Post Content
615-621 King Street development proposal (image via City of Alexandria)

The Mansly, a redevelopment of the Walgreens and a bank at 615-621 King Street, got its approval from the City Council — but not without some heavy side-eyeing and one “nay” vote after the Council criticized the underwhelming affordable housing contribution.

Technically, affordable housing didn’t and legally couldn’t have anything to do with the Council vote. The city has a trade set up, securing affordable housing units or contributions in exchange for extra density, but the staff report said the development wasn’t requesting density or height above what’s already recommended in the Old Town Small Area Plan and applicant The Silverman Group hit the bare minimum requirements for affordable housing contribution.

According to the staff report:

The applicant is providing a voluntary monetary contribution of $45,178 to the City’s Housing Trust Fund. This contribution is consistent with the City’s Procedures Regarding Affordable Housing Contributions, including the 2020 housing contribution policy update that established a new contribution rate for non-residential to residential conversions. Dedicated affordable units are not part of this project as the applicant is not requesting increased density, FAR or height through City Code Section 7-700 nor an increase in density beyond that recommended in the Old Town Small Area Plan.

The new development will add 24 residential units to the site along with 6,414 square feet of ground-floor commercial space into the property.

The application also included a request to take the parking requirement for the residential units down to zero, which the City Council had no objections to, but city officials did note that the $45,178 contribution was pitifully low.

“This project does do a lot… my only concern goes back to housing in general within our region,” said City Council member Canek Aguirre. “We know that we have an issue, especially around affordability. If we look at ‘well we’re building more units at market rate is that really bringing down the price for everybody else?’ Not really. Especially because the majority of the housing we need to see built is for 50% of the area median income and below.”

Aguirre was the sole City Council member to vote against the project. While Aguirre’s comments on the development focused solely on the affordable housing aspect, Aguirre said he found enough cause in city ordinance 11-504 — involving adverse effects to the neighborhood — to vote against the project.

“I believe we need to be giving options and availability across our entire city,” Aguirre said. “This just doesn’t do that for me. Of course, that’s not a reason to vote against this, but I believe for some other reasons under 11-504 I will be voting against this.”

While other members on the City Council voted in favor of the project, many added similar comments of disapproval at the lackluster affordable housing contribution.

“There are rules to the game,” said City Council member Alyia Gaskins. “They didn’t come in requesting additional [floor area ratio] so that doesn’t trigger the conversation for on site [affordable housing]. At the same time, when I hear us talk about who this project is going to be marketed to: there are low-income residents in our neighborhoods who fit that description, who want to live near where they work and want to make their lifestyle cheaper and more manageable, who want to have greater access to transit.”

Gaskins said the city should try to do more to push affordable housing more in projects like The Mansly.

“Whatever we can do to be thinking about how do we not limit ourselves from having these conversations,” Gaskins said. “There’s a big difference between saying ‘you’re required to do something’ and saying ‘let’s figure out maybe what we can do to help us reach those goals.'”

Council member Sarah Bagley agreed that the applicant abided by current requirements, but echoed the sentiments of others on the dais that it doesn’t advance the city’s goal of creating diversely priced and inclusive housing.

“There’s a lot of room for a lot of improvement here,” City Council member Amy Jackson added. “All contributions are voluntary and we appreciate the contributions being made, but $45,000 wouldn’t even buy you one of those units if we were really looking at it and they’ll make that in a month’s worth of rent.”

Still, the project was approved in a 5-1 vote.

7 Comments

After months of back and forth, Alexandria’s City Council ultimately rejected an appeal from neighbors to keep a sidewalk from being built on Polk Avenue at the western edge of Seminary Hill.

The north side of Polk Avenue directly abuts Polk Park with no sidewalk, meaning anyone walking along the north side of the street is forced to cross the street — without a crosswalk at the western end. But the proposed sidewalk would also involve eliminating nine parking spaces neighbors say are desperately needed and would slightly cut into Polk Park.

Kathy Burns, who lives close to the sidewalk, said that there was no recorded history of any pedestrian, child or otherwise, being struck by a car in the area in question. Burns said the main concerns from neighbors were both the loss of nine parking spaces and concerns that there was no clear, evidenced-based reason presented by Transportation and Environmental Services (TES) that the sidewalk was needed.

