A demolition worker positions himself to cut steel beams out of the Springfield Mall. The Springfield Town Center is expected to open in fall of 2014. (Shamus Ian Fatzinger/Fairfax County Times)

The tearing down of Springfield Mall on Monday marked the end of an era, but according to Fairfax County Supervisor Jeff McKay (D-Lee), the best is yet to come for the proposed town center that will take its place, as well as for Springfield itself.

“This is the most important thing to happen in Springfield since Metro came in,” McKay said. “For many, like me, who grew up in this area in the 1980s, Springfield Mall was the place to see and be seen. It was a state-of-the-art mall. There was a reason Prince Charles and Diana visited here. It really was something. To watch it deteriorate the way it did over the last 20 years has been devastating.”

Monday marked the beginning of a 10-year redevelopment of the mall into a “town center” model, split into four phases, originally scheduled to begin in summer 2011.

“We had a little financial difficulty since its proposal, but it is now happening,” McKay said.

Phase 1 of the plan, according to a 2009 county staff report prepared for the Board of Supervisors, consists of an interior reconstruction, including an improved food court and construction of a new movie theater. There will also be a “streetscape” element that will consist of outdoor restaurant seating and entrances to retail stores that will face outward, creating a town center feel. Those changes are expected to be up and running by the 2014 holiday season, according to McKay.

In three subsequent phases, the mall’s new owners, Vornado Realty Trust, eventually hope to add as many as 2,700 apartments, 450 hotel rooms and 1 million square feet of office space to the 78-acre site, while expanding the retail component of the area to 2 million square feet of shopping and dining.

The town center vision also includes improved pedestrian and bicycle connections to the Franconia-Springfield Metro and Virginia Railway Express stations, and a circulator bus service that serves the transit station, the mall area and the rest of the Springfield revitalization district.

The developer’s outlying plans also include construction of a central plaza, ground-floor retail in the apartment buildings, a grocery store, a health club, and basketball and tennis courts on top of a parking garage, according to the 2009 report.

“The Springfield community has been waiting a long time for this to start,” McKay said. “The decline of Springfield Mall had nothing at all to do with the local demographics, and everything to do with the mall’s previous owners, who let it get into the shape it was in when Vornado took it over.”

In July, as part of the $200 million phase one reconstruction, Vornado bid adieu to the last of the mall’s interior tenants, and prepared to knock down all but the mall’s three anchor stores; JCP, Target and Macy’s, all of which remain open and will become an integral part of the new Town Center vision.

On Monday, demolition of the mall began, something that Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Nancy-Jo Manney was happy to see. “It had been put off for so long that people were beginning to doubt that it would ever happen,” she said. “I, for one, am very excited about this project and what it will mean for Springfield.”