Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Belk, Eastland Mall, to close by mid-February

According to unnamed sources, Charlotte, N.C.-based Belk, Inc. intends to close its underperforming Eastland Mall store, also located in Charlotte, by mid-February of next year.

The two-level, 160,000 square foot store opened in 1975 as one of Eastland Mall's original anchors.

Though Belk has denied rumors in the past that they planned to close their Eastland store, even after plans for a larger store in a more affluent neighborhood were announced in 2005, they have made no secret of their displeasure with the demographic changes at the struggling mall and have slowly reduced the breadth and quality of the merchandise lines at the store over the past several years, recently closing the lower level men's department and consolidating its merchandise on the upper level.

Further information on the closing will be proviuded as it becomes available.

Previously on LiveMalls
Belk, Eastland Mall

Monday, November 20, 2006

Foot Locker Denies Buyout Rumors, Details New Concepts

Chain Store Age

NEW YORK - Foot Locker denied on Friday that it was exploring a potential sale of the company, according to a Reuters report.

Speculation was heightened by the company's hiring of an advisory firm in August and by Foot Locker's refusal to comment on any buyout interest. On Friday, CEO Matthew Serra dispelled the rumors on a conference call with analysts.

On the same call, Serra discussed plans for a new concept, called "Footquarters," that will be focused on inexpensive footwear for the entire family. Approximately 60% of merchandise will be athletic shoes. Dress and casual shoes, which carry higher profit margins than athletic footwear, will comprise the rest.

“We feel that our buying power in the athletic segment will give us enhanced margins vs. our competition, so I personally believe it could be a very large division,” Serra said.

The company plans to open up to 70 Footquarters stores in 2007, with the first group to open in April or May and the second in the fall.

In addition, Foot Locker is opening a chain of athletic hat stores, called “Champs Sports Just Hats.” The stores will try to take market share from Genesco’s Hat World chain.

Retailers grumbling over Web sites that offer sneak peeks at day-after-Thanksgiving deals

Amy Baldwin
The Charlotte Observer

Can't wait a few more days to see what deals stores will offer the day after Thanksgiving? You don't have to.

A number of Web sites offer sneak peaks at what they say are ads retailers will run in newspapers on Thursday for Black Friday -- traditionally the first day of the year that many retailers make a profit or run in the black.

Retailers say the ads might not be legitimate, and complain they undermine their competitiveness. Some stores, including Mooresville, N.C.-based Lowe's Companies Inc., are fighting the sites, which started in 2004 but really started getting noticed last year.

For example, Toys R Us Inc. will have a DVD player with 20 DVD movies for $29.99, while Target Corp. will offer a programmable coffee maker for $19, according to BlackFriday.info. The stores did not return calls for comment.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. will have a 20-inch flat screen TV for $68.97, while Sears will offer a one-carat diamond bracelet for $99, according to Black Friday Ads, found at bfads.net. Store officials could not be reached for comment. Jon Vincent, founder of BlackFriday.info, said employees at newspaper distribution facilities and third-party printers take photos of the ads and send them to his site. Newspapers, including the Observer, have policies forbidding employees from taking or leaking advertisements from facilities.

Vincent said he doesn't verify the purloined ads with the stores but looks to make sure they appear real and that prices seem reasonable.

Impatient -- or, perhaps smart -- shoppers can try to leverage these ads to get a retailer or a competitor to match the price now, said Dayana Yochim, personal finance guru at The Motley Fool and co-adviser for its GreenLight newsletter. Or, consumers could use the advance info to map out the Black Friday shopping strategy with the biggest savings.

"The whole concept of Black Friday is kind of spread out over weeks and weeks as opposed to just that one critical selling day," said Yochim, noting some of Black Friday ads were getting posted as early as two weeks before Halloween.

Yochim contends that some retailers, though she couldn't name any, leak their ads.

Vincent said that a few retailers, including CVS Corp., have asked him to post their ads. CVS could not immediately be reached for comment.

But most retailers prefer to keep ads under wraps until Thursday, said Ellen Davis, spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation. Black Friday is a big deal, she said. It isn't the biggest shopping day of the year -- that honor goes to the Saturday before Christmas -- but it is the start to the holiday shopping season, which typically accounts for at least 20 percent of a retailer's annual sales.