Many of the speakers were neighbors expressing opposition to the city’s plans, though others were in support — like one who said she lived in townhouses overlooking the site, who said she was in favor of the sidewalk and hoped her two-year-old daughter could eventually use it to walk to Polk Elementary School.

Mike Doyle, founder of Alexandria Families For Safe Streets, said his group supported the installation of the sidewalk.

“We understand the challenge of parking,” Doyle said. “We’re not engineers, but we do know speed kills and speed maims.”

Doyle offered a middle way that some on the dais expressed an interest in: adding the sidewalk but converting one of the travel lanes into a parking lane and making Polk Avenue a one-way street. City Council member Amy Jackson asked staff whether this was a possible alternative.

“I hesitate to offer an assessment; we have not considered turning that street one way,” said Yon Lambert, the director of the Department of TES. “Typically there is an alternative for one-way traffic… There are one-way streets in some neighborhoods, but studying that would cost more.”

Lambert said any additional study of converting Polk Avenue into a one-way street could still happen, but would require additional staff work that would need to be allocated by the city. Still, the discussion left the door open for a potential future where parking spaces are restored but Polk Avenue is converted to a one-way street.

Ultimately, Mayor Justin Wilson said he would likely always side with building a sidewalk.

“I appreciate the input of residents on both sides of the issue,” Wilson said. “Honestly, this is pretty basic for me: I believe every street in the city should have a sidewalk on both sides. Full stop. Period. I don’t believe that’s a debatable question in my mind. That’s just a basic component of the road. We don’t question other components of roads and I don’t think we should question that there should be a sidewalk on both sites.”

11 Comments

Alexandria’s City Council recently approved guidelines for the creation of new Business Improvement Districts (BIDs), self-taxed commercial areas where a new organization could be dedicated to turning the area into a commercial destination.

The approval comes five years after a proposed BID in Old Town divided local businesses and was ultimately sent back to the drawing board by the City Council.

BIDs have been up and running for years in nearby localities like Arlington and D.C. While BIDs organize activities and help provide amenities above what the city would ordinarily offer, many businesses along King Street said they were concerned about the additional taxes a BID would impose.

Now Julian Gonsalves, assistant city manager for public-private partnerships, said it’s possible that BIDs could be incorporated into new development around Landmark and the West End. The prospect also seems to have more support from the City Council this time around.

“I know I don’t have the scars from the dais like a couple other council members do here, but some of us that were running to be up here at that time also heard a lot from community members; both pros and cons,” Vice Mayor Amy Jackson said at the meeting. “I was always in the pro-bid section or a lot of reasons… I hope a lot of businesses around Alexandria will continue to follow this form. I know a lot in the playbook continues to be tweaked and structured.”

9 Comments

The topic of Business Improvement Districts (BID) is back at Alexandria’s City Council and five years after one proposal was crushed, there are signs BIDs could be seen more favorably by a new Council.

BIDs are self-taxing districts established by property owners that aim to boost the economic vitality of the commercial area. There are a handful of BIDs in Arlington in areas like Crystal City, Rosslyn and Ballston. The BIDs organize activities and events in those districts, as well as handle amenities above and beyond what the city (or county, in Arlington’s case) would typically provide. The possibility of a BID in Old Town proved unpopular among many local businesses, however, who were concerned about the additional tax.

After several heated public debates, the City Council ultimately voted against the creation of a BID in Old Town.

“For those who have been up here for a little while, some of us have some scars from this,” said Mayor Justin Wilson, “but it’s good to be back talking about it.”

The new guidelines aim to make the creation of a BID a more structured process.

“The goal for creating these guidelines [is that] during the previous effort it was realized by the community that the lack of guidelines in the city was problematic,” Julian Gonsalves, assistant city manager for public-private partnerships, told the City Council at a meeting last night (Tuesday). “The idea behind adopting these guidelines is to create a framework first before any of these applications come in later on.”

The new guidelines include stipulations like requiring the support of at least 60% of businesses within the commercial district and an outline of ten steps from a letter of intent to final approval.

The goal for the new BIDs would be to turn commercial areas into hotspots of in-person commercial activity.

“Property owners might say: we want to have events for foot traffic here,” Gonsalves said. “Because of that foot traffic, it will be more beneficial for property owners to have restaurants or retails, it will make those more lucrative.

