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While redevelopment is paused, Columbia Pike strip mall owner steps up cleaning and security

Growing community concerns and a visit from county code enforcement have prompted a local property manager to clean and secure its vacant storefronts on Columbia Pike.

Some retail bays at the Fillmore Gardens Shopping Center, on the 2600 block of the Pike, have stood empty for a year as the strip mall awaited redevelopment. That includes the former spaces of Atilla’s restaurant, apparel store Legends Kicks and the Black Heritage Museum of Arlington.

The retail strip was set to become an apartment with a ground-floor grocery store — rumored to be an Amazon Fresh — as well as a new location for the existing CVS, which is still open. When the grocery tenant pulled out in December, developer Insight Property Group struggled to secure loans for the project. The work is paused until economic conditions improve.

The vacant storefronts attracted break-ins, graffiti and vermin — adding insult to the injury of millions of dollars spent on the project so far, according to Harald Mangold, a representative for the property owner. These conditions led the code enforcement division of Arlington County to condemn the buildings earlier this month.

Mangold tells ARLnow they got to work in response to the neon orange notice stickers.

“We hired someone to clean out all the old buildings,” he said. “They’re empty and clean versus empty and dirty — and boarded up properly.”

When the tenants moved out last May, Mangold said they were not required to clean out their storefronts completely because they were set to be bulldozed soon. As a result, flammable items were left inside, including furniture and old kitchen equipment.

People began breaking in and some slept inside the buildings sporadically, prompting the owners to hire off-duty police officers to keep watch over the property.

After work over the last week, Mangold said, the issues raised in the condemnation notice are “essentially resolved.”

“There’s nothing dangerous,” he said. “We just need to keep people from getting in and breaking in.”

While, Mangold says workers have been washing away graffiti — only for it to return a few days later. Although it is a chief complaint for some neighbors, he disputes the notion that it is worse here than other parts of the Pike or the region.

Penrose Civic Association Alex Sakes has been following goings-on at the shopping center closely and fielding concerns from neighbors about the blighted conditions.

He says he is meeting with leadership at the Arlington County Police Department, county staff and the Columbia Pike Partnership leadership to discuss the “State of the Pike,” particularly as it relates to buildings defaced by spray paint along the corridor.

The meeting will “get everyone up-to-speed on this ever-evolving situation and work together to put together an actionable game-plan and next steps regarding the 2600 block and graffiti mitigation,” he said.

As for the future of the Fillmore Gardens Shopping Center, Sakes says local leaders are still brainstorming whether to fill the buildings with pop-ups. With the condemnation notices, that would depend on the buildings being deemed safe, he said.

“Regarding the funding mechanisms, maybe the county can step in and help subsidize alongside various nonprofit entities like [Columbia Pike Partnership] and others,” he said. “But, again, that’s all in the brainstorming phase at the moment, first step would be getting the building deemed fit for occupancy.”

Mangold says the owners are working on that.

“We’re trying to find solutions,” he said. “It’s not ideal but we are committed to the neighborhood and we remain good neighbors.”

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