More than 100 Alexandria residents packed a room at Landmark Mall Monday night to hear an update on the mall’s future but — despite years of planning and negotiations — received little in the way of concrete answers because of the mall’s divided ownership.
First opened in 1965, Landmark Mall is past its prime. Traffic congestion surrounds it on Duke and Van Dorn streets and it is trying to fill empty storefronts inside.
Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille told the crowd at the outset that he regularly receives calls from residents demanding a new direction for the mall and that he had hoped for progress much earlier. The city passed a plan for the area in 2008 and a former owner of the mall, General Growth Properties, unveiled plans to redevelop Landmark at that time.
But in 2009 General Growth filed filed for bankruptcy, one of the largest collapses of an American real estate company, and Dallas-based Howard Hughes Corp. took over the company’s stake in the mall. Redevelopment plans had to be re-started, with the economy in recovery.
Monday’s meeting was an opportunity for residents to hear the new vision for the mall. John Simon, Howard Hughes executive vice president, said the company planned to tear apart the mall’s center and replace it with an open air shopping center. Apartments and a movie theater would be added to the levels.
Access to parking and pedestrian connections would be much easier under the new plan, Simon explained, and the mall’s dated interior would be replaced with an outdoor promenade. Sears and Macy’s would remain in business. “You get to experience a sort of small town, urban environment as you go into the parking deck,” Simon said.
The project still requires city approvals but if all went according to plan, Simon said, the project could start in 2014 and the new center could re-open in 2016. Further phases could add office buildings, more apartment buildings or a hotel to the property.
But Howard Hughes doesn’t own the entire mall, a major sticking point. While it owns the middle portion of the building and associated parking, Sears and Macy’s each own similarly sized portions on the eastern and western ends. (A city press release on the project shows the three ownership parcels.)
Any reconfiguration requires approval of all three parties. Sears and Macy’s did not present at the meeting and Simon said the three were not seeing eye-to-eye. “Both stores, today, are not ready to commit to this,” Simon said.
Simon added that the stores had made clear to him that they were not interested in being bought out. All three will have to agree to any changes at the mall, which could leave residents waiting. “We can’t complete this plan without the cooperation of Sears and Macy’s,” he said.
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