Gonsalves said the focus of a potential BID has shifted away from Old Town to parts of the West End that aren’t currently major attractions but are working through redevelopment plans.

“One of the examples being planned is Landmark or the West End,” Gonsalves said. “Right now there’s nothing there. In order to make sure that’s a hub for the city, they want to have a Business Improvement District so that you have foot traffic coming to a completely new hub that is competing with other districts around the region.”

City Manager James Parajon said BIDs can provide enhanced trash collection, enhanced amenities, and higher quality of lighting compared to what the city typically provides.

Vice Mayor Amy Jackson said she wasn’t on the dais for the earlier BID debates, but said she was generally supportive of the idea.

“I know I don’t have the scars from the dais like a couple other council members do here, but some of us that were running to be up here at that time also heard a lot from community members; both pros and cons,” Jackson said. “I was always in the pro-bid section or a lot of reasons… I hope a lot of businesses around Alexandria will continue to follow this form. I know a lot in the playbook continues to be tweaked and structured.”

Wilson said there’s potential for a BID to do good for the city’s lagging commercial sector.

“I’ve long supported the kind of collectivism that a BID can enable,” Wilson said. “A BID is what members make of it. Ultimately it will be what the collective property owners proposing a BID decide what is beneficial to them… We will see how this plays out and where we get them. They’re in use all over this planet, and there’s a reason they’re in use all over this planet.”

0 Comments

More than a dozen anti-abortion activists were individually led out of Alexandria’s City Council Chambers on Tuesday night (June 28), as Council unanimously approved a resolution to protect access to abortions in the city.

Members of the California-based group Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust sat in Council Chambers holding signs depicting graphic photos and drawings of aborted fetuses. The group spent the last several days demonstrating outside the U.S. Supreme Court leading up to last week’s overturning of Roe v. Wadebanning abortion in more than a dozen states.

Mayor Justin Wilson told the audience repeatedly to quiet down or he’d clear the chamber, and asked police to remove more than a dozen protestors, including A.J. Hurley, national director of the group.

“Bodily autonomy is a basic human right,” Wilson said. “I’m not really fond of resolutions that, you know, take stands on issues that we don’t have a lot of impact on, and this is not one of those. I think the reason this resolution is before us is because it has specific actions that are very much in our purview.”

Hurley is from Los Angeles, California. He said that the mission of the organization is to seek a federal ban on abortion, and doesn’t believe he will see that happen in his lifetime. Hurley was eventually escorted from Council Chambers by police after an outburst. Members of the group also shouted on megaphones and banged on plastic buckets outside City Hall.

“If this city council is going to produce edicts and statements and resolutions moving towards ordinances, they should know the faces of the children that they affect,” Hurley said.

The resolution states that “it is not possible to ban abortion, but only to ban safe and legal abortions,” and asks that the City Manager consider budgetary proposals for the FY 2024 budget to “ensure accessibility of reproductive health services, safe abortion services, accessible maternal and child health services for low-income Alexandria residents.”

The resolution also calls on the City Attorney to join ongoing or future lawsuits “to protect the availability of abortion services in Alexandria,” as well as land use protections for providers.

When told by a protestor that she doesn’t understand the issue because she hasn’t had an abortion, Vice Mayor Amy Jackson asked, “How do you know I haven’t?”

“When we’re talking about personal freedom and women’s health care, it should be the women’s choice, not men,” Jackson said.

Council Member Kirk McPike drafted the resolution. McPike previously expressed regret about City Council withdrawing an earlier proclamation of support.

“Fortunately right now we are in Virginia, and in Virginia abortion remains legal,” McPike said. “There’s nothing we can do from this dais or as City Council to override state law. If that changes, we will not be able to limit that. What we can do is work within the powers that we have as a city body, to ask our city manager in our city attorney to take on active roles in helping us protect this right to reproductive choice here in our city, whether that’s through revising our planning and zoning rules, whether that’s by joining lawsuits, whether that’s by putting language in our legislative packets. “

Council Member Alyia Gaskins, who noted in the meeting that she is pregnant, said that the Supreme Court ruling is an attack on the rights of women and families.

