Ask Adam: Ballston Common Mall

Editor’s Note: This periodic sponsored Q&A column is written by Adam Gallegos of Arlington-based real estate firm Arbour Realty. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com. Please submit follow-up questions in the comments section or via email.

Lisa says she’d like to know the following about Ballston Mall:

  1. “Are there plans for renovation? If so, will it be a complete tear down, face lift, efforts to get new stores in etc.?”
  2. “What stores might be considered? Has there been a reason to date that better stores have stayed away? (I’m assuming there is low rent, based on who has been there.)”
  3. “If no plans, given the whirlwind of other development of the Ballston area, how do the owners of the mall expect to be taken in a newer and nicer Ballston?”

I wish I could tell you that Ballston Common Mall has definite plans to redevelop itself into a fresh new option that will replace your need to hike over to Pentagon City or fight the traffic surrounding Tysons Corner.

There are three major stakeholders in Ballston Common Mall: Macy’s, Forest City Enterprises and Arlington County. Macy’s owns their respective stores at either end of the mall. Forest City owns the remaining shops and offices. Arlington County owns the parking garage. Substantive changes to the property as a whole will need to involve the consent and participation of the owners of all the various connected parcels.

The Arlington County official I spoke to said that they have not received any formal requests to modify the mall at this point. In fact, he made it seem as though they are content with the current limitations of the mall, which I find hard to believe. I expected that Arlington County would be keen on maximizing the revenue of this prime piece of real estate. More revenue equals more tax dollars coming into Arlington County.

Founders Square, located next door to Ballston Common Mall, is a great example of maximizing revenue while adding value to the community. They displaced a Metro bus garage and are building two office towers, a hotel and an apartment building with a number of new retail options on the ground floor.

The person I spoke with at Arlington County took time to point out how well the food court serves local employees. Seriously? The Arbour Realty office is a block from Ballston mall and I have to say that it is a very rare occasion that you will find me at the food court because there are at least 10 better options on the way over there.

Who are the current stores actually serving? If you check out leasing information on the Mall’s website, it notes the following demographic information within a five mile radius:

  • Population — 631,959
  • Average Household Income — $113,317
  • Households — 271,769

We are all well aware that the average household income in the Ballston area is relatively high, but the Mall does not actually seem to cater to local residents unless you’re looking for cell phone accessories or a new pair of sneakers.

The Arlington County official I spoke with explained that it does not make sense for stores to consider Ballston Common Mall if they already have a location in Tysons Corner or Pentagon City because they are so close. His rationale is that a Ballston location would just take business away from the other stores.

I disagree with this conclusion. With Tysons Corner in place, someone decided that the Galleria would be a good idea by catering to a higher-end niche. Reston Town Center has stores that overlap Tysons Corner yet both seem to stay busy. You can also look at Pentagon City and the later creation of Pentagon Row. I’m no expert on the subject of malls, but it seems that there are enough people in Arlington, with enough money to justify the exploration of other options beyond what is currently available at Ballston Commons Mall.

There is some glimmer of hope. According to Forest City’s on-site general manager, they are actively working on redevelopment plans, but are not in a position to publicly discuss them due to competitive concerns, and in deference to the project’s other stakeholders. He asked me to check back in about 90 days. Maybe Arlington County is just putting up a smoke screen or they are just not in the loop yet. As a local resident and business owner, I’m just glad to hear that someone is working on new plans for the Ballston Commons Mall.

In its current state, I have to wonder how much negative influence Ballston Commons Mall currently has on local real estate values. In my experience, home buyers considering Ballston would prefer that the mall provide more attractive options, but can live with what is there. It is certainly not attracting anyone to the area like downtown Clarendon. Though I don’t work in commercial real estate, I have heard that the Mall has been a detractor for commercial tenants looking for space in the Ballston area.

Would Ballston become a more attractive option to you if the space that occupies Ballston Common Mall were used differently? What would be your preference?

Please keep your questions coming: [email protected]