“Shopping malls have replaced the town square as the center of many American cities,” Talking Heads frontman David Byrne observes in his 1986 movie “True Stories.” “Shopping itself has become the activity that brings people together.”
Fast-forward to a 2020 presentation on Virginia Center Commons by Henrico County officials, which features a word cloud about the once-proud indoor mall. Among the words highlighted: Ghost town. Concrete hulk. Withering. Dead.
VCC’s last stores closed for good on Halloween 2022. But Henrico County is breathing new life into the site by transforming it into an indoor sports and event facility. It’s just one way that the Richmond area’s traditional malls are surviving into 2023 in one form or another.
Short Pump Town Center
Since the open-air mall opened in 2003, Short Pump Town Center has remained a key player in the transformation of the West End of Henrico County and the edge of Goochland County. The mall boasts 122 retailers, such as Apple, Crate & Barrel, and Warby Parker, although the former Nordstrom space has remained empty since 2020. In December, GRTC Transit conducted a survey about extending its Pulse bus rapid transit service on West Broad Street beyond Willow Lawn and into Short Pump. By spring 2023, co-owner Brookfield Properties hopes to have permission from the state to allow shoppers to drink alcohol outside its restaurants. The mall would be the first in the area to allow open containers under the commercial lifestyle center license, which has been granted primarily in Northern Virginia since 2020.
Opened as a traditional indoor mall in 1975, Regency is now a mixed-use development, redefining the concept of a mall following its 2015 purchase by Thalhimer Realty Partners Inc. and the Rebkee Co. Part of the dramatic transformation inside and outside the West End mall includes the 2020 loss of its last legacy anchor store, JCPenney, and the addition of the NOVA of Virginia Aquatics Center in 2021, as well as Surge Adventure Park, Riddle Me This Escape Rooms and the Rise at Regency apartments. In September 2022, students at Henrico’s Adult Education Center began work to renovate part of the mall and create dozens of classrooms.
Stony Point Fashion Park
Positioned as a higher-end competitor to Short Pump Town Center when they both opened in 2003, Stony Point Fashion Park is home to Saks Fifth Avenue, CineBistro and Restoration Hardware in a dog- and family-friendly environment. However, it has seen several storefronts become empty and the departure of retailers such as Dick’s Sporting Goods. After buying the property in 2014, owner Starwood Retail Partners plotted a $50 million redevelopment but ran into financial problems in 2020. The property was sold to Second Horizon Capital in April 2022. “In 2023, our team looks forward to our continued work in activating Stony Point Fashion Park with new programming, experiential activities and events, as well as supporting our broad range of existing and new tenants, including local entrepreneurs and small businesses. We continue to take steps toward achieving the long-term vision for the asset and our local community,” says Camilo Varela, co-founder and managing partner of Second Horizon Capital. One example of those activities was the recent hosting of “Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel: The Exhibit.”
Chesterfield Towne Center
The largest enclosed shopping center in the Richmond area, Chesterfield Towne Center has survived economic downturns, online shopping and the presence of numerous competitors. After a 2008 remodel, it was sold to Rouse Properties, which was later acquired by Brookfield Properties. Key stores include Barnes & Noble, H&M, At Home, and Macy’s, and dining options include Carabba’s Italian Grill, Island Shrimp Co. and The Twisted Crab. Nearby, plans are underway to revive the Spring Rock Green shopping center (the old Beaufont Mall site) by mid-2024 as a community center with 300 residential units, 27,000 square feet of office and retail space, public facilities, a hotel, a parking deck, and a sports and entertainment facility with two ice rinks.
Virginia Center Commons
While work to transform Virginia Center Commons into the Henrico Sports & Event Center began in 2020, the last remaining stores and other spaces stayed open through October 2022. These, too, will be demolished to make way for two hotel projects and 75 townhomes. The sports center, expected to be completed in September 2023, will feature more than 115,000 square feet of adaptable event space and available seating for 4,500 spectators for sports, graduation and other events. The hope is to attract people and new businesses to the area north of Richmond. There are also plans to build a multiuse trail and a park and to reimagine the food court as an outdoor marketplace.
Willow Lawn was Richmond’s first shopping center, opening in 1956. Its 2012 rebirth into a “vibrant open-air lifestyle center,” according to its owner, Federal Realty Investment Trust, was a milestone in the ongoing revitalization of Broad Street. It was further highlighted by the construction in 2018 of the 7.6-mile Pulse bus route, which currently ends at Willow Lawn. Additional apartments are also in the works for the area. Major tenants include Kroger, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Old Navy. Across the street, space where a bank once stood has been cleared for The Faison Center’s Pioneer Hall, which will house programs for those diagnosed with autism and is expected to open in late spring or early summer 2023.
Serving the Tri-Cities area since 1989, Southpark Mall has a Macy’s, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Regal Cinemas. Its owner, CBL Properties, filed for bankruptcy protection in 2020; in October 2022, it finalized modification of a $54.4 million loan that was extended through June 2026. Like many other malls, Southpark suffered a blow when Sears shuttered stores across the country in 2018, but plans to redevelop the site into multifamily residential apartments won approval from Colonial Heights in January 2022.