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by ARLnow.com — June 17, 2015 at 9:15 am 2,392 0

Goldfinch in stream near Long Branch Nature Center (Flickr pool photo by airamangel)

County to Seek Ballston Mall Partnership — Arlington County is moving quickly to try to come up with a public-private partnership for the redevelopment of Ballston Common Mall. County Board members said Tuesday that they believe the redevelopment will bring important economic benefits. “To not reinvest is to watch the death, I think, of Ballston,” said County Board Chair Mary Hynes. [InsideNova, Arlington County]

Crash Near Kenmore Middle School — A five-vehicle crash occurred around 5:30 yesterday evening on S. Carlin Springs Road, just south of Kenmore Middle School. Scanner reports suggest a driver mistook the gas pedal for the brake at an intersection, leading to the multi-vehicle wreck. [Twitter]

Playground Contracts Awarded — The Arlington County Board has voted unanimously to award two contracts, together worth about $2 million, for new playgrounds at Long Bridge Park and Tyrol Hills Park. Construction on both is expected to begin later this summer and will take about four months. [Arlington County]

Panhandlers Stake Out Turf in Arlington — There’s “an ongoing turf war” among panhandlers in Arlington County, who seek to hold certain lucrative, traffic-laden roadsides and medians. The “war” has resulted in the occasional fist fight and accusations that rival panhandlers are making up their sob stories, which often revolve around being a veteran or losing a home. [Falls Church News-Press]

Free Chips and Guac at Cal Tor Today — California Tortilla locations, including the eatery in Courthouse, are offering free chips and guacamole to customers today. A purchase is required. [California Tortilla]

Flickr pool photo by airamangel

by ARLnow.com — June 11, 2015 at 9:15 am 2,591 0

Arlington Forest Fox (Flickr pool photo)

County Slow to Approve Ballston Mall Renovation — The chair of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce is asking why it has taken county staff 11 months and counting to accept a site plan for renovations to Ballston Common Mall, a process he says normally takes 60 days. In the Chamber’s latest newsletter, Kevin Shooshan asked members to publicly support the proposal. [InsideNova]

Arlington Bachelor Contestant Back on TV — Former ‘Bachelor’ contestant and Arlington resident Jillian Anderson will be back on TV Aug. 2 with the start of season 2 of “Bachelor in Paradise.” Anderson is a Fox News producer, a competitive bodybuilder and a former Redskins cheerleader. [Patch]

Constitutional Officers Unopposed — Arlington County’s constitutional officers — treasurer, commissioner of the revenue, clerk of the circuit court, sheriff and commonwealth’s attorney — will all run unopposed this year. It’s the first time in 16 years that all five are running without a challenger. The candidate filing deadline was June 9. [InsideNova]

Flickr pool photo by ksrjghkegkdhgkk

by ARLnow.com — May 19, 2015 at 1:00 pm 10,013 0

Ballston Common Mall, set to undergo a major renovation project next year, will be rebranded as “Ballston Quarter.”

Mall owner Forest City revealed the new name at the International Council of Shopping Centers convention in Las Vegas on Monday, as first reported by Bisnow.

The new mall’s most defining feature will be an open-air plaza running through the middle of what is now enclosed shopping space.

A recently-deployed Ballston Quarter website, which includes the slogan “Life Uncommon” and a slick preview video, lists the features of the airy shopping center:

  • “An open-air, urban environment coupled with a remodeled interior concourse”
  • “An open-air, public plaza gathering space and an intimate mews entrance along Wilson Boulevard”
  • “Activated streetscape to engage the community including street-entry stores and restaurants, some with sidewalk, terrace or rooftop dining options”
  • “A unique and vibrant mix of stores, restaurants, entertainment venues – 365,000 SF in addition to Macy’s”
  • “A residential tower with over 380 apartment homes and stunning amenities will top the new Ballston Quarter”

Macy’s, Rock Bottom Brewery, Panera Bread, Sport & Health, Regis Hair Salon, Regal Cinema, Noodles and Company, CVS, Kettler Capitals Iceplex and Shiki Sushi are all expected to remain open during the renovations. Most other mall retailers are expected to close after the end of the year.

by ARLnow.com — April 30, 2015 at 10:55 am 1,979 0

Jeremy StoppelmanJeremy Stoppelman, the CEO and co-founder of Yelp, might not have made it as a tech titan if it wasn’t for bike rides to Ballston Common Mall as a kid.