"As a retailer, if you spent millions of dollars on advertising ... why would you want someone else to tell your story?" Davis said.

Vincent said that so far this year, three retailers -- Lowe's, Best Buy Co. Inc. and Linens N Things, asked BlackFriday.info to remove their ads from the site. The retailers cited trademark and copyright infringement. His site, which makes money from online advertisers and does not pay people for submitting sale ads, complied in all three cases.

Best Buy, however, said it didn't request its ad be pulled. Doing that for every site would take too much time, spokesman Brian Lucas said.

"It is not our policy to go after the Web sites that post rumors. Our main concern with the rumor sites is we can't verify their accuracy," Lucas said. "Customer disappointment is our biggest concern."

Last week, BlackFriday.info removed the Lowe's ad, which touted $700 cash-back on certain Frigidaire appliances.

"We don't want competitors to have time to create a better deal before shoppers have a chance to shop Lowe's," said spokeswoman Chris Ahearn.

Vincent said he doesn't believe advancing the ads is illegal or unethical.

"It's just sale prices and sales prices aren't copyrightable," he said. But "we definitely can't take on someone like Lowe's or Best Buy in court."

Wal-Mart is striking back in a different way. The world's largest retailer has said it will respond to its Black Friday ads having been leaked by announcing more deals on Thanksgiving Day, and only on its Web site (www.walmart.com).

the return of the (sometimes) king

We have to get together more often. :-)

My class is finally over! As reported earlier, I had to take the full tax course in order to work at Big Green again this coming tax season…all twelve weeks of it, and all six hours of the exam (it was supposed to be four, but all the students kept getting the wrong refund amount and our teacher kept making us correct our exams to make sure we got our fair share of points.)

But that’s excruciating water under the bridge. The good news is that I get my weekends back through the holidays and hopefully I can clean up the large pile of email and unread magazines I have lying around. You never realize how many magazines you read until you have a stack of them sitting near you that you’ve barely read. Somehow I think I need to cut down, but something tells me I won’t.

This week is a short one at work, so I’m hoping it’ll pass by quickly. I’m not placing bets on this. It’ll probably be balls to the wall insanity as usual.

Then of course there’s Turkey Day…God, I’m so bored with Thanksgiving. Nothing’s open, nothing’s on and the day’s main joy is gorging one’s self with starches and triptophans and listening to overbearing relatives pick fights with each other. The Pilgrims and Native Americans weren’t aiming for this, I’m sure.

Immediately following Thanksgiving…and I mean this literally, is Black Friday., the day that people get up at 5:00 AM to get the same shit they can get at 11:00 AM for the same price. I’m not going to disparage this further, since I’m scheduled to go to Four Seasons Town Centre to Rockin’ Shoppin’ Eve at 1:00 AM Friday and to New York less than 24 hours later. The difference is that I’m just doing it because I like to shop, not because I’m trying to get all my Christmas shopping done or because I’m trying to get a deal.

Then again, if you’re a regular here, you know this already.

There’s so much to comment on in the news that I could be here for a while commenting on it, so I’ll leave it alone. Hope everyone is well out there in Steveland, and if you aren’t I hope whatever’s eating you will get eaten by something bigger before it consumes you.

Music Extra: Cause I Feel Like It
Here are some songs that have been on my mind lately.

Sweetest Somebody I Know - Stevie Wonder Listen
Simply goregeous sentiment and music, previously discussed at the Vox site

Kick, Push - Lupe Fiasco Listen
The backing track kicks butt.

What You Won't Do For Love (20th Anniversary version) - Bobby Caldwell Listen
It's not the original version, but it's the original singer... simply the best interpreter of this classic.

Shine (with Esthero) - Boney James Listen
Dsepite its "morning show" brightness, it's a great track. Who'd have thought Esthero could be this sunny?

Secrets Of Love - Al Jarreau Listen
Everything seems to work on this song.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Protesters Storm Wal-Mart in Mexico City

Chain Store Age

MEXICO CITY - About 250 protestors stormed a Wal-Mart on the outskirts of Mexico City on Tuesday, accusing the retailer of selling low-cost goods at the expense of workers, farmers and public markets, according to the Associated Press.

Protesters chanted "Out! Out!" in front of Wal-Mart's corporate headquarters in Mexico before entering the adjacent store, where they blocked aisles for about 30 minutes before leaving. There were no immediate reports of arrests, injuries or damage, the report said.

