Arlington’s County Board agreed Tuesday night to invest about $55 million in renovations at Ballston Common Mall, an underperforming shopping center whose owners want to turn it into a mixed-use, entertainment-oriented development that they believe will draw more people.
By a vote of 5 to 0, the board voted to allocate $10 million in public revenue for garage and transportation improvements and create a tax increment financing district that would generate an additional $45.5 million.
It would be the first time the county has tried that strategy, which has been in use across the Commonwealth and the country — including the District — for years.
“This has an enormous potential to be successful,” said J. Walter Tejada (D), the board’s vice chairman. Board Chairman Mary H. Hynes (D) agreed, calling the deal “a measured risk for a great return.”
Forest City, which owns the mall, intends to expand the property with new retail and office space and add a 22-story, 406-unit residential tower. The cost of the project is about $317 million.
Arlington’s $10 million grant would go toward improving the county-owned garage that serves the mall and such projects as rebuilding Wilson Boulevard, removing and rebuilding a pedestrian bridge and improving the streetscape.
The $45.5 million in tax increment financing would be provided through the use of bonds, which Forest City would repay with the increased tax revenue the mall is expected to generate. If that revenue falls short, the county could impose a special tax to cover the shortage. That financing plan could be formally created early next year, and bonds could be issued by summer.
Marc McCauley, director of real estate development for the Arlington Economic Development agency, said using public funds to help transform the property will turn the mall from an economic “drain” into “a catalyst for future growth.”
County officials estimated that the redevelopment would generate $152 million to $167 million in additional property, sales and meal taxes through 2045. If Forest City does not receive county help and chooses to pursue a more modest redevelopment, the expected estimate of new tax revenue shrinks by a difference of $52 million to $67 million.
Ballston is the latest regional shopping center slated for redevelopment in the past few years, among them White Flint Mall in Montgomery County and, in Fairfax County, both Springfield Mall and the walkable Mosaic District, the “anti-mall” that replaced the Merrifield Town Center.
The Ballston mall “is achieving a third of the performance of its competitors all around the area,” Victor Hoskins, Arlington’s director of economic development, said this summer. The Mosaic District “is just throttling” the Ballston mall, Hoskins said.
Fairfax put more than $50 million in public funds into the Mosaic area, he said, adding that he believes shoppers are bypassing Ballston for Mosaic, which is also Metro-accessible.
Despite the high median income of Ballston households ($126,123 in 2013, almost 20 percent higher than the county median), the mall has had a hard time hanging onto customers and tenants.
The mall, built in 1951 as the Parkington Shopping Center, was enclosed in the 1980s during a $100 million renovation project and is home to the Kettler Capitals Iceplex. It’s about 60 percent leased, but most of the tenants are expected to leave in February to clear the way for the renovation, leaving only Macy’s, a movie theater, a CVS drug store, a fitness facility and a bank.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the potential impact in terms of increased tax revenue of the county not providing funding to the renovations at Ballston Common Mall. This version has been corrected.