Stoppelman grew up in Arlington, near Military Road. He attended Taylor Elementary in the 1980s and swam on the Donaldson Run swim team. Though Stoppelman and his family later moved to Great Falls, where he attended Langley High School, it was those early days in Arlington that set him on the path to Silicon Valley stardom.

“I used to ride my bike to Ballston mall to buy video games… they had one of those little video game stores,” he told ARLnow.com in a phone interview. “I was always interested in technology and computers. It probably started early with my love of video games and fascination with how you build them and the machines they run on.”

After high school Stoppelman attended the University of Illinois, where he graduated with a degree in computer engineering in 1999. He would come back to Northern Virginia to intern at UUNET, an early commercial internet service provider, for two summers. After graduation, however, he left the D.C. area behind for the Bay Area, where he would work for @Home Network and Paypal before attending a year of business school and founding Yelp in 2004.

Now 37, Stoppelman is the head of a publicly-traded company, a member of Vanity Fair magazine’s vaunted “New Establishment,” and at last check worth an estimated $222 million. Despite a demanding schedule on the West Coast, he says he’s able to come back to Washington a couple of times a year, sometimes for work — weighing in on legislative issues on Capitol Hill — and sometimes just to visit his mother, who now lives in Reston. (His father died in 1998, according to a San Francisco Chronicle profile.)

Asked about advice he would give to local students hoping for a career in tech, Stoppelman said getting an early start learning computer programming is key.

Welcome to Yelp Lobby“If your school offers something like a computer science course I would definitely take it,” he said. “Just get going, the more you explore and have fun and just follow your interests, the better.”

Stoppelman himself took a Turbo Pascal programming class in high school. He supports efforts to bring more coding classes to students as early as the elementary school level, including online coding lessons from Code.org and Coursera.

“A deeper understanding of technology is good for everyone,” he said.

With talk of a new tech bubble and an ever-growing list of “unicorns” — startups that have attained the previously-rare valuation of $1 billion — the temptation might be there for young D.C. area entrepreneurs to decamp to Silicon Valley in search of ultra-quick riches. Stoppelman, who guided Yelp’s growth for eight years before taking it public, cautioned against the myth that there’s easy success to be had in tech, particularly in the local space.

“I think in a lot of cases it looks like there’s easy bucks but there’s often an easy story,” he said. “For a lot of companies, the ‘overnight success’ was four or five years in the making, where they struggled with a bunch of different ideas and things that didn’t work and one day they were finally able to get something to click.”

“Doing something in local generally means going deep in a lot of geographies, which takes a freaking long time,” he continued. “So we always had a long-term mentality.”

(more…)

by Ethan Rothstein — April 27, 2015 at 1:35 pm 15,105 0

(Updated at 5:00 p.m.) The approval process for Ballston Common Mall’s massive renovation plans is still months away, but many stores are likely to close after the end of the year.

Forest City, which owns the mall, has coordinated leases for many of their shops on the mall’s interior to expire by the end of this year. This would pave the way for the mall’s renovation in 2016 once it’s approved, according to spokesman Gary McManus.

“We are currently in the process of positioning the mall for this demolition period by steadily vacating store units by the end of this year that will be impacted by early phases of demolition/redevelopment activity,” McManus told ARLnow.com in an email.

“To that end,” he continued, “we decided more than a year ago to institute lease terms for many of these store tenants that would not stretch into 2016 in order to give us the flexibility to start on the site work sooner than later, once the approvals process has been completed.”

McManus couldn’t specify which stores would be closing because of ongoing negotiations, but he said every business with an outside entrance will remain open throughout the entire renovation. That means Macy’s, Regal Cinemas, Rock Bottom Brewery, Noodles & Co., Panera Bread, Sport&Health Club and the CVS Pharmacy will be able to stay open, but everything else could be on the chopping block.