Protestors said the company’s low prices take business away from the country's traditional public markets and depress wages for workers and farmers.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

A King memorial for 'eternal truths'

By Richard Clough
Chicago Tribune

WASHINGTON -- Only a select number of Americans have been honored with individual monuments on the National Mall in Washington. There are no memorials to historic African-Americans. And few, if any, of those enshrined there were ever jailed.

But that's all about to change.

Nearly 40 years after the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., construction began Monday on a National Mall memorial honoring the civil rights icon.

King's enduring legacy brought out presidents past and present, celebrities and a slew of supporters on a cool, gray day for a groundbreaking ceremony, where praise for the civil rights leader was in no short supply.

"Dr. King was on this Earth just 39 years, but the ideas that guided his work and his life are eternal," President Bush said at the ceremony. "Here in this place, we will raise a lasting memorial to those eternal truths. Honoring Dr. King's legacy requires more than building a monument, it requires the ongoing commitment of every American."

The King monument will be built near the Lincoln Memorial, where in 1963 the civil rights leader delivered his famous "I have a dream" speech.

Some 43 years later, Bush said that the new monument would stand as a testament to the ideals King espoused on that August day.

"An assassin's bullet could not shatter the dream," the president said. "Dr. King's message of justice and brotherhood took hold in the hearts of men and women across the great land of ours. It continues to inspire millions across the world."

In good company
Just steps from the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials and the Washington Monument, King's memorial places the civil rights leader in the pantheon of renowned American leaders. The National Mall has for years been an exclusive club for memorials, and King can soon be added to a list that includes just four presidents and a Civil War hero—engineer John Ericsson, designer of the iron-plated USS Monitor—with individual memorials.

President Bill Clinton signed legislation in 1996 approving construction of the monument, 12 years after members of the national black fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha began calling for a King memorial.

The $100 million memorial will feature flowing water, stones and trees that designers say will represent themes of democracy, justice and hope. The stones will be inscribed with text from King's speeches.

Project organizers have raised $65.5 million for construction of the memorial, mostly from corporate donors, and completion is planned for the spring of 2008.

On Monday, Clinton testified to King's ideals, saying his messages resonate in today's world.

"When the real battlefield is the human heart, civil disobedience works better than suicide bombing," Clinton said. "Fighting your opponents with respect and reason works better than aspersion and attack.

'A source of inspiration'
Clinton said the King memorial, standing among monuments to other great Americans, would serve as a reminder that the civil rights leader fought to advance the ideal of equality set in motion by his predecessors.

"Here there will be a memorial to Martin Luther King, the voice and spirit of the movement to lift the last legal racial barriers to our more perfect union," Clinton said.

In a letter read by ABC's Diane Sawyer, former South African President Nelson Mandela said King provided inspiration for civil rights movements across the globe.

"Dr. King's legacy is timeless and generations will continue to look back on his work as a source of inspiration and hope," Mandela said in his letter. "Dr. King had the nobility of spirit to stand in the path of tyranny and injustice without seeking selfish gain."

Talk show host Oprah Winfrey said she does not take her success for granted, and she is grateful for King's achievements in elevating the black community.

"I live in a state of perpetual gratitude because I know that I didn't get to be who I am, where I am, alone," she said. "Because he was the seed of the free—Dr. King—I get to be the blossom and live the dream that he dreamed for his children."

Washington Mayor Anthony Williams echoed that sentiment when he said King "opened the doors of opportunity for each and every one of us."

On the guest list
Among the notables attending the ceremony were members of King's family, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, writer Maya Angelou and Jesse Jackson.

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) represents for many the strides African-Americans have made in politics.

Obama invoked King's "I have a dream" speech as he spoke of his two daughters, saying that the civil rights leader's struggles allowed Obama's children to "live today with the freedom God intended, their citizenship unquestioned, their dreams unbounded.

"The man we honor today did what God required," Obama said. "In the end, that is what I will tell my daughters."

Monday, November 13, 2006

Survey: Wal-Mart Top Holiday Destination

Chain Store Age

CHICAGO - Wal-Mart Stores is expected to be the top-shopping destination, according to a survey conducted for Reuters.

The first in a series of polls by America’s Research Group found that a surprisingly high 89% of respondents planned to shop at Wal-Mart this year, suggesting that the chain’s aggressive price cuts will succeed in attracting more customers.

