The commercial revitalization of Richmond Highway may soon get a much needed boost if the purchase of two decaying shopping centers goes through.
Federal Realty — the Rockville, Md.-based real-estate investment trust — has both the Mount Vernon Plaza and South Valley Shopping Center, known as the old Hybla Valley Center, under contract. But nobody is making any promises.
"We do have the properties under contract, but we are bound by confidentiality agreements not to make any comments until settlement," said Chris Warner, director of communications for Federal Realty. "We don't know when that will happen."
Mount Vernon Plaza, with Shoppers Food Warehouse and CVS as the anchor stores, is owned by Redstone Development Corp., the builders of the center in 1970. Redstone's president, Samuel Rosenstein, said, "We hope to consummate the deal by the end of March. But you never know. There are always a lot of complications."
Immediately in front of Redstone's 250,000 square feet of retail space are three restaurants, Ruby Tuesday's, IHOP and one of the few remaining Roy Rogers.
South Valley Shopping Center, the southern half of the U-shaped area which houses Home Depot, contains 270,000 square feet. It was built by Walt Robbins in the 1960s and served as the original home of Thieves Market Antique Mall.
THE CENTER IS NOW owned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co., due to a foreclosure in September 2001. It is managed by Cornerstone Real Estate Advisors, a subsidiary of Mass Mutual.
Presently, no information has been released as to what type of redevelopment will occur if the deal comes together. But "the design will remain basically the same," according to Rosenstein. "It will be refurbished, not torn down."
The property, with its vast open surface parking area in the center, is located in the Lee District of Fairfax County. "We are doing everything we can to encourage this project," said Lee District supervisor Dana Kauffman (D).
"Projects like this can serve as a catalyst for additional revitalization. The main problem along Richmond Highway is that it is a corridor. It is 7 miles long and not very deep. You have to rely on the private sector with that configuration," Kauffman said.
Becky Witsman, executive director, Southeast Fairfax Development Corp., described the project "more like a town center than we have ever had, a sense of place. We'd love to have them (Federal Realty). We're keeping our fingers crossed."
EVEN THOUGH THE SITE is not in his district, Mount Vernon District supervisor Gerald Hyland (D) said, "It's certainly a plus for South Valley to be revamped. Anytime we have an organization coming in to rejuvenate an older shopping center, it's very exciting. I'm encouraged they want to do it."
The Center immediately abuts his Mount Vernon District and is close to Hyland's office.
Federal Realty has been the developer behind such successful projects as Bethesda Row and Pentagon Row. There has been speculation that, in addition to retail space, Federal may introduce mixed uses such as offices and residential.
Areas immediately adjacent have seen several revitalization projects such as the redevelopment of the old Hechinger building, which now holds an upscale Gold's Gym. The next center to the south is home to Old Country Buffet Restaurant, and further down is Wal-Mart.
Marketing brochures have been circulated to a number of potential tenants, including Best Buy, Circuit City, Old Navy, Border’s, Barnes & Noble, Steinmart, Container Store and Bed, Bath & Beyond.
There has been speculation that Giant Food might be interested in putting a store at the location. That was confirmed by Barry Scher, Giant spokesman, who said, "We are considering a project at that site."
A Safeway food store will occupy the new Mount Vernon Shopping Square under construction on the northbound lanes of Route 1 just north of the Federal Realty site. There is substantial residential development along the entire corridor just behind the commercial strip on both sides of Richmond Highway.
Last year Federal Realty announced it was turning its focus back to traditional neighborhood shopping centers. This site fits that definition, according to market analysts.