Forest City submitted three different site plan amendments with Arlington County last summer: one to renovate the mall’s interior, another to construct a 393 unit, 29-story residential tower with ground floor retail at the corner of Wilson Boulevard and N. Randolph Street, and a third to renovate the office building above the mall.

All of those applications are under staff review and no dates have been set for meetings of the Site Plan Review Committee, the Arlington Planning Commission or the County Board. While many site plan amendments take within 12 months to work through the process, the grand scope of Forest City’s plans dictate a longer review period, county planning staff said.

“The timeline has been due to the nature and complexity of the proposal,” Community Planning, Housing and Development spokeswoman Gina Wimpey said in an email. ” We want to ensure that, given that there are three separate applications for the redevelopment of the block that are interrelated, an appropriate review process is determined.”

McManus said he can’t speculate on a development timetable until Forest City has its plans approved, but he said it will go before the Board “hopefully by late 2015.”

Before that happens, Forest City will be selling national retailers on the future of Ballston Common Mall — which will be rebranded, but, McManus said, may not carry the previously circulated “Ballston Center” moniker — at industry conventions, in particular the ICSC conference in Las Vegas.

“Many retailers not currently located in the mall have expressed excitement and interest in learning more about our plans at this event,” McManus said. “So overall, the redevelopment plans for Ballston Common are on track and proceeding smoothly. This is a complex process and we are very excited about the anticipated results. Believe me when I say that no one is more eager to complete the redevelopment process at Ballston Common than Forest City Washington.”

by Ethan Rothstein — April 23, 2015 at 11:00 am 2,002 0

Willard's Parlour of Mystery's opening night show, Timeless Deceptions(Updated at 11:15 a.m.) “Willard’s Parlour of Mystery” a theatre showing comedic magic shows, is opening this weekend in the former Comedy Spot space in Ballston Common Mall.

The magic theater’s opening show will be tomorrow night, at 8:00 p.m., with a performance called Timeless Deceptions by brothers Peter and Matt Wood.

The parlour was founded by Willard Royal, a magic enthusiast who has been trying for more than a year to find a way to host shows in the black box theater on the third floor of the mall.

“My motivation was to look for a permanent home for the region’s best entertainers,” Royal told ARLnow.com this morning. “Magic is hot right now, and my friends who have good shows are all looking for venues.”

The Comedy Spot in Ballston Common MallThe opening night show is likely to sell out, Royal said, and tickets start at $45. The parlour occupies the small, several-dozen seat theater in the back of the venue.

There will be shows every Friday and Saturday night intended for adults, and Saturday afternoon shows starting May 9 intended for the whole family. Those shows will be hosted by Barry Taylor, owner of the former Barry’s Magic Shop in Rockville, Md.

The Comedy Spot moved because their lease was up, its owner told us in February. Royal’s lease goes until the end of the year, after which time he said he will “re-evaluate” because of the mall’s pending overhaul.

Photo, top, courtesy Willard Royal

by Ethan Rothstein — February 25, 2015 at 1:30 pm 1,709 0

The Comedy Spot in Ballston Common Mall(Updated at 3:45 p.m.The Comedy Spot, the stand-up and improvisational comedy venue on the third floor of Ballston Common Mall, will shut its doors this weekend and move into D.C.

Tomorrow night (Thursday), The Comedy Spot will host its final standup show, a free showcase for comics who have performed over the last 10 years at the venue.

Saturday night will be the final shows for the regular Comedysportz and The Blue Show improv comedy shows, at 7:30 and 10:00 p.m. respectively. Each show costs $15 and a large cast of present and past performers will take the stage for the final time.

After this weekend, the shows will move to the D.C. Improv at 1140 Connecticut Ave. NW, according to The Comedy Spot’s website. The first Comedysportz and Blue Show at the Improv will be March 14.

According to the host of the weekly open mic night, Kenneth Llewellyn, the Comedy Spot decided to let its lease run out, rather than renew before the mall undergoes its planned major renovation.

“The Comedy Spot is one of the longest running comedy mics in the DMV area,” Llewellyn said in an email. He’s hosted the free Thursday night shows, which have been held weekly for six years, since 2013. “After six years. the venue is closing so we’re having one last show featuring some of the all-time greats.”

