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Closed Businesses Overshadow Progress

Empty businesses at the foot of Veterans Bridge in Springfield appear not to be in tune with the message of Supervisor Dana Kauffman's (D-Lee) recent "Lighting The Heart of Springfield," parade on Tuesday, Aug. 26.

Nestled in a nook on Old Keene Mill Road, the properties right off Springfield Boulevard are now home to vacant buildings that once were Circuit City and Long John Silver’s on one side, and Chi Chi's, Shoney's and Houlihan's on the other. It is an area that is now being eyed for revitalization, according to Bob Gray, a member of the Central Springfield Area Revitalization Council (CSPARC).

"There seems to be some renewed interest," Gray said. "They're not using it as is. Nobody wants the same thing in the same place. I think it's perception and access."

For cars heading west on Old Keene Mill Road, the Amherst Avenue or Veterans Bridge blocks the view. Motorists see the Circuit City and Long John Silver's only when they are right next to them and unable to make a left turn. Motorists coming from the other way have to contend with pulling off a busy road. On the other side, the Chi Chi's building is right next to the cement walls of the bridge, and Shoney's shares the same parking access. Houlihan's is on the eastern side of the bridge between the other wall and Backlick Road intersection with Old Keene Mill Road. In the early 1980s, when Backlick went straight across, access was better.

Matt Slavin, Fairfax County director of revitalization projects, worked with CSPARC on this portion of central Springfield.

"I think it's related in large part to the mixing bowl," said Slavin, of the Springfield Interchange project of which the bridge is a part. "They're really strategic gateway properties. I think the whole mixing bowl coming to closure makes those properties attractive."

The current owners of the properties are still involved as well. The Shoney's building was getting cluttered before the owner stepped in.

"The owner has recently cleaned up the property, the individual that owned it is very civically minded," Slavin said.

Kauffman is hopeful as well. Potential additions he's heard of include an office building on the Houlihan's land, a banquet facility in the old Circuit City, and Chevy's restaurant at the Chi Chi's location.

"Now people are looking at this seriously," he said.

It's a matter of commercial properties and community desires.

"We're pushing hard to make things happen," Kauffman said.

Nancy-jo Manney, executive director of the Springfield Chamber of Commerce, is keeping abreast of developments with those defunct businesses as well. Apparently, some of the businesses that relocated are still paying rent at their previous locations. Circuit City and Chi Chi's fall into that category, Manney said.

"Property owners are not pushing to get a new tenant because they are still getting rent," Manney said of the Circuit City property. Kauffman's aware of that as well.

Being a "destination" type of property would help, too, Manney said. The MVC adult book store falls into that category. It survives in a location where other businesses have failed.

"That's a totally specialized business," said Manney. "People that want to go there will go there."

SOME REVITALIZATION EFFORTS that are coming to fruition are Trader Joe’s in Springfield Plaza, an Italian restaurant and the new fountain at Marriott Executive Suites on Brandon Avenue. CSPARC is also finalizing a landscaping plan.

"We have developed a marketing packet for central Springfield," Slavin said. "That fountain was put in specifically with input from CSPARC."