Last week's announcement that Vornado Realty Trust has entered an option agreement to purchase the Springfield Mall signaled the beginning of a brighter future for the shopping establishment.
"I've been working behind the scenes for years to get this done," said Supervisor Dana Kauffman (D-Lee). "Springfield Mall goes back 30 years as a key part of this community. Unfortunately, it has seen some better days."
Currently, the mall offers customers little more than a place to get information on the Springfield Interchange — more commonly known as the Mixing Bowl — and access to stores like J.C. Penny, Macy's and Target, Supervisor Kauffman said. "We've been trying to find folks willing to invest capitol dollars in the mall and bring in new types of stores and restaurants that will attract people and make this into a place to bring families," he said.
The deal will transfer ownership to Vornado Realty Trust once a member of the principal owner of the mall dies, according to an Oct. 31 release from Vornado. Until then, Vornado has entered into an option agreement to purchase the mall for $36 million, with payment of an additional $80 million once the option is taken, according to Wendi Kopsick, a Vornado spokeswoman.
"The new management partner has been brought in and can change the store mix," Kauffman said. "Hopefully, we'll be able to make it more attractive and conducive to bring in people for more than just stopping at Target."
UNDER THE new ownership, the mall could be expanded, by right, to become twice its current size, Kauffman said.
"Keep in mind, this is 80 acres of land," Kauffman said.
Besides the mall itself, outlying properties such as the Silver Diner and an office building at the corner of Loisdale and Franconia roads, are part of the complex. "It's a fairly wide-reaching piece of land," Kauffman said.
As far as long-term plans, Kauffman said they are still under consideration. At this point, he said the new management is trying to get a handle on what's there and what new tenants it may be able to attract.
"Then, it's what the local land use committee and neighbors feel its appropriate," Kauffman said. "We'll be following the community's direction on what this mall could ultimately be for the Springfield area," he said.
Not only is news of the purchase good for the mall itself, but for the larger business community in Springfield, said Nancy-jo Manney, executive director of the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce.
"We're very, very pleased to hear of the agreement," she said, adding "this is just one more step in the re-invention of central Springfield."
A revitalized mall may lend itself to "a mixed-use component" at the property, she said, possibly including upscale restaurants.
"Customers that may have gone to Fair Oaks — we would like to draw them back to central Springfield," said Manney, of her hopes for the future customer base.
Members of the business and revitalization communities have applauded the future owners of the mall and hope to see a transformation take place there in the not-too-distant future.
"We understand [Vornado] to be a large developer with the capacity to do things to make the mall more attractive and make it compatible with what should be in an area adjacent to Metro," said Bob Gray, vice president of Prosperity Bank and past-president of the Central Springfield Area Revitalization Council (CSPARC.)
The mall has become "a little dated" in recent years and "anything that happens around us will make our area more attractive," he said.
"I'd like to see them practically start over — extend the walkable downtown environment," Gray said, which began with the revitalization area in central Springfield. "I'd like to see them get rid of the parking lots and mirror the downtown area, with residential and commercial space mixed together."
The mall is located near the Springfield-Franconia Metro Station, which makes it a valuable piece of property, Gray said. Eventually, he believes Vornado may consider tearing the facility down and redeveloping it into something entirely different.
"This property is way too valuable to stay a mall — but that's smart growth and it's the right thing to do," he said. "It'll be better for Springfield and the whole area, but that's probably 10 to 12 years down the line."
KSI Developers has recently submitted a rezoning application for nine acres of land in the vicinity of the Springfield Mall and is "delighted" to hear of Vornado's shared confidence in the area, said Matt Slavin, vice president of project planning for KSI.
"Our midtown Springfield project, currently being rezoned to allow for mixed use with hotel, residential, retail and office use, is going to be a catalyst to spark the revitalization of downtown," Slavin said. "Vornado acquiring the option to purchase the mall will only serve to strengthen the downtown revitalization effort we are moving to commence."
Any change in the mall environment, internally or externally, will be a welcome change, said Skeeter Scheid, current president of CSPARC.
"It's no secret the mall has been in decline and there have been concerns over the quality and security of the building," she said. "The mall is a key piece of the whole revitalization of Springfield and we're all very interested to see what they propose to do with it. We're very excited."