The Comedy Spot’s owner, Liz Demery, told ARLnow.com in an email that her “rather expensive lease was up.”

I adore the people and audiences at the DC Improv,” she wrote. “Instead of having to maintain a physical space, we get to show up and play at their excellent location.”

by ARLnow.com — February 24, 2015 at 10:15 am 3,285 0

Gay Lord Balmilero Ballesteros (left) and Ezra Amankrah (right). Photo courtesy ACPD.Security officers at Ballston Common Mall swarmed to prevent two theft suspects from getting away Saturday night.

The incident happened around 6:30 p.m. Police say the two men were trying to leave Macy’s with concealed clothing items when they were confronted by a security officer.

The suspects assaulted that officer, but were detained by additional security employees, according to police.

The men, both Manassas area residents, were arrested and charged with robbery.

From the Arlington County Police daily crime report:

ROBBERY, 150221043, 700 block of N. Glebe Road. At 6:25 pm on February 21, a loss prevention officer at the mall confronted two subjects as they attempted to leave a store with concealed merchandise. The subjects assaulted the employee but were detained by additional mall security officers until police arrived. Ezra Amankrah, 20, of Manassas Park, VA, was arrested and charged with robbery and driving on a suspended license. Gay Lord Balmilero Ballesteros, 23, of Manassas, VA, was arrested and charged with robbery. Both subjects were held without bond.

by Ethan Rothstein — February 9, 2015 at 1:30 pm 1,306 0

The closed RadioShack in the Crystal City ShopsThe RadioShack in the Shops at 1750 Crystal Drive in Crystal City is closed and the RadioShack in the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City is expected to close by the end of March, if not sooner.

The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last week, and plans to close thousands of its locations by March 31, including the storefront in the Pentagon City Mall. Employees at the Pentagon City RadioShack could not say when that location would be closing, only that it was relatively imminent.

The RadioShack on the second floor of Ballston Common Mall is expected to be the last remaining location of the national electronics retailer in Arlington by the spring.

That Ballston store will likely be part of the newly formed consortium between Standard General, a private equity fund, and Sprint, the cell phone provider, keeping between 1,500 and 2,400 stores open nationwide, according to Forbes. Whenever the deal is finalized and the transition occurs, the leftover stores will be selling a mix of Sprint products and the electronic goods like cords and adapters for which RadioShack has become known.

by Ethan Rothstein — January 6, 2015 at 2:00 pm 2,009 0

Wet Seal, the national young women’s clothing store chain, has closed its location in Ballston Common Mall amid serious money trouble at the corporate level.

The Ballston location closed over the weekend, and pieces of merchandise were still strewn about the store despite most of it laying empty yesterday.

According to a tipster, there was a handwritten sign in the window that read along the lines of, “check the internet if you want to know why we are closed. wet seal sucks! liars!” (Update at 6:30 p.m. — BuzzFeed has a photo of the sign and an interview with its creator.)

Other Wet Seal stores around the country were closed abruptly, and employees of the location that closed in Durham, N.C., also posted a sign complaining about the fashion in which the store closed and how it treated its now-jobless employees.

Bloomberg News reported last week that Wet Seal received a notice of default and owes its creditors $28.8 million by Jan. 12. The financial news site says the company’s stock price has plummeted to 5.7 cents a share, having lost 97 percent of its value in the last year. If the company’s projections hold up, it will have lost almost $240 million by the end of the fiscal year.

According to the Dayton Daily News in Dayton, Ohio, 350 Wet Seal stores nationwide are in line to be closed. Employees in many of those stores were give just one day’s notice.

The Wet Seal location in the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City remains open, and a store employee told ARLnow.com today that the Ballston location’s closure and any problems at the corporate level are “news to me.”

by Ethan Rothstein — January 5, 2015 at 1:30 pm 2,706 0

A new store specializing in upscale Swiss watches is the newest tenant in Ballston Common Mall.

Watchstyle opened in November because, as owner Eric Kim said, he was “desperate to get open for the holiday season.” He found, however, that the Ballston Mall didn’t experience quite the holiday rush that he expected. Business was steady, and remained steady after Christmas passed.

