(Updated at 11:55 p.m.) It’s still somewhat business as usual at Ballston Common Mall, despite impending major renovations.
A number of stores, restaurants and the much-maligned movie theater remain open. But the scene will be changing this spring, when work on the project to convert aging shopping mall to a modern shopping center with open-air plazas, called Ballston Quarter, begins.
“Our schedule continues to proceed according to plans,” said Gary McManus, spokesman for Cleveland-based Forest City, the mall’s owner. “Forest City has not wavered from its plans and timeline to begin demolition on the Ballston Quarter site in May/June of this year.”
Mass store closures inside the mall were expected after the end of 2015, but many stores have remained open and intend to stay open until just before demolition starts.
“The stores that remain open are doing so at their request and we were able to accommodate that request as we wade through the permitting process leading to demolition in the spring,” McManus said. “It never was and still is not our intention for all stores at the mall to close.”
Businesses with an exterior entrance — Macy’s, Regal Cinemas, Rock Bottom Brewery, Noodles & Co., Panera Bread, Sport&Health Club and CVS Pharmacy — are expected to remain open during the renovations.
Construction is expected to take about two years and Ballston Quarter is expected to open in time for the holiday shopping season of 2018.
Plans for a revamped pedestrian walkway over Wilson Boulevard in Ballston are up for discussion tonight.
Arlington County is scheduled to host a community meeting on the redesign of the pedestrian bridge at Ballston Common Mall (4328 Wilson Blvd) from 6:30 to 8 p.m. The gathering is slated to happen in the mall’s second floor retail area across from the Payless shoe store.
Attendees will have the opportunity to meet the walkway’s designer and give feedback on the project.
A new bridge is part of a $317 million plan to redevelop the mall, which is being rebranded as Ballston Quarter. The walkway provides an elevated, indoor pathway to the Ballston Metro station.
Final plans for bridge are expected to go to the county manager for consideration in late June.
Flickr photo by m01229
The Arlington County Board unanimously approved the redevelopment of Ballston Common Mall at its meeting last night.
In its approval of the project — which is now referred to as Ballston Quarter — the Board also entered a Letter of Intent to pursue a public-private partnership with Forest City Enterprises, the company that currently owns and operates the mall and is spearheading the redevelopment effort.
“This is an important, exciting redevelopment in the heart of Ballston,” Board Chair Mary Hynes said in a statement. “The long-term benefits of a revitalized Ballston Quarter warrant a public-private partnership — a wise strategic investment for the public good.”
The partnership is primarily financial at this stage of the project. According to a press release, the county plans to contribute $10 million to the project, including parking and transportation improvements around the mall, and would issue a $45.4 million Community Development Authority bond to further finance the redevelopment.
At the meeting, Hynes said other details of the agreement are “not fully fleshed out.”
The entire project is expected to cost $317 million for interior, facade streetscape improvements to existing buildings at the intersection of Wilson Blvd and N. Glebe Road. It also includes new development, like a 22-story, 406-unit apartment building where the Macy’s Furniture Store currently is.
The redevelopment of the mall itself involves more than 323,000 square feet of retail space, an open-air plaza with vendor stalls, improvements to the parking garage and a new pedestrian bridge over Wilson Blvd.
Public testimony given at the meeting by Ballston residents, business owners and stakeholders was overwhelmingly positive, thanking the Board for their work and expressing support for the project moving forward.
“Ballston has continued to evolve and transform over the years,” Ballston BID CEO Tina Leone said. “This property has served as a huge economic generator in the past, and it is vital to Ballston’s sustainability and long-term competitiveness.”
Resident and small business owner Jennifer Galloway echoed the need to rethink the mall.
“There’s currently a void in Ballston for most of our daily needs,” she said. “The redevelopment of the mall helps to fill that void and truly bring a town center feel to the heart of the area.”
Some residents did raise concerns and asked the Board to reconsider a proposal to remove the median strip on Wilson Blvd and to maximize the amount of space made available to the public on the property.
Board members addressed those concerns and took note to consider them moving forward. Still, members had positive views of the future of the project and of Ballston.
“This is a unique experience for us, stepping up like this to partner in the way we’re proposing to do it,” Board member Jay Fisette said. “It’s a smart, strategic investment all the way around, both public and private. We’re doing it with a reliable, experienced partner. That’s no small part in this.”
Board member J. Walter Tejada also shared his excitement.
“Ballston has the dynamic where you have to like urban living because it almost has the pulse of a city,” he said. “You can almost feel it, and [the project] has so much potential to make it even greater.”
County to Invest $55 Million in Ballston Mall — Arlington County is planning its first-ever Tax Increment Financing district to help fund the renovations to Ballston Common Mall. Arlington plans to invest $45 million in the mall with its TIF, which will be repaid over time via increased tax revenue from the property. It also plans to make $10 million in transportation improvements, including improvements to the attached county parking garage and the narrowing of Willson Blvd in front of the mall. [Washington Business Journal]
Arlington May Ask for Jefferson Davis Hwy Renaming — Arlington County is considering asking local state legislators to seek a name change for Jefferson Davis Highway in Arlington. Also known as Route 1, the highway is named after the Confederate president thanks to state legislative decree in 1922. A draft of the 2016 Arlington legislative priorities list includes a proposal to rename “the Arlington portion of Jefferson Davis Highway in a way that is respectful to all who live and work along it.” [InsideNova]
Room For Economic Improvement — Arlington County’s building approval process remains cumbersome and overly time consuming, and the county lacks the kind of incentive resources — “weapons” — that other jurisdictions have for economic development. That’s according to Arlington Economic Development Director Victor Hoskins, at a recent panel discussion. [Washington Business Journal]
Per-Student Spending Down — Arlington County’s per-student spending is down to $18,616, from $19,040 last year, according to the Washington Area Board of Education. Arlington still has the highest per-student spending of any suburban Washington school system. [InsideNova]
Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley
The store will close this coming Sunday, said owner Eric Kim. He plans to open a new store called Swiss Time in the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City five days later on Friday, Oct. 16.
Kim changed the name of the store because the storefront at new location is much more visible to customers walking in the mall, and he wanted to emphasize the Swiss brands of watches he sells, he said.
The new store in the upscale Pentagon City small allows Kim to sell some of his higher-end luxury Swiss watches, he said. Watchstyle was already one of the most expensive stores in Ballston Common Mall without selling his full stock. At Swiss Time, watches will be priced at anywhere from a couple hundred to thousands of dollars.
Despite the new location and new name, Kim plans to honor warranties on watches bought in Ballston, and customer service will stay the same, he said.
“I worked very hard to be the only five-star rated watch store in Arlington, and I plan on keeping it that way,” Kim said.
The watch store owner plans to return to Ballston Common Mall once the mall is renovated. He anticipates opening his second Swiss Time around April 2018 in Ballston.
“The Ballston mall management has been very kind to me,” he said.
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
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
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.
- “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.
Jeremy 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.
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.”
(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.”
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 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
(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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”