The redevelopment of Ballston Common Mall may serve as an indicator of whether Arlington residents and the county government will give way on lengthy public processes in order to land major economic benefits.
County Board members on June 16 directed County Manager Barbara Donnellan to work with the mall’s owner and develop options – quickly – that would include a public-private partnership on the redevelopment project.
The goal: Have concepts presented within a month and a final agreement in place by the end of the year. That’s almost the speed of light for the Arlington government, but leaders may have no choice.
“We need to learn to be nimble. That’s the name of the game these days,” said County Board member Libby Garvey.
“Nimble” may not be the adjective most often applied to Arlington’s development process. But if the redevelopment project gets bogged down, county officials fear, it could take the rest of the neighborhood with it.
“To not reinvest is to watch the death, I think, of Ballston,” said County Board Chairman Mary Hynes.
Board members acted at the request of Forest City Enterprises, which aims to redevelop its property into “Ballston Quarter,” with 365,000 square feet of retail space as well as residential units.
William Voegele Jr., senior vice president of Forest City Washington, which plans to pour $300 million into the redevelopment project, acknowledged the current mall’s “listless” performance and its “outdated” appeal to both retailers and consumers.
“We are at a critical juncture. Retail has moved on,” said Voegele. “We have a critical timing window.”
“This is an exciting proposal,” said Voegele. He was topped by Donnellan, who called it “a transformational opportunity.”
Forest City hopes to win density and height concessions from the county government, as well as get major improvements to the government-owned Ballston Public Parking Garage.
If Forest City officials have been irked by the pace of county involvement in their effort, they did not show it at the June 16 meeting. One who has been critical, however, is Arlington Chamber of Commerce president Kevin Shooshan.
“So what’s holding this back? After nearly 11 months, the site plan submitted by Forest City has yet to be accepted by the county, a process that typically takes 60 days,” Shooshan said in the June edition of the Arlingtonian, the Chamber’s member newsletter.
Shooshan, who comes from a family of developers, said it’s understandable that a project of this magnitude would take time, but urged Chamber members and local leaders to get behind the redevelopment proposal.
“The best deals are never easy,” Shooshan wrote. “I hope our elected officials recognize this opportunity.”
A shopping center at the Ballston site traces its roots to the opening of Parkington in the early 1950s. The complex was redeveloped in the 1980s into Ballston Common Mall.