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Federal Realty Offers Timeline

New anchor stores at Mount Vernon Plaza due to open next year.

This time next year.

That’s when residents should see a renovated Mount Vernon Plaza with new anchor stores—PETsMART, Michael’s and Bed, Bath & Beyond. This is according to Emily Groome, development manager with Federal Realty Investment Trust, who spoke at the Mount Vernon-Lee Chamber of Commerce’s First Tuesday Business Lunch.

Held on the grounds of Woodlawn Plantation, members enjoyed a catered lunch by R&R Catering under tents provided by Rent-All Center.

Groome gave some background on her company, explaining that while it has dabbled in some mixed-use projects, such as Bethesda Row and Pentagon Row, its primary focus has, and continues to be, shopping centers. Its headquarters is in Rockville, Md. and it currently manages centers in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Chicago and other locations. Groome said that Federal Realty owns, manages and leases all of its own properties.

THE DECISION TO PURCHASE the rights to the two existing shopping centers — Mount Vernon Plaza and South Valley Plaza — came after months of research. Groome said that when they first took a look at it, they liked what they saw, and said, “What can we do here?”

“We sat down with Supervisor [Dana] Kauffman, and said what do you think we should do? What we’ve come up with we’re very proud of,” Groome said.

Their first goal was to sign up some key stores to replace the vacant Ames and draw customers to the back of the shopping center. They were able to attract the three new anchor stores. When a member asked why they didn’t get Kohl’s, Groome said, “They were the first tenant we went after, but they have a new store nearby [Kingstowne] and weren’t interested. We talked to everybody and we feel lucky we got the three that we have. Many can’t see the vision that we have. Once we get the lynchpin, we can start marketing.”

Kauffman later asked what demographics attracted them, and Groome said that they felt that there were customers in the 1 to 3 to 5-mile radius that didn’t have anywhere close to shop.

“We looked at the opportunity to redevelop and bring in new tenants. This area is one of the last areas to go through redevelopment and we looked at it as an opportunity to jump in and be the first one,” Groome said.

When Groome was asked why they didn’t go after a mixed-use development in that location, she said that without some kind of mass transit, it wasn’t practical.

“We don’t close our doors to it, but we’re not pursuing it now,” she said.

ANOTHER MAIN FOCUS was how to better use the parking lot. Groome said that’s how they came up with the idea of a Main Street. The street that is currently located between the former Roy Rogers — soon to become Wachovia — and IHOP will be replaced by a pedestrian walkway with “pad” (individual) buildings on either side. Since both sides will be exposed, they will use 3-and-a-half-sided architecture, so that all sides are aesthetically pleasing. Groome said that they are looking to fill those spaces with a mix of soft goods, such as fast food stores, perhaps a wireless store and beauty salon. She is hopeful that Starbucks will occupy one of those spaces.

Entrances to the shopping center will be on either end, by Home Depot and Shopper’s Food Warehouse. With fewer entrances and a portion of the service road being eliminated, Groome believes that the congestion that occurs now at the center will be abated. All of the existing stores will stay where they are for the time being, but, with the exception of Home Depot, the façade of the entire shopping center will be done over with a consistent look.

“Our target is next year, and we’re hoping that all site improvements — lights, landscaping — will be done by this time next year,” Groome said.