Brit Beemer, head of America’s Research Group, said he was “a little flabbergasted” by the high number of people who said they planned to shop at Wal-Mart, adding that he had expected the figure to be closer to 70%. The survey found that some 72% respondents planned to shop for electronics at the chain.

“As they’ve added more name brands, it gives them credibility for electronics,” Beemer said.

Nordstrom Adds Music to Product Lineup

Chain Store Age

SEATTLE - Nordstrom is expanding its merchandise offering in select Northwest and Southern California locations as well as on line to include music.

The company plans to sell exclusive compilations, beginning with a previously out-of-print collection by Marvin Gaye, as well as current releases from high-profile music artists.

“We want to sell products our customers are interested in,” said Pete Nordstrom, president of merchandising. “This is a new category for us and we’re excited to give it a try.”

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Sultry-Voiced R&B Balladeer, Songwriter Gerald Levert, 40

By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer

Gerald Levert, 40, a smooth-voiced rhythm-and-blues singer whose top-selling records recalled the heyday of an earlier R&B era, died Nov. 10 at his home in Newbury, Ohio, outside Cleveland. A Cleveland TV station and music Web sites reported that he had a heart attack.

Mr. Levert (pronounced luh-VERT) was born into R&B royalty as the son of Eddie Levert Sr., a founder and lead singer of the O'Jays, a group that achieved wide fame in the 1960s and '70s. The younger Levert found success by updating the stylish, melodic music of his father's generation and delivering soulful, romantic ballads that made him especially popular with female fans.

During his career as a solo artist and with the trio LeVert, he sold more than 10 million albums, five of which were certified platinum. Five of his songs reached No. 1 on the Billboard R&B charts, and 11 made the Top 20.

One of his most popular hits, "Casanova," reached No. 4 on the general pop charts in 1987 and was featured in two films: "Fatal Beauty" and "The Pick-Up Artist." Mr. Levert appeared as an actor in the 1991 film "New Jack City."

He often performed with other artists, and his 1997 album with Keith Sweat and Johnny Gill, "Levert Sweat Gill," had contributions from Faith Evans, LL Cool J, Busta Rhymes and Lil' Kim. It sold more than 2 million copies.

In 1992, Mr. Levert had an unexpected No. 1 R&B hit with his father, "Baby Hold On to Me," and in 1995 they recorded a top-selling album, "Father & Son." With nearly identical baritone voices, they often toured together for years afterward.

The elder Levert advised his three sons against entering the music business, but Gerald devoted himself to music from an early age. (His brother, Sean, became a member of LeVert and a record producer.)

"He didn't push me to do this," Gerald Levert told The Washington Post in 2002, referring to his father. "He was just there to make sure that when I fell, he was there to help me up."

Mr. Levert had a minor hit in 1985 with the small-label single "I'm Hot," which led to his signing with Atlantic Records a year later. He would remain a popular live performer for the next 20 years.

In concerts, women screamed his name as he tossed teddy bears into the crowd and, in a signature move, playfully spanked himself. Rejecting the dark, misogynistic tone of much of today's R&B and hip-hop music, Mr. Levert favored the impassioned, lyrical style of an earlier generation.

Mr. Levert sometimes borrowed elements of hip-hop, country and classical music to season his songs about longing, betrayal and love. His lyrics often showed an unabashed, if old-fashioned, respect for women. In his 2000 hit "Mr. Too Damn Good," which reached No. 1 on the Billboard R&B charts, he sang: "Baby, I'll open doors for you any time, because that's what a man's supposed to do."

The chunky Mr. Levert was known to many of his fans by his nickname, G-Bear. At the time of his death, he was making a reality TV show in which he was losing weight along with 12 of his female fans, who were training with him at his palatial home.

Mr. Levert was born in Philadelphia on July 13, 1966, and grew up in the Cleveland suburb of Shaker Heights. His father traveled with the O'Jays throughout much of Gerald's childhood but sometimes took his son with him.

"I was exposed to a lot of great things because my dad took me on the road a lot," Gerald Levert told The Post four years ago. "As a little kid, I saw Gladys Knight and the Pips, Marvin Gaye, Flip Wilson and Richard Pryor, and it taught me a lot about performing, about timing, about just being able to capture a crowd's attention."

