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City Staff Mulls Public Funding for Landmark Mall Redevelopment

Alexandria’s City Council approved an ambitious master plan for Landmark Mall in April, but it’s city staff that’s been doing the delicate behind-the-scenes work of making that a reality.

After a long decline, Landmark Mall in Alexandria’s West End finally shut its doors for good in 2017 — though its corpse was briefly gussied up to play a 1980s shopping mall for Wonder Woman 2 in 2018.

The new long-term plan imagines 5.6 million square feet of development on the site, with building heights sloping up towards I-395. Tenants being sought range from movie theaters to supermarkets to fitness centers, with a smattering of retail and restaurants.

“The redevelopment of Landmark will involve a fair amount of demolition,” Karl Moritz, Alexandria’s Director of Planning and Zoning, told ALXnow. “Not just of the mall itself, but other things. A lot of those are fairly expensive investments, so there’s also a financial element to it.”

Beyond just demolition, the plan calls for extensive upgrades to streets, open space, stormwater and sewer infrastructure and community facilities, according to the revised Landmark Van Dorn Corridor Plan. Without specific plans put forward, there’s no exact cost estimate, but Moritz says when those numbers come in they will likely be high.

“As you can imagine, those numbers can be large,” Moritz told the Eisenhower West/Landmark Van Dorn Advisory Group on Sept. 11. “So the issues need to be investigated and discussed.”

What’s more, Moritz said city staff is working to balance the desire to expedite the redevelopment of the large site and the need to carefully examine each financial decision.

“We are very conscious that time is important, not just to the community that has been waiting for a very long time for this, but also to economic conditions going on and attraction of tenants going on the site,” Moritz said. “But these are numbers large enough that we need to be as careful as humanly possible, so we’re trying to balance those competing desires.”

Moritz told ALXnow that there will likely be some form of public funding that goes into the costs of redeveloping the area.

“In the various studies done for the project over the last fifteen years, it’s been assumed there would be some level of public financial participation in recognition of all the public infrastructure that would need to be built,” Moritz said. “The level of public participation though is subject to discussion and negotiation.”

Landmark’s small area plan, approved in 2009, also included a Tax Increment Financing option that could come into play with this redevelopment, according to Moritz. A TIF could help subsidize infrastructure costs by capturing a portion of the added tax revenue the development brings to the city and earmarking it to help pay for certain projects.

“Generally speaking, because there’s a lot of upfront infrastructure costs, we had thought there was a likelihood that it might be necessary in the Landmark case to get over the initial hump,” Moritz said.

There’s no timeline set for when the redevelopment plans come back to the city government for special use permits, but Moritz said as the project nears certain milestones there will be additional public discussions and other opportunities for community feedback.

Currently, Moritz said his staffers are meeting with Landmark owners the Howard Hughes Corporation and Sears on a biweekly basis to iron out details like street and sidewalk sizes and how much of that infrastructure will be publicly owned.

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