Howard Hughes Corp. plans to tear out the center of Landmark Mall to build up to 400 apartments, a movie theater and pedestrian walkways. The mall’s anchors, Sears and Macy’s would remain in place. (Courtesy of Howard Hughes Corporation)

Officials in Alexandria offered initial support last week for a plan to tear out the center of Landmark Mall and replace it with up to 400 apartments, a movie theater and other amenities that the developer says are needed for the property to make a comeback.

Residents of Alexandria have been waiting years for a plan to revive Landmark Mall, which like many malls, has experienced a decline in popularity with the growth of urban shopping districts and suburban town center developments.

Plans to transform Landmark Mall have stalled, whether a victim of the economy or changing ownership. After the city approved a plan for the area around the mall in 2008, General Growth Properties, then one of the country’s largest owners of malls, worked with Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille and other officials on a redevelopment plan for the property.

In 2009, General Growth filed for bankruptcy and directed a portfolio of mixed-use projects and development projects to a new spinoff, Dallas-based Howard Hughes Corp.

Howard Hughes is no stranger to the Washington area. One of its most prominent projects is Columbia Town Center, where in February it broke ground with apartment builder Kettler and Orchard Development on 380 luxury apartments and 14,000 square feet of retail.

Wedged between Interstate 395, Duke Street and Van Dorn Street, Landmark was originally an outdoor mall when it opened in 1965. According to city documents, it was the first mall in the Washington area to feature three anchor department stores, Hecht Co., Sears & Roebuck and Woodward & Lothrop. The anchors eventually became Macy’s, Sears and Lord & Taylor (which closed in 2009). The mall was enclosed in 1990. In recent years, vacancy has increased and the owners have taken to renting the parking lot to a carnival run by Reithoffer Shows.

Howard Hughes proposed adding apartments, pedestrian connections and public transit options for 1.2 acres in the center of the mall’s 51.5-acre site. In April, John Simon, Howard Hughes executive vice president, presented the company’s plans and told residents the project would create a “sort of small town, urban environment,” but that the plans were contingent on approval from Sears and Macy’s, which each own their stores and plan to remain open.

Last week, staff from Alexandria Planning and Zoning issued a 106-page analysis supporting the project with some conditions. “I think we’ve ended up with a plan that works very well, and I think will eventually realize the vision in the Van Dorn-Landmark corridor plan,” said Gwen Wright, chief of the development division.

Wright said she had not been in contact with Macy’s or Sears, but hoped that although those stores would remain as-is for the foreseeable future, they would eventually be included in the project. “We’re starting at the core and hope and intend that over time it will grow piece by piece,” she said.

The Alexandria Planning Commission is scheduled to consider the development proposal for Landmark Mall on June 4, with a city council hearing scheduled for June 15.