He began performing in high school in Ohio with his brother and a friend, Marc Gordon, as LeVert. The trio, known for a lush, romantic sound, recorded seven albums, four of which went platinum.

In his early 20s, Mr. Levert launched a separate career as a songwriter and record producer, and he was responsible for more than 15 No. 1 songs by other artists. He received a Grammy nomination for writing "Practice What You Preach," which was a No. 1 hit for Barry White. He also worked with Patti LaBelle, Anita Baker, Stephanie Mills, James Ingram, Teddy Pendergrass and the O'Jays.

Explaining why he branched out beyond singing and performing at a young age, Mr. Levert said, "The hardest thing about the business is trusting people, and that's why it's good to establish yourself as more than just an entertainer."

In addition to his parents and brothers, Mr. Levert's survivors include four children. He was never married.

Mall-aise: Shopping Malls as seen by Herman Krieger

Tuned In (Photo by Herman Krieger)

Photographer Herman Krieger recently emailed me about his photo essay on malls in Oregon (or anywhere, for that matter) called Mall-aise. It's very striking and I figured it would be of interest to LiveMalls readers.

Mall-aise: Shopping Malls as seen by Herman Krieger

What makes a suit worth thousands?

By Valli Herman,
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

A finely tailored suit is a feat of engineering in cloth. Properly fitted to the body, a suit can refine a physique by broadening shoulders, shaping waists, elongating legs and smoothing out bulges.

Just as men have become connoisseurs of fine watches, wine and automobiles, they've also embraced artisan tailors who have elevated suit making to both a luxury and an art. Becoming well versed in fine tailoring requires that shoppers learn about construction details that add to quality.

The Italian fashion house of Domenico Vacca is among the few companies committed to handwork and construction techniques that are so complex they were nearly lost. Though Vacca's $4,000 ready-to-wear suits for men and women are almost completely handmade, some of the techniques that go into his products are available at lower prices. Vacca explained what to look for in a quality suit, most of which will cost about $1,000 and more.

• Stripes, plaids or other patterns should match at seams, particularly in visible areas such as the yoke, lapel, pockets and side seams. Further, the pattern in the sleeve should align with the suit body.

• Fabric should be resilient and drape well. It should feel good, not stiff or scratchy. A fine wool can be crumpled in your hand — or worn for hours in a meeting — and resist wrinkles.

• The linings, interfacings and padding should be stitched into the garment by hand to perform their jobs invisibly. Quality garments have graduated layers of a lightweight canvas stitched to the interior, not glued in with fusible materials. A canvas lining allows a jacket to breathe and flex with the wearer and also stabilizes the fabric in varying climates. Linings should not pucker or shift after dry cleaning or wearing.

• Stress points, such as the edges of pockets, should be reinforced with hand-stitched tacking or, for less expensive suits, by machine.

• The upper portion of the lapels should lie flat against the chest, but as they descend toward the buttonholes should bend ever so slightly to roll and stand away from the body. Like a haircut that is wash and wear, the lapels should be so effectively stitched and cut that they stay in place without being pressed flat.

• Buttonholes should be handmade and functional or, at the very least, machine made and exactingly trimmed. The buttons should be sewn with a reinforced shank.

• On a machine-made suit, sleeves set into the armhole should not pucker on the exterior of the armhole.

• The interior construction of pockets, seams and linings should float invisibly beneath the jacket's shell. Pockets should never gap and rarely reveal their contents.

• The shoulder padding should not be bulky or shift.

• The trouser waistband should be constructed in pieces and with ample seam allowance to aid future alterations. It should have interior buttons to attach suspenders.

• On handmade suits such as Vacca's, you should expect to see tiny hand-stitches employed to stabilize and beautify construction. Look for it along the edges of lapels, on top of waistband darts, along the fly and on top of belt loops.

• Small extravagances should be incorporated for your pleasure and comfort, including perhaps a thread loop behind the left lapel to anchor the stem of your boutonniere, a loop above the fly to anchor your belt buckle to your waistband, pleats built into linings to add ease of movement, a lot of extra buttons and thread, and, with Vacca's suits, a hidden pants pocket accessible only if you take off your trousers.

