Long-awaited Landmark Mall demolition and redevelopment begins

After two decades of Landmark Mall redevelopment being just out of reach, city officials and developers alike let out wild roars of satisfaction as the wrecking ball crashed into the side of the building today (Thursday).

There’s still a long way to go before the first buildings of the new hospital and mixed-use development start coming online — currently slated for 2026. Still, demolition marked the furthest point of progress for redevelopment since meetings to that effect started in 2008.

There were multiple false-starts for redevelopment. The mall faced a slow death in the 2000s and early 2010s, with major anchors pulling out and leaving smaller upstart shops in the mostly-empty husk of the building. The plug was pulled in early 2017.

For many of those gathered, seeing the front of the mall cave-in was a bittersweet experience.

“I’m absolutely ecstatic,” said Vice Mayor Amy Jackson. “I’m emotional. It’s an exciting and sad day. I remember coming here when I was 9 and it was open air. It was a place I always came to with my mom and friends. It was a gathering place, but now it will be so much more. It’s a very nostalgic day.”

The mall was eventually briefly resurrected for a scene in Wonder Woman 1984 but the mall itself looked closer to the one from Dawn of the Dead until city leaders and developers from Foulger-Pratt started communicating in 2020.

“March 2020 was a pretty crappy time,” said Mayor Justin Wilson. “We thought the world was ending. I’m sitting on my computer in one Zoom meeting after another and I get an email on March 19 from [CEO] Cameron Pratt that said ‘you don’t know me, but I’m going to redevelop Landmark Mall.'”

Wilson described the email as the city administration equivalent to the Nigerian Prince scam but then-City Manager Mark Jinks told Wilson he thought the email was serious.

“That kicked off a process that led to today,” Wilson said. “It’s happening because everyone refused to quit… If ever there was a process willed into development by the public, it was this.”

Pratt said his first real job was working as a construction laborer on a Landmark Mall renovation.

“I’m excited to continue our involvement,” Pratt said. “It’s a unique moment in time. We knew we had one shot to pull this off and we promised [the city] we would only ask for exactly what we needed to pull this off.”

Pratt said there were bumps in the road leading up to the demolition and there would be more — a few minutes later this proved true as the button intended to signal the wrecking crew failed to start the demolition — but the city and developer have built a strong relationship over the last few years that will help development moving forward.

Pratt also acknowledged that reaction to the development’s new name, West End, has been mixed.

“There’s been a lot of positive and negative feedback,” Pratt said. “We’re not trying to appropriate the West End, we want to contribute to that community. We hope this becomes the heart of the West End.”

Pratt later told ALXnow the name was meant as an acknowledgment that there’s already a vibrant community in the area and that the mall should serve as a gathering place. That justification didn’t hold much water with some at the demolition, but that didn’t dampen spirits in the crowd.

“I don’t love the name,” admitted City Council member Kirk McPike. “I think people will still call it Landmark. But whether you call it Landmark or just call everything west of Quaker Lane the West End, it’s still a good thing for the area. It’s going to attract innovation and be a new medical hub. [Along with] Potomac Yard, we’ll have these two engines on both sides of the city generation innovation and jobs.”

Dr. J. Stephen Jones, President and CEO of Inova Health System, said the new Inova complex will be a state-of-the-art hospital and will feature a new cancer institute with oncology and radiology departments.

“It will be more than a collection of buildings, this complex is going to be a true urban campus,” said Jones.

Former City Council member Redella “Del” Pepper, who retired last year after a historic 36 years on the Council, had been one of the leading advocates for Landmark Mall redevelopment and attended the demolition.

“This is a game-changer and is going to be an incentive up and down Van Dorn,” said Pepper. “The West End will rise up… Former Mayor [Charles] Beatley used to say it takes 15 years to get anything going and it really took all of those for this.”

Pepper said the changes coming to Landmark Mall are long overdue.

“[Former Mayor] Bill Euille and the City Council were invited to a meeting with a previous developer when they were giving us a plan for redevelopment,” Pepper said. “They could see we were really excited. When they saw we had big plans and dreams they told us ‘these are only conceptual plans’ and it was like taking the wind out of our sails.”

Pepper said she and her colleagues were frequently dispirited by the lack of progress.

“It seemed like it was going nowhere, and it was going nowhere until we started talking to the hospital,” Pepper said. “Everything is in place now, we just have to keep moving forward with one foot in front of the other and get this thing developed.”