Here Comes Springfield Town Center!

Springfield Mall – that disgusting blob of concrete, styrofoam and asphalt – is going to be a hot destination again. Really!

Vornado Realty Trust, which bought the 36-year-old mall in 2006, is converting the building from a closed-over big box into one that brings the outside in. Shops will face outward. Large windows will bring more light inside. Meanwhile, there will be courtyards and small parks connected by wide walking and biking trails. Later plans also include 2,200 homes, 1.5 million square feet of office space, a new multi-screen movie theater and a 225-room hotel above 175,000 square feet of new retail space. Total retail space will be about 2 million square feet.

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The first thing to go will be the name “Springfield Mall” – now immortalized by The Simpsons. It’s now the Springfield Town Center. The first phase of the renovation has been planned for a fall 2010 opening. Interior mall renovations, which would gut the entire existing structure, are underway. The new mall interior will present shoppers with a long, single corridor featuring a new movie theater and a food court. The ceilings along the corridor will feature larger skylights, brightening up the interior. Outdoor plazas and public spaces with cafes and restaurants are included in Vornado’s plans. Every major corridor will have a special entrance, with some having glass-paneled walls and cascading waterfalls.

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The second phase of the plan, requiring county approval, includes construction of hotels, office buildings, restaurants, townhouses and apartment complexes along Spring Village Drive beginning as early as spring 2010. The groundwork has been laid, with the unanimous approval from the Fairfax County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors on the comprehensive plan amendment. The entire multimillion dollar mixed-use project will take anywhere from 10 to 15 years to complete. Sounds like a lot, but Reston Town Center was rezoned in 1989 and it is still under construction!

“It’s comparable to Tysons,” said Mark Looney, with Cooley Godward Kronish, the law firm representing Vornado, “in that you are taking something that is suburban development and making it urban. It’s going to be a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week place.”

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Supervisor Jeff McKay (D-Lee), whose district includes the mall, called Vornado’s plans not only the “single-most-important” development project in Springfield, but in all of Fairfax, trumping the plans for Tysons Corner. “People already want to go to Tysons,” he said. “But Springfield Mall needs an immediate change. It can’t wait 20 or 30 years. There is a sense of urgency with this mall.”

The changes, he said, will not only revitalize an aging mall, but also help turn Springfield into another hub of business in the county. “We can’t put all of our eggs in Tysons and the Dulles Corridor,” he said. “I expect Springfield to be a major employment center in Fairfax County, like a miniature version of Tysons.”

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Local business owner Bob Stockton (he cuts my hair!) welcomes the mall’s makeover, and says Springfield “is bound and determined” to blossom in growth just like Tysons. “We have all the transportation Tysons wishes it has,” he said. “Eventually, developers are going to realize that.”

Keep up with all the plans and details at the Vornado website for Springfield Town Center!

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