• A staff of well-trained tailors can rebuild a suit to fit your body, not merely nip a cuff here or there.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Merry Christmas from Wal-Mart and Macy's

Chain Store Age

Bentonville, Ark. - Wal-Mart Stores is putting the “Christmas” back into the holidays this year. The chain has decided to abandon the generic “Happy Holidays” greeting in favor of having employees greet shoppers by saying “Merry Christmas,” according to a report in USA Today.

The move comes a year after religious and conservative groups criticized Wal-Mart and other retailers for allegedly downplaying Christmas. This year, however, Wal-Mart is embracing the holiday full on, including changing the name of its seasonal-decor department from The Holiday Shop, which it has been for several years, to The Christmas Shop. Stores will play Christmas carols throughout the holiday selling-season and more merchandise will be labeled “Christmas” rather than “holiday” compared to last year.

As it turns out,, Macy’s is also feeling less generic this year, the chain intends to have “Merry Christmas” signs in all departments and all of its window displays will have Christmas themes.

Federated to Exchange Stores with Belk

Wilmington Morning Star and Business Wire

WILMINGTON, N.C. -- Macy's at Mayfaire will become a Belk store

The Macy's in Mayfaire Town Center, a former Hecht's location, will become a Belk next year under a swap deal between the two stores' parent companies, Belk announced Thursday.

Under the agreement, the Mayfaire store will open as a Belk in spring 2007, according to the announcement. In exchange, Belk will turn over a Parisian store in Collierville, Tenn., to Federated Department Stores Inc., the parent of Macy's.

All store associates in good standing at the Mayfaire store will be employed at the Belk, according to the statement.

Belk already operates stores at Independence Mall and Landfall Center.

Charlotte, N.C.-based Belk Inc. is the country's largest privately owned department store company, with 279 Belk stores and 36 Parisian stores in 18 states, mainly in the Southeast.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Hole-Food Stores In Trans-Fat Trouble

The New York Post

NEW YORK - It's time to change the doughnuts!

Mayor Bloomberg's proposed ban on trans fat would deep-fry doughnut giants Dunkin' Donuts and Krispy Kreme - unless they eliminate the artery-clogging oils from their addictive donuts.

While much of the debate over the planned ban has focused on hamburger or chicken joints, a Post review of doughnut shops' ingredients show they could be severely affected.

America may "run on Dunkin'," as the ads say, but Dunkin's doughnuts run on trans fat. Virtually the entire menu of three dozen doughnuts, muffins and cakes contain between 1.5 grams and 5 grams of trans fat apiece.

And nearly all of Krispy Kreme's 29 varieties contain trans fat - led by its Apple Fritter, with a whopping 7 grams. Most contain 4 or 5 grams.

The city Health Department said that shops that have their goods delivered from company factories would have till July 2008 to replace their trans fat.

Dunkin' Donuts is the more severely affected company. It has more than 300 stores in the five boroughs, accounting for roughly $170 million in sales each year.

Krispy Kreme has only two retail stores - one in Penn Station and another on the Upper East Side - but its doughnuts are sold in other eateries.

Dunkin' Donuts hinted it would comply with any ban that goes into effect.

"In fall 2004, Dunkin' Donuts acted independently to remove trans fats from our muffins and many of the items available at Dunkin' Donuts stores," the company said.

Lord & Taylor May Leave Big Apple

Chain Store Age

NEW YORK - NRDC Equity Partners, the new owner of Lord & Taylor, may turn the retailer’s Fifth Avenue flagship in Manhattan into condominiums or office space, according to Crain’s New York Business.

The private-equity firm, which bought the department store chain in October, had previously spoke about reducing the flagship’s 600,000-sq.-ft. retail space, but the company’s president said he is considering more drastic plans.

The landmark has been on Fifth Avenue and West 39th Street for 92 years and may move to another Manhattan location. Or the company could depart from the city altogether.

“It’s nice having a Manhattan store, but I wouldn’t call it key,” Baker told Crain’s. “We want to be where people live, not where they work.”

Lord & Taylor photo by ShellyS via Flickr.

Vote for Tysons Corner Proposal May Upset Work on Master Plan

Macerich Co. plans to expand the 38-year-old Tysons Corner Center by wrapping it with buildings as tall as 30 stories. (Washington Post)

By Alec MacGillis
Washington Post Staff Writer

McLEAN, Va. - Fairfax County officials are considering approving a major expansion of the Tysons Corner Center mall even as the county is in the middle of a much-touted effort to draft a new master plan for future development of the area.

