That is the story of The Shops at Willow Lawn, which will soon undergo a drastic renovation as its owners aim to bring new life to the aging mall.
The mall’s owner, Maryland-based Federal Realty Investment Trust, aims to make the center more attractive to shoppers and tenants by demolishing the enclosed portion of the mall in May to make way for additional parking, a plaza and outdoor storefronts.
Willow Lawn opened in the 1950s as Richmond’s first major shopping area outside of downtown. Federal Realty bought the property in 1986 and converted a large portion of it into an indoor mall. Several years ago, portions of the indoor mall were removed as some tenants were shuffled around.
The current plan will complete the “de-malling” of Willow Lawn, according to Robin McBride, Federal’s COO of the Mid-Atlantic region.
“As the needs of retailers and the footprints they need, and what customers expect, we have to change along with that,” McBride said.
The redesign will reduce the leasable retail area from 409,000 square feet to 379,000 square feet. Over the past several months, the company has been working to vacate the interior shops of the mall in preparation for the overhaul.
The project has been in the works for the past two years, she said.
“Historically the exterior stores have had the most success because of convenience and access,” McBride said. “Open air serves the consumer’s needs better.”
Several tenants have already located to available space in the existing open-air section including Coconut Jewelry, Red Nails and GNC.
Only a couple of stores remained inside the mall, including Chik-fil-A, which will eventually be moving elsewhere in the center. Old Navy will have a grand reopening in March in the spot currently under renovation that was previously occupied by Tower Records.
McBride said the space vacated by Old Navy would either be marketed as a large anchor space with a few small shops adjacent or as two or three junior anchors. The inside will be devoid of tenants by April, McBride said.
The renovation will also place a new emphasis on the 67,000 square feet of office space at the center, which is located on two floors above Old Navy’s current location. It is currently blended in with the structure of the mall, but the redesign will allow it to stand out.
The Richmond Department of Health is vacating its 42,000-square-foot lease. Jimmy Appich, a broker with Jones Lang LaSalle who is part of the team marketing the new space, said otherwise the office portion is fully leased.
That space “is coming back on the market for the first time in 10 years,” Appich said, “It is a good opportunity for the mall and a corporation looking for a more unique environment.”
The demolition of the indoor section will separate the mall into four buildings. Each will be outfitted with new facades on the portions that had been enclosed.
“It is more of a surgical dismantling,” said Mark Hendrickson, development manager for the company.
The open space will provide vehicular and pedestrian access between the buildings and will feature an open community space with outdoor dining tables. Who are these tables for? A restaurant?
“It will be a pretty generously-sized plaza,” Hendrickson said.
Once the roof is gone, site work will run through the spring and summer, and by the first quarter of 2012 new facades will be added to those storefronts that were previously indoors, Hendrickson said. Federal Realty said it will begin marketing the spaces in earnest in the second and third quarters of next year.
The general contractor of the project is Midlothian-based EDC, the architect is Baskervill, and the civil engineer is VHB Inc.
An estimated cost for the project is not expected to be released until after Federal Realty’s earnings report comes out next week.