Kim offers Swiss-made watches that aren’t the most recognizable brands, but, as a former Liljenquist & Beckstead watch buyer, he says the products he offers are the “equal or better” quality and more affordable.

“The watch market has changed so much,” he told ARLnow.com last week, “Swiss watch prices have gone up a ludicrous amount with no real increase in quality.”

Watchstyle’s watches start at around $200 with Mondaine styles and go up from there. Kim said he’s the only Mondaine dealer in Virginia. He also offers watches from brands like Ball and Maurice Lacroix. Despite the Ballston Mall’s negative perception and imminent redevelopment, Kim thinks he found the right place to start his business.

“It was definitely risky, but this mall is surrounded by the right demographic for luxury watches,” Kim said. “The mall may not be ready, but the market is.”

by Ethan Rothstein — December 12, 2014 at 1:30 pm 1,236 0

Microphone (photo via Wikimedia)Starting in January, Arlington Public Library is offering classes for funny people who want to develop their talent into a marketable skill.

For four consecutive Thursdays, starting Jan. 8, at 6:30 p.m., prospective stand-up comedians can take a crash course in live comedy from library manager and comedian Kerby Valladares.

The classes are at Arlington Central Library (1015 N. Quincy Street), and available for online registration. According to library spokesman Peter Golkin, “space is limited and seats are going fast.”

You’ll learn how to shape your act, meet some local comics, get a feel for the area comedy scene and find out how to play to the audience,” the event listing says.

Each week, class will begin with an hour-long workshop before taking a field trip to the Comedy Spot in Ballston Common Mall for open mic night, starting at 7:30. The classes and shows are free.

Photo via Wikimedia

by ARLnow.com — December 8, 2014 at 4:50 pm 2,801 0

Capital One Bank robbery suspect (photo courtesy ACPD)The Arlington County Police Department is investigating a weekend bank robbery in Ballston.

A man robbed the Capital One Bank inside Ballston Common Mall around noon on Saturday, police say. The suspect allegedly demanded cash and fled with an undisclosed amount of money.

From an ACPD press release:

The Arlington County Police Department’s Homicide/Robbery Unit, along with the FBI’s Washington Field Office, is seeking the public’s assistance in identifying a bank robbery suspect captured in surveillance footage.

On Saturday, December 6, 2014, at 12:08 p.m., an unknown male subject entered the Capital One Bank located inside the Ballston Common Mall at 4100 Wilson Boulevard in Arlington, Virginia and robbed the bank. After obtaining an undisclosed amount of money, the subject exited the bank onto the street.

The suspect is described as a black male in his mid-twenties to thirties and approximately 5’8″ tall with an average build. He was wearing a black puffy jacket, a sweatshirt underneath, a white knit cap and had head phones around his neck.

The FBI is offering a reward of up to $5,000 for information that leads to the identification, arrest and conviction of these bank robbers.

The FBI’s Washington Field Office and the Arlington County, Virginia, Police Department are investigating this bank robbery and request that anyone with information call the FBI at 202-278-2000 or Detective Trainer with the Arlington County Police Department at 703.228.4185 or jtrain (at) arlingtonva.us To report information anonymously, contact the Arlington County Crime Solvers at 866.411.TIPS (8477).

by ARLnow.com — September 24, 2014 at 1:30 pm 1,296 0

Dr. Ruth Westheimer (courtesy photo)Famed octogenarian sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer is slated to speak at an event in Ballston next month.

Dr. Ruth has been added to the agenda of the Beacon 50+ Expo, to be held on the third level of Ballston Common Mall from noon to 4:00 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 26. The 86-year-old will be talking about and autographing her latest book.

The free event will also feature “expert speakers, health screenings, informative resources, technology education and entertainment for older adults and their families,” according to a press release.

More than 100 exhibitors are expected to be on hand, and “giveaways and doors prizes will be plentiful.” The keynote speaker at the event is Dr. Robert Fischell, inventor of the rechargeable pacemaker, the implantable insulin pump, and dozens of other “life-changing medical devices.”

Another 50+ Expo will be held in Maryland — at the Silver Spring Civic Center on Sunday, Oct. 19.

Courtesy photo

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. (more…)

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