This month, a consulting firm on a $1 million taxpayer-funded contract will start working with a county task force to draw up a plan for Tysons's future. Meanwhile, though, county officials are on the verge of approving the mall expansion, which would reshape the heart of Tysons with a ring of towers including a hotel, offices and more than 1,000 apartments.

The mall designs have generally been well received. But some residents question why the county is considering the proposal now, with officials still in the middle of the effort to rethink Tysons. Why spend so much time and money on planning, they ask, if the future of such pivotal parcels as Tysons Corner Center is already settled?

"They're wasting their time and our money, is the bottom line," said John Foust, a member of the McLean Citizens Association who testified last month in favor of deferring the mall proposal until after the new master plan is done.

Underlying the debate is the question of how to proceed with the overhaul of Tysons, which Fairfax leaders want to transform from an outsized, traffic-clogged office park into a vibrant, walkable downtown, aided by the expected arrival of Metrorail in 2012.

To guide this transformation, the Board of Supervisors appointed a 35-member task force last year to produce a new "comprehensive plan" for Tysons. Due next year, it is expected to include calls for an urban-style street grid and more high-rise construction around the four proposed Metro stations.

The task force is meeting regularly and getting considerable outside help: The county has set aside more than $600,000 for two consulting firms to collect public comments and create traffic models, and it awarded a $1 million contract last month for urban design consulting to PB Placemaking, a unit of construction giant Parsons Brinckerhoff.

But the transformation of Tysons is well underway, particularly in the center of the area, around the site of the proposed Metro station on Route 123 between Tysons Corner Center and the Tysons Galleria mall. In 2003, the county approved a proposal from Lerner Enterprises for eight high-rise office towers at Tysons II, even though the plans go against the county's preference for more residential space at Tysons.

Now comes Macerich Co., the California-based owner of Tysons Corner Center, with its plans to expand the 38-year-old mall by wrapping it with buildings as tall as 30 stories. The plans call for adding 3.5 million square feet to the 78-acre property over the next decade, a 150 percent increase. But rather than wait for the new master plan and whatever increase in density it will allow, Macerich is submitting its proposal under the existing 1994 plan, which it says allows for the expansion it is seeking.

Some residents argue that the proposal should not be approved under the existing plan because the project doesn't include the road upgrades required by the current master plan for a major increase in density. Macerich is offering to widen Routes 123 and 7 and expand the Westpark Drive bridge over Route 123, but critics say it should also build two grade-separated interchanges on International Drive or should have to wait for the new master plan.

"What happens at Tysons now is really historic stuff, and rather than doing one chunk in one way and another in another way, we argue that it be part of a broader comprehensive vision," said Will Elliott, a spokesman for the Vienna-based activist group FairGrowth.

Macerich officials say that the company's road offers are more than adequate and note that they applied months before the task force was formed. "We are clearly outside the purview" of the task force, said the company's attorney, Antonio Calabrese. "There's some serious posturing going on here."

In addition, he said, the mall proposal is in tune with the Tysons vision being discussed by the task force. The proposal includes a greater share of residential space than the Lerner one has, with 1,350 apartments, and a higher proportion of affordable units; it encourages mass transit use by limiting parking and keeping the mall open after stores close so commuters can walk through it to and from the station; and it features such public spaces as a large plaza with an ice rink.

The proposal, which was strongly endorsed by the county staff, is scheduled to be voted on by the Planning Commission next month, after which it will go before supervisors. If it is approved, future development on nearly 200 acres in the middle of the 1,700-acre Tysons area will be settled in advance of the new master plan.

Supervisor Linda Q. Smyth (D-Providence), who represents Tysons, acknowledged that the timing was not ideal but said it is possible that the new consultants could be granted a quick review of the mall's plans or that Macerich could be asked to leave open the chance of later revisions to reflect the findings of the task force.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D) rejected the notion that the proposal diminished the task force's relevance, saying there is still plenty to work on, including development at the other three Metro stations, a street grid and improving pedestrian connections.

Amy Tozzi, a task force member from McLean, isn't so sure. It would be better, she said, if Macerich held off so there could be coordination among county officials and landowners about who would pay for which infrastructure upgrades called for by the task force.

"For developers to be trying to rush in and get under the wire is not in keeping" with the planning effort, she said. "We certainly would rather have the whole package."