

Federal Realty Investment Trust of Rockville, also known for Bethesda Row in downtown Bethesda, spent $31.2 million to purchase South Valley Shopping Center and neighboring Mount Vernon Plaza, described by Supervisor T. Dana Kauffman (D-Lee) as "underachievers." The two centers consist of 42 contiguous acres along the west side of Route 1 (Richmond Highway) in the Hybla Valley area, about three miles south of the Capital Beltway.

"I don't think you can find any more credible indication of our success than a national player putting their flag on Route 1," Kauffman said.

Federal Realty owns retail properties in 14 states and the District. Several are in Northern Virginia, including Pan Am Shopping Center at Lee Highway and Nutley Street in Fairfax, Old Keene Mill and Tower shopping centers in Springfield and Pike 7 Plaza in Tysons Corner. In the Falls Church area, the company owns Tysons Station, Falls Plaza, Idylwood Plaza and Loehmann's Plaza.

It is the 361,000-square-foot Shirlington development that probably best exemplifies the aesthetic to which the company aspires in its suburban redevelopment projects. Crowds are drawn there by a sense of "place" that Federal Realty tries to create: sparkling fountains, a mix of popular restaurants, trendy retail boutiques with colorful awnings and wide brick sidewalks with benches for people-watching.

The center is also home to a Cineplex Odeon, a library and a professional theater company, adding to the entertainment and arts experience for visitors.

Company officials said it was too soon to discuss their plans for the Route 1 locations, other than to say they want to create what Senior Vice President Jeffrey S. Berkes called "a dominant retail destination . . . in this improving submarket of Washington."

Kauffman said, "I would hope, looking at a 42-acre assemblage, that they would feel free to be creative."

South Valley, built in 1966, is anchored by Home Depot and TJ Maxx. Mount Vernon, built in 1972, includes a Shoppers Food Warehouse as the anchor. More than 91,000 people with an average household income of more than $94,000 live within three miles of the centers, according to Federal Realty.

"What really seemed to hook them was the extensive amount of new, high-end housing already in place and in the pipeline," Kauffman said.

Route 1, long a rundown corridor, is one the county's seven revitalization zones, along with areas in Springfield, Baileys Crossroads, Annandale, McLean and Merrifield and Reston's Lake Anne area.