As Roanoke County officials are busy drafting an initial version of their 419 Town Center Plan, Tanglewood Mall’s new owner is working on plans to revitalize the mall.
According to officials, the 419 Town Center Plan promises to revitalize the Route 419 corridor in Roanoke County near Route 220.
With more than 43,000 vehicles driving through the Route 419 corridor each day, local officials want to make the area more pedestrian-friendly and offer new retail options, said Jill Loope, Roanoke County economic development director.
A key part of that plan is the redevelopment of Tanglewood Mall. Developer and new owner Blackwater Resources, which purchased the mall in September, has worked on shopping centers across the country.
Loope said she has been on the phone with officials at Blackwater Resources almost every day working on plans. Some changes to Tanglewood could come as early as this year, according to John Abernathy, president of Blackwater Resources.
Local residents we spoke with said they are excited to see the mall under new ownership.
“I personally like the mall,” said Deb Broadwater, who shops at Tanglewood regularly. “I like the location.”
“It’s a little bare,” said Molly Cortes, who has also shopped at Tanglewood. “It does have those few shops that are really good.”
“A lot of people grew up experiencing what the mall had to offer, and there’s still a lot of attachment to it,” Loope said.
While she describes the mall as “under-performing,” Loope said Tanglewood is still a major economic driver for the area and believes Blackwater Resources is the right developer for the job.
“They’re in a number of different states all across the country,” she said. “They’ve done a lot of work in redevelopment of malls of this nature. So they have a lot of experience in that arena.”
Project leaders will release few details about the plans for Tanglewood, only saying it will be transformed into an exterior, or open-air, mall, Abernathy explained.
Abernathy said he has had his sites set on Tanglewood for some time and agrees it’s under-utilized
“Nationally, interior malls are having a troubling time right now,” Abernathy said. “We think the opportunity there is to try to turn that interior mall into more of an exterior-facing development.”
Abernathy and his team have worked on projects in 36 states, so we decided to take a closer look at their track record, visiting three other shopping centers Blackwater Resources has worked on.
Our first stop was The Commons in Martinsburg, W.Va. The open-air shopping center opened in 2009 and consists of several large anchor stores, smaller shops and several eateries. A few years ago, a hotel was added next door.
“It’s brought more jobs to the area and just different places to actually shop,” said Don Pownall, a Martinsburg business owner. “But there [have] been quite a few places that [have] come and gone since it has opened up.”
“It saves me trips to going to Montgomery County,” said Samuel White, Martinsburg resident. “Or even to Hagerstown for certain things, for Target or to Best Buy.”
The only complaint we heard involved mall traffic during the holidays.
“There will be people waiting up in here for up to an hour I’ve seen,” said Samantha Walsh, manager at Ledo Pizza at The Commons. “I’ve been in it myself trying to get out.”
People also liked the open-air shopping center at our next stop, the Dulles Town Crossing in Loudoun County. It’s in the middle of a major shopping area and opened about 15 years ago right down the street from a major indoor shopping mall.
The Dulles Town Crossing also features a mix of large and small stores.
“It’s all right there for you, and you don’t have to go into the busy mall,” said Krista Forsht, who works in Sterling. “You can just pop into a single store.”
“A lot of people go to T.J. Maxx, they order pizza,” said Salvatore Marasco, owner of Pomodoro Pizza, Pasta, & More at Dulles Town Crossing.
Marasco opened his pizzeria shortly after the shopping center opened. His suggestion is to add signage at the front entrance, saying it can be hard to find stores like his that are not located up front.
“A lot of people – they don’t see us,” Marasco said. “People walk in, they say, ‘Oh, this is a restaurant?'”
Nearby, several new strip malls are under construction, and we found apartments across the street from the Dulles Town Crossing.
Local shop owners we spoke with said business in the area is booming, and the Dulles Town Crossing is part of that growth.
“It just seems like anytime they build something, it fills right up and it’s like it was always there,” Forsht said.
We found several newer businesses near our third stop, Cherrydale Point in Greenville County, S.C. It also opened about 15 years ago and includes a variety of stores. There are also several shops across the street.
“We figured between the movie theater, the restaurants and everything, this was a good location for us to be,” said Liesel Blakeborough, owner of The Red Barn, a gaming cafe located across the street from Cherrydale Point.
Blakeborough and her husband opened their business in September. While she said the area is not very pedestrian friendly, many people shop both sides of the street.
Blakeborough also said the high traffic volume has helped her business. People we spoke with who live in the Greenville area said the neighborhood was not as busy before Cherrydale Point came along.
But the increased traffic also brings concern.
“This is a great location for everything,” said Steven Smith, who shops at Cherrydale Point. “This is just such a narrow, tight spot. And when traffic really picks up through here – I’ve actually seen a wreck or two here before.”
We brought the traffic concerns back to the president of Blackwater Resources. While he said he understands some people’s frustrations, he said every mall is different, adding that retailers are mainly interested in moving into shopping centers in busy areas.
“As a consumer, yes, we understand that getting more traffic can be frustrating,” Abernathy said. “At the same time, they want it located in areas that are heavily trafficked.”
Blackwater Resources plans to keep the retailers already located at Tanglewood Mall and add new ones to the mix, Abernathy said.
“Just since we have owned the property, T.J. Maxx and Staples and Stein Mart have already renewed their leases,” he said. “A lot of retailers are making sure they want to be here for the long haul throughout the redevelopment.”
“If the mall is transformed at some level, then it can a much more attractive retail destination experience for residents and for visitors to the area,” Loope said.
Those residents and visitors told us they are excited for the mall’s future.
“I hope to see a…variety of stores,” Deb Broadwater said.
“It’d be cool if it could be as busy as it used to be,” said Miranda Wills, who shops at Tanglewood Mall.
Two of the three communities we visited also have interior malls. We asked Abernathy and Loope if they believe Valley View Mall and Tanglewood Mall could co-exist and both be successful. They say the answer to that question is ‘yes.’
Roanoke County officials plan to release an initial draft of the 419 Town Center Plan next month, Loope said.
It will likely take about five to seven years to finish redevelopment, which could begin as early as this year, Abernathy said. Blackwater Resources may release those details as early as this summer, he added.