“We must be relentless in protecting the health and wellbeing of our people and the citizens we serve,” Gaskins said.

Council Member Sarah Bagley directly addressed the anti-abortion activists holding signs.

“I look at these photos, I see you pointing at them,” Bagley said. “What I don’t see is the woman whose life was saved because the ectopic pregnancy would have killed her. What I don’t see with these photos is a woman who desperately wanted a child but was told that (with) these fetal abnormalities would never have survived.”

Many residents also sat in Council Chambers holding signs thanking Alexandria for its pro-abortion efforts, including Sandy Marks, chair of the Alexandria Democratic Committee.

“Our council is entirely unshaken,” Marks said. “There have been a few interruptions, business is moving smoothly. They’re attempting to make noise outside, but our good governance is not going to be disrupted by a small number of out of town visitors that are here to try to obstruct a meeting that is going very smoothly.”

Delegate Elizabeth Bennett-Parker (D-45) also sat in the audience.

“I’m here because I believe everyone should be able to access safe abortions,” Bennett-Parker said. “I’m here today to support City Council and this resolution to protect abortion access in Alexandria and Virginia. I’m here because people should be able to make decisions about their own body, their own future and their own lives.”

21 Comments

Alexandria Vice Mayor Amy Jackson took fire from one of her colleagues Tuesday night (June 14) against the appointment of former School Board Member Christopher Lewis to the Alexandria City Public Schools Law Enforcement Partnership (SLEP) Advisory Committee.

Jackson said that Lewis already serves on the city’s Community Policing Review Board and recommended Mike Mackey, the director of the Alexandria Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court Service Unit.

Council ended up voting 6-1 (with Jackson in opposition) to appoint former Lewis as its representative on the 16-person SLEP Advisory Committee, which is tasked with reimagining the Alexandria Police Department’s relationship with the school system — including school resource officers at Alexandria City High School and the city’s two middle schools.

“I just don’t think that he is pro-police,” Jackson said of Lewis. “I don’t, and that’s fine. But when I’m looking for someone to put on this particular task force that helps see all the situations and all the perspectives of everyone in the city, finding someone that doesn’t have that outlook and is already close-minded to certain aspects of it, I would not want to see on this particular committee.”

Lewis, the CEO of Public Knowledge, was a School Board member from 2013 to 2019, and last month was named one of Washingtonian Magazine’s 500 most influential people. Lewis was in meetings today and could not comment on this story.

Councilman Canek Aguirre said Lewis has an unparalleled resume, and that Jackson’s comments were “egregious” and “insulting.”

“It’s rather egregious to say that he’s not pro-police,” Aguirre said. “I’d ask where in the past has he ever said that he’s not pro-police. He doesn’t say that. That’s very insulting.”

Mayor Justin Wilson said that both Mackey and Lewis are great to work with.

“My hope is that they (SLEP) are a solutions-oriented group trying to bridge some difficult issues in the community, and coming up with thoughtful policy designs that ultimately can be accepted by both the City Council and the School Board, ” Wilson said. “I think Chris has a good background can help bridge that.”

City Council adopted a number of resolutions Tuesday night aimed at curbing violence within Alexandria City Public Schools, including Wilson’s and Council Member Alyia Gaskins’ memo on their Youth Safety and Resiliency plan.

Gaskins said that the community is still reeling from the death of Alexandria City High School Senior Luis Mejia Hernandez on May 24.

“We also know that many of our young people right now are dealing with the loss of a friend, a classmate,” Gaskins said. “We have parents who are grieving the loss of their son. And so this is really an opportunity for us to as we say in the memo listen, learn, and act.”

Of the 18 arrests of ACPS students between August and December 2021, a vast majority of students arrested are Black.

Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. resigned last week and did not attend the meeting. He is out of the office until June 21.

Per the approved plan, staff will return to Council with a proposed timeline to start engaging kids, parents and ACPS staff on youth trauma and mental health within the school system.

“I think we are dealing with an urgent crisis,” Gaskins continued. “We have a great community that rallies and steps up when there’s a challenge, and this is our opportunity to do that once again, and to really build new relationships with our young people to let them know they’re cared about, and to take some important steps that invests in their mental health and their overall resiliency.”

Council also unanimously approved a gun violence prevention resolution, which encourages the school system to “review school curriculum, safety protocols, and professional development” related to gun safety and suicide prevention.

