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What to expect at a redeveloped Ballston Common Mall

Tuesday - 6/24/2014, 11:29am  ET

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We’re getting a closer look at what a redeveloped Ballston Common Mall will look like, complete with a 393-unit residential tower, street-facing retail and pedestrian plaza.

New renderings submitted to the county — and presented at the Ballston Business Improvement District annual meeting Monday night — show many Wilson Boulevard-facing retail outlets and restaurants, as well as second-level restaurants with terrace seating and a system of outdoor shopping alleys and corridors.

One option presented in the renderings would involve removing the pedestrian bridge connecting the second level of the mall to the existing National Science Foundation building and on to the Metro. County officials asked developer Forest City Washington to examine options for the mall entrance without the bridge, according to Forest City spokesman Gary McManus.

The redevelopment will involve the closure of the Macy's Furniture store to make room for the residential tower, as well as removing the “monolithic wall” that currently provides a barrier to street activity, he added.

As for the retail tenants, the only sure thing at this point are that the Macy’s department store, Regal Cinemas and the Sport & Health fitness club will stay.

Often the butt of jokes, the retail mix at the aging Ballston Common Mall has left much to be desired in recent years. The redeveloped Ballston center retail mix will be one that’s entertainment-focused, McManus said.

“The way we’re sandwiched between Tysons Corner and Pentagon City, we plan to focus on entertainment, dining, neighborhood-supporting retail and personal care,” McManus said. “More of a specialty center; no one thinks this mall can go head-to-head with Tysons.”

So what does an entertainment-focused shopping center need? The movie theater is a start. A music venue or comedy club, perhaps? It wouldn’t be unprecedented, as Ballston Common Mall currently has a comedy club in The Comedy Spot.

The entertainment-focused Pike & Rose development in Rockville, for example, has signed an indie-focused movie theater, a music venue by Strathmore and the bowling and bocce hub Pinstripes.

The first phase of the Ballston redevelopment is expected to begin opening in 2017, with the rest of the retail openings phased through 2018.

It will be just the latest mall in the region to convert to a more modern, open model, away from the more “inward-focused” malls that were built in the 1980s and 1990s. The Ballston Common Mall was built in 1986.

For the Ballston neighborhood, the importance of the mall finally redeveloping cannot be overstated, according to Tina Leone, CEO of the Ballston BID.

“It’s the single most important step in Ballston since the Metro,” she said Monday night. “It’s the last piece of the puzzle toward making Ballston a truly 24-7 destination.”

© 2014 American City Business Journals, Inc.