Vinnie Wagner, namesake of "Vinnies" restaurant in the Kings Park Shopping Center, looked at a drawing of his own restaurant last week.
The artist’s rendering showed the new facade that's being put on the shopping center, along with a separate McDonald's restaurant, closer parking and new store signs – all of which First Washington Management Co., the current managers of Kings Park, told Wagner would cost each business $5,000.
This early in the construction project, all she's seen has been torn up asphalt, the two businesses right across the plaza torn down and temporary fencing put up.
"They did nothing about lowering the rent during this," Wagner said. "So far they've killed our business." She’s heard others complaining as well.
It's Wagner's 23rd year in the shopping center and she's dealt with a number of property management companies. When she questioned the $5,000 they were charging her for the new sign out front, she didn't get far.
"Too bad' that was their attitude," she said. But Wagner tried to keep her hopes up. "We'll see what happens," she said.
Vinnie's employee Suzanna Wagner has been with the family restaurant since it opened in 1980. She looked at the decreasing customers the same way, and questioned the construction procedure.
"The business is in the toilet. One day the big dirt pile was 50 feet one way, the next day it was 50 feet the other way," she said. Wagner did admit she was hopeful the construction would turn out for the better. "I think it will eventually. I'm optimistic," she said.
First Washington's plan includes relocating McDonald's from the eastern end of the strip mall to a separate building on the western end of the parking lot, where Burke Lake Road and Rolling Road intersect.
The existing McDonald's will become part of CVS Pharmacy, adding a drive-through window for prescriptions, and a new coffee shop will go in where Radio Shack was. The Hunan West Chinese restaurant, formerly housed in a separate building in the mall, was moved into a space close to Vinnie's and the restaurant’s old home was torn down to make room for a block of parking spaces close to the stores.
Christine Schaas is the vice president of marketing for First Washington.
"It needs to be updated, it's a very busy shopping center," said Christine Schaas, vice president of marketing for First Washington. "It's exciting, I think they're all very happy."
As for the signs, Schaas said, roadside signs will be paid for by the management company. But storefront signs are to be paid for by the individual stores. That, she said, is common practice.
Supervisor Sharon Bulova (D-Braddock), whose office is right across Rolling Road from the center, has been following King’s Park plans closely.
The age of the shopping center, and the zoning laws from the early 1960s had a real impact on the stores in the mall, said said Florence Naeve, Bulova's chief of staff. When the mall was built, there was no such thing as proffers, and none of the no wheeling and dealing that is done now with zoning applications.
Although McDonald's was within their bounds to build another free-standing restaurant, the drive-in window was an issue that required special permission. That gave the county leverage, and helped it talk McDonald's into helping out with shopping center access.
"We were able to get some improvements to the entrances. There hasn't been any changes since it was built in the early 1960s," Naeve said. "We said we wanted the McDonald's not to look like a McDonald's." The new restaurant will have a green roof, to match the façade on the shopping center, not a red roof, like most McDonald’s.
SUSAN LEYDEN, a Springfield resident, lives in Kings Park, right across the street from the shopping center. She said neighbors were worried about the environmental impact of the renovations.
"We were concerned about the trees and all that. It didn't sound like we could stop it. We'll see about the coffee shop, in the long run it will probably be fine," she said.
County tree expert John Zuiker, with the Fairfax County Department of Urban Forestry came to the site to look at the trees and confirmed that some were diseased. The trees that weren’t were encircled with chain link fences, to ensure their preservation.
Burke resident Linda Harrington wasn't sure how she felt about the work at King’s Park. She was hoping a Starbuck's would move into one of the vacant spots and looked at the Old Keene Mill Center as a model and a social spot for that neighborhood.
"I'm not very impressed. I'm not in favor of having a drive-in McDonald's," Harrington said. "They did bring in a coffee shop, I'm disappointed it's not a Starbuck's."
Schaas said the coffee shop will be Caribou, a national chain that is gaining a foothold in the area. "There's not that many in this area but there will be," she said.
There are 160 Caribous in 8 states so far. In this area, there are stores in Bethesda, Rockville, Owings Mill, and Gambrill, MD and one at 17th and L St. in Washington, DC.
Schaas said she wasn’t sure if outdoor seating was included in Caribou’s plans. But it was one of First Washington’s objectives, something the company thought made the community atmosphere at the Old Keene Mill Center, Schaas said. "We want to create pleasant places, both attractive and useful. Some of our coffee houses and restaurants do have outdoor seating.
Naeve said that Bulova’s office had that in mind as well. "That's what we were trying to do, making it a focal point for the community. Everyone loves to have that café feeling," she said.
MAX CONSTRUCTION is building the McDonald's portion of the project. The company may begin construction by the end of the summer.