Wilson said that it’s time to step back, listen and learn from the community on what it wants regarding safety in schools.

“I think out goal should be to, first of all, step back, listen and learn,” Wilson said. “I think part of the message here is a little bit of humility in our policymaking and a recognition that for a community as diverse, and with a set of needs that we have in our city, there’s not going to be a set of policies that would guarantee that our community is going to be immune from this kind of violence.”

28 Comments

Updated at 7:45 p.m. — A short-staffed Alexandria Police Department is reducing its services to the community, the department announced on Wednesday (June 2).

Police will no longer respond to calls for service that fall under another agency’s responsibility or respond to old crime scenes that show no danger to the public.

“The Alexandria Police Department like most law enforcement agencies across the nation has experienced a significant reduction in their workforce due to resignations and retirements,” APD said in a release. “While APD remains dedicated to providing excellent public safety services, this reduction in officers has affected the way APD will deliver services to the community.”

Police said that the changes will “prioritize the workload to better serve the Alexandria Community.”

The department is budgeted for 311 sworn officer positions, but currently has 291 sworn officers on payroll, which includes 13 that are still in the academy that have yet to fully graduate their police training, according to APD.

Police Chief Don Hayes said that officers will continue to actively police neighborhoods.

“Just like everybody else, the pool is smaller, and everybody’s in the same pool,” Hayes told ALXnow in a recent interview. “When you have Arlington County whose down 60 (officers), Fairfax is down 100, Prince William is down 40, and we’re down about 23 and you’re looking for qualified candidates, but everybody is not qualified to do this job. They just don’t meet the qualifications. And you can’t lower your standards because you’ll have more problems bringing them in than you will without them.”

Mayor Justin Wilson says that he prefers to have APD officers working at the highest level of service, and that the City is working to increase staffing.

“My preference is always going to be that we provide the highest level of service to our residents, all of the time,” Wilson said. “As we work to return to our authorized staffing levels in the Police Department, I understand the Chief’s decision to prioritize response to calls where the physical presence of our officers is most critical. The dedicated men and women of APD have done excellent work, with lower staffing levels, in recent years to keep our community safe. These changes will focus their efforts on the incidents where they can make a real difference in the safety of our City.”

Vice Mayor Amy Jackson says that the move is unfortunate, and that the answer is about budgeting and collective bargaining. She also said she was not surprised by the announcement.

We as a community need to lift up our police department,” Jackson told ALXnow.And I think when our city does that, the region will also do that and we will be able to attract and retain talent with the skill set needed to work here in Alexandria. And right now, we aren’t attracting or retaining the talent that we want here for our department. It’s a sad state of affairs. I believe we have the leadership that will get us to that expectation.”

Police officers got a 6% raise in City Manager Jim Parajon’s Fiscal Year 2023 budget, which goes into effect next month.

The Department will also providing more support for online and phone reporting, and is working on an outreach campaign on the changes.

33 Comments
Police at the Bradlee Shopping Center where an 18-year old was stabbed and killed on May 24, 2022. (staff photo by James Cullum)

(Updated at 5:45 p.m.) Alexandria Police were at the scene of Tuesday’s brawl prior to the fatal stabbing of 18-year-old Luis Mejia Hernandez, according to video of the incident obtained by ALXnow.

Hernandez was stabbed during a brawl with 30-50 teenagers in the McDonald’s parking lot. A video of the incident obtained by ALXnow showed police cruisers at the scene and an officer attending to Hernandez immediately after he was stabbed.

Mayor Justin Wilson says it will take a citywide effort to protect kids.

Wilson said that he has been in constant contact with Alexandria City Public Schools leadership and the police. On social media, he wrote that he first checked to see that his son was at the school and not at the shopping center.

“Parents and members of our community have used their voices to demand solutions, implemented immediately,” Wilson wrote. “That is also my reaction as a parent.”‘

Wilson said that those ideas include hiring more police officers, hiring more mental health counselors, more gang prevention, and security training around school facilities.

“It requires city, schools, non-profits and the community all rowing in the same direction,” Wilson told ALXnow.

A GoFundMe campaign has so far raised more than $12,000 for Hernandez’ family. No arrests have been made yet.

