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New Apartments, ‘Town Center’ Planned for Revamped Ballston Mall

by Ethan Rothstein — June 24, 2014 at 11:45 am 13,675 0

(Updated at 12:25 p.m.) The future plans for the Ballston Common Mall include demolishing the Macy’s Furniture Store and parts of the current mall to build a 29-story residential tower and an open-air town center along Wilson Blvd, officials announced Monday night.

The 393-unit apartment building, at the corner of Wilson and N. Randolph Street, is projected to be completed by 2017, Ballston Business Improvement District CEO Tina Leone revealed at the BID’s annual meeting last night. Leone said the redevelopment — including a revamp of the retail mix at the mall — will be crucial for the branding of Ballston, which is often closely associated with the increasingly run-down mall.

“The mall hasn’t quite been able to serve our public,” Leone said, noting the mall’s future is the main question she gets asked about the future of Ballston development. “The mall is going to ‘de-mall’ itself. The roof is coming off.”

The mall is owned and operated by Forest City, which purchased the Macy’s Furniture Store last September. Forest City spokesman Gary McManus told ARLnow.com at the time that the mall had planned retail space with more street access in Macy’s place, and those plans now include the residential tower.

The building is expected to have four floors of underground parking and two floors of retail space below the studio, one- and two-bedroom rental apartments. The apartment building and attached parking will have a separate entrance from the restaurants and remaining mall.

Kettler Capitals Iceplex, the main Macy’s store — which will fold in the furniture store on its ground floor — the Sport&Health Club and the Regal Cinemas will all remain in the closed-air section of the mall, which is being rebranded as “Ballston Center.”

Along Wilson Blvd, parts of the mall — which originally opened as the Parkington Shopping Center in 1951 before it was rebuilt and reopened as Ballston Common Mall in 1986 — will be torn down and replaced with an open-air, town center-like plaza. Demolition is expected to begin by late 2015.

“[Forest City] thought about what was going to have the highest impact,” Leone told ARLnow.com, saying the Ballston BID has been “on a very high level” helping to form plans for the mall’s redevelopment. “To make it a town center, this is life-altering for the people who live and work here.”

McManus said that the pedestrian bridge from the mall to the current National Science Foundation headquarters across the street is tentatively slated to be torn down — private conversations between Forest City and Arlington County Board members led the mall owner to remove it from the plans — but an agreement needs to be reached with the NSF building’s property owner before that can happen.

McManus also said that the retail mix in the mall will change, to become more restaurant and entertainment-oriented. It will be aimed at serving the immediate area, not as a mall that brings in most of its shoppers from other areas, despite the fact that it will have “some destination retail, too.”

“We don’t want to compete with Tysons or Pentagon City,” McManus said. “We’ve started this project before, but this time it’s got all the momentum behind it.”

In addition to the four-level, 580,000 square foot mall’s redevelopment, Leone announced plans for changes to public spaces expected this fall, like public art projects, Ballston-branded signs lining the streets and the new Fairfax Drive landscaping ARLnow.com reported on earlier this month.

Among the proposed projects is a redesigned Metro plaza, which Leone said she hopes will include an “interactive light installation” under the Metro canopy. The light installation is being designed in Amsterdam — it will track pedestrians’ movements underneath and project light based on that movement. The Metro plaza is also planned to include an small amphitheater and redesigned bus parking to remove some buses from N. Stuart Street.

Welburn Square (901 N. Taylor Street), a popular lunchtime gathering spot for Ballston office workers that also hosts Ballston’s Thursday farmers markets, is slated to get two public art projects.

One is called “The Cloud” — created in partnership with Virginia Tech, it will feature light “goblets,” that visitors “can interact with using light and sound.”

Another art project for Welburn Square is called “The Forest of Knowledge,” which Leone said will feature “LED-lit eyes that hang from trees that are alive day and night. They’ll communicate via our mobile app, and they’re going to ask if you’re happy or you’re sad, are you laughing, are you crying? They’re going to remember the collective mood of people that day and play it back.”

The pieces will be installed in early October, Leone said. In all, she said, there will be eight technology-inspired public art projects that will be installed between July and November throughout the Ballston.

The annual meeting was also the formal introduction of Christina Campos and her restaurant-to-be, Casita, the controversial winner of Ballston’s Restaurant Challenge. A Spanish comfort-food restaurant, Casita expects to open in the fall in the former Red Parrot space at 1110 N. Glebe Road. Casita served seafood paella to the guests in attendance.

During the announcements of changes and new projects coming to Ballston — but before the mall announcement — the crowd was largely silent to the point where Leone stopped and asked their opinion “because you want to hear the ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs,’ not silence.” When she announced the plans for a town center where the Panera Bread and Noodles and Company storefronts currently sit, the crowd responded with loud, unprompted applause.

“[The mall redevelopment] is transformational,” Leone said. “Ballston is already great. I don’t even know how high it’s going to go.”

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