Springfield Mall Slowly Morphs into a Town Center
What can Annandale Learn from this Development?
By: Jeffrey Levine & M. Callahan
Down the road from Annandale, where the Beltway crosses I-95, is Springfield, home to the second largest covered mall in Northern Virginia. Presently, this mall is under reconstruction. The final development, when completed, will be the mixed-use Springfield Town Center.
The term town center is used to designate a major shopping area, which may incorporate residential, office and entertainment uses, often including an open plaza. It is not necessarily located at the historical center of a town. The proposed Springfield Town Center is a case in point, since the actual heart of Springfield is across I-95.
The new multi-million dollar redevelopment plan proposes a multifaceted shopping center with a main indoor area, including an improved food court, and a new movie theater. According to the 2009 report prepared by the developer, Vornado, 2,700 apartments, 450 hotel rooms and one million square feet of office space will be added to the 78-acre site. Additionally, the retail component of the area will be expanded to accommodate two million square feet of shopping and dining.
The original plan was to have developed a “Main Street Concept,” transforming the exterior into a pedestrian friendly environment with restaurants, cafe style outdoor seating, and entrances.
The idea follows current retail center planning approaches, where there is an open, rather than closed, environment. An open rather than closed environment is also a proposal for the redevelopment of Landmark Mall in Alexandria. (How times and preferences do change. Landmark was originally built as an open air mall, only to be closed off in a subsequent remodel.)
Originally, there was a proposed design theme, stressing a water feature running through the primary interior spaces within the mall itself - a “spring for Springfield”. Memorable design themes provide uniqueness to the shopping experience, for example, the Galleria in Houston, an elegant covered mall, opened in 1970, had an Art Deco theme, including an ice skating rink.
A promotional video, shown on the website www.springfieldmall.com, illustrates how the new redevelopment will be built out. However, even though there are impressive renderings, both of the exterior and interior, the “main street” concept seems to have been abandoned, or possibly will be added at a future phase. Additionally, there appears to be no water features in the interior spaces; and the renderings show the interior design to be rather bland, generating little excitement, similar to many existing covered malls, which have been in existence since the 1940’s.
Some of these design compromises are probably due to cost-cutting; and there have been significant planning challenges along the way, for example: (1) the need for a positive pedestrian experience from the Metro station; and, (2) the need to retain anchor stores, but not necessarily the smaller stores.
There does not seem to be any particular effort to make the access from the metro station, 1/4 mile to the south, a more pedestrian-friendly route, particular since it leads through a forbidding underpass at Franconia-Springfield Parkway (State Route 289). Also, the first existing structure, seen by pedestrians arriving from the Metro, is a large multistory parking structure - the East Parking Deck, at the southeast corner of the development site.
Originally, the designs looked at making this approach more welcoming. A narrow residential building was proposed in front of the parking structure, and there were designs for parks, and other landscape features to soften this area.
Unfortunately, it is not clear that these features will be implemented since they are not shown in the video presentation. The original anchors were Lansburgh's (later E.J. Korvette), Garfinckel's (later Sports Authority), J.C. Penney, and Montgomery Ward (building demolished in 1999, site now Target). Macy's was added in 1991. In fact, Prince Charles and Princess Diana visited the JCPenney store at this mall on November 11, 1985, during their famous American tour. Princess Diana was both bemused and curious to learn how a Silver Cloud Rolls Royce was balanced on four china tea cups. Politely walking to the far side of the car, she knelt down, looked beneath, and confirmed that no other form of support was being used.
The developers,Vornado, announced plans in March 2012, to close all but Macy’s, Penney’s and Target. These stores will continue to operate throughout the construction period. Additionally, when these stores are remodeled, the designers will be required to work within the standard interior layout already established by the stores themselves.
The last renovation was completed in 1987, and by the time the mall closed they were needed again. By 2010, Vornado was no longer even attempting to rent mall stores to new tenants, and as large numbers of stores closed, they were simply walled over with drywall and forgotten. This has led to disgruntlement among several of the existing mall’s smaller tenants, in many cases they have had to move out completely.
What can Annandale learn from Springfield?
While there is no need for another covered mall in the area; and there is no parcel of land close to 80 acres available for development in the Annandale Central Business District (CBD), there are still items that Annandale can learn from the planning and implementation of the Springfield Town Center.
Establishment of a “central mixed-use area,” containing retail, residential and possibly offices. Annandale could learn from the Springfield’s development and challenges in the creation of its own “town center.” Using the “Main Street Concept” in this central mixed-use area. To study how this can occur in Annandale, see the Annandale Design Guidelines, at www.fcrevit.org. By the way, one of the most successful “main streets”, both from a business and aesthetic point of view, is Market Square in Clarendon.
The proximity to a major transit stop. Recent studies have been conducted to explore the feasibility of a building a transit center, since the CBD is at the intersection of several bus routes. Additionally, it is foreseen that Annandale could be the future south terminus for the Columbia Pike Streetcar.
Increased political commitment in funding and/or implementation of infrastructure. The Annandale Central Business District has been designated by Fairfax County as a Commercial Revitalization Area similar to Springfield. Continuing political commitment, similar to that provided in the recent developments in Springfield, Merrifield and Bailey’s Crossroads, will be needed to help implement any development in Annandale.
This article was first published in the January 2014 edition of the ENDEAVOR News magazine. Reproduction of this article, or photographs, requires the written permission from the Endeavor.