In-person school was canceled at ACHS on Wednesday — the day after the incident.

“A Titan was murdered,” Vice Mayor Amy Jackson told ALXnow. “There’s still a lot of video that has to be looked at by police.”

https://twitter.com/Gabriel3lias/status/1529421663019974656?fbclid=IwAR3nl6Rxrm__JHW9Z8xkdihSnWQ9RwM9JXyMqEYGwlCHExrGQrSMrqbxNgU

Alexandria School Board Member Kelly Carmichael Booz tweeted that she was gutted by the news of the day, and that there will be “more to say and more actions to take to fight for the safety of our children, and likely a lot of unhelpful finger-pointing.”

“Tonight I put my kids to bed and gave them a hug and a kiss and sang our songs,” Booz tweeted. “Tonight a family in Alexandria cannot put their son to bed and 18 families in Texas have empty beds with kids the same age as my own. I’m gutted. I grieve for the families.”

City Councilman Canek Aguirre tweeted that “Action is needed. Thoughts and prayers are not enough.”

The Alexandria Council of PTAs sent out the following note:

Our hearts break for the loss of the Alexandria City High School student today and we stand with their family, all students, teachers, staff, and community members who need support today.
We also hold all of the community members in Uvalde, Texas in our hearts and minds and recognize the impact that event has on our own community members.
If you or anyone you know needs mental health support during these times, a reminder that ACPS school counselors are available and you can also call your school for help. Additionally, this resource from the National Association of School Psychologists: https://www.nasponline.org/…/mental…/addressing-grief
15 Comments
2121 Eisenhower proposal, image via SK+I Architecture

A last-minute disagreement between city staff and developers of a new development in Carlyle raised concerns about fairness in the city’s development process.

There was little indication before the City Council meeting (item 12) on Saturday, May 15, that the development at 2111 and 2121 Eisenhower Avenue would take up two hours of discussion and argument.

At the public hearing, the project faced both criticism from affordable housing advocates for its lackluster contribution and an 11th hour objection from staff over a technical development detail that amounted to a $1 million fee discrepancy.

The central question was whether or not the above-ground parking space at the site qualified as part of the square footage of a building for purposes of things like the developer contribution to affordable housing.

Vagueries and disagreement in what the city was asking from the developer led City Council member Kirk McPike to describe the whole issue as “Calvinball” — a reference to the game played in Calvin and Hobbes where the rules are inconsistent and change mid-game.

The staff report recommended approval, and there was no discussion of this issue at the Planning Commission.

“In recent days it’s become clear that there’s a difference of opinion between the applicant and staff on how to apply the $5.46 per square foot toward the above-ground parking portion of the residential development,” said Karl Moritz, Director of Planning and Zoning. “First, I do need to apologize to the applicant for the extreme lateness in bringing this issue to our collective attention … but staff’s view is that the Eisenhower East Plan is clear on what the contribution applies to and even more clear on what is exempt.”

Moritz said the condition applies to development built above ground and developments approved under the previous plan are exempt. The plan also exempts commercial development because the market for commercial development is challenging. Finally, the plan exempts bonus density applied to affordable housing.

Moritz said part of the analysis is what value is being created by the upzoning that the plan is providing — the increase in value that each property owner is getting.

Attorney Cathy Puskar represented applicant Mid-Atlantic Realty Partners and not only expressed disagreement with staff’s conclusion that the parking should qualify as square footage to be factored into the developer contributions, but said the process by which the issue was raised was unacceptable.

“We often have issues that come up at the last minute before we come to you at City Council and it’s always unfortunate but we’re able to work through it,” Puskar said. “In this instance it’s not only unfortunate it’s egregious. I received a call 23 hours before this hearing telling me that high-level staff at planning and zoning had a different interpretation of our obligation on the developer contribution than had been discussed during the small area plan, than had been agreed to, and has been documented in the conditions.”

Puskar said the disagreement amounted to a $1 million additional fee to pay the city.

The vagueness of the rules and their implementation in the development sparked some frustration from the dais.

“We’re voting on this language, we all agree on the language, but nobody agrees on what the language means,” McPike said. “There’s kind of a Calvinball aspect to this.”

Read More

8 Comments

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.” Read More

7 Comments
×

Subscribe to our mailing list