Military Circle Mall is in the midst of a transformation.
Three years after the shopping center lost its last major anchor tenant, Macy’s, the space is a mix of small businesses, bargain clothing stores, a movie theater and converted office space.
While Norfolk economic development officials want to see the property eventually redeveloped, for now, the mall is attracting new businesses, with at least 22 set to open this year.
“Big-box retail nationally is changing, and we don’t see this as being a big-box retail site” said Norfolk’s interim economic director, Jared Chalk.
The mall’s woes started years before Macy’s closed in 2016. Sears left in 2012. J.C. Penney followed in 2014. In 2015, a company hired to protect the mall’s investors foreclosed on the property.
A Doubletree Hotel on the property closed in 2009 and never reopened. That space is listed for sale by S. L. Nusbaum for $3 million.
On a Thursday afternoon in early August, the mall wasn’t completely devoid of life. Customers mosied down to the Cinemarkmove theater to buy matinee tickets. Others ate in the food court, or got their hair cut at Ashanti’s Hair Studio.
Fly Girl Boutique owner Latricia Harrison moved into her space at the mall around four years ago, when mall management recruited the business as a potential tenant. Over the last few years, Harrison said new tenants have indeed been coming to the mall.
“They are bringing in small businesses,” Harrison said. “I’ve noticed an increase in small businesses in the last couple of years.”
Harrison, who also has retail locations in Greenbrier Mall and Chesapeake Square, said her Military Circle store has helped build her clientele.
“It gave me a platform where I could grow,” she added.
The mall had around 52 store spaces and 280,536 square feet available for rent in May, according to a site plan from property management company Pacific Retail Capital Partners. A recent walk around the mall showed at least 49 spaces occupied by businesses.
Mall general manager Chataun Porch said in an email that at least 22 new businesses were slated to open this year. Of those, 12 are open already and 10 more are coming soon. The new tenants go beyond standard mall fare like clothing and department stores: They include a boxing gym, a beauty spa and even a car detailing service.
“Our goal has always been to give back to the community in a meaningful way, which includes being a catalyst for small business owners as well as hosting locally driven, family friendly events,” Porch said. “It creates an energy felt throughout the community that brings in existing and new customers.”
As anchor stores were exiting Military Circle, Norfolk development leaders began to think about the future of the property. The Norfolk Economic Development Authority purchased the former J.C. Penney building for $2.5 million in 2014. In 2017, Optima Health began to lease office space there and Movement Mortgage opened an operations center.
“That was a really strategic purchase that allowed us to control 16 acres and start to change what we believe the future should be out there,” Chalk said.
Pulling out an overhead photograph of the area, Chalk said city leaders are very interested in helping facilitate redevelopment of the property. In 2016, the city completed a study imagining the area 50 years in the future as an urban, mixed-use community with a light-rail stop and multifamily housing.
He said economic development leaders are working with private entities to potentially convert the former Sears and Macy’s sites. The city has also put the J.C. Penney location up for sale for $22 million. The idea is to free up some of the debt on the property.
“It’s a big, complex puzzle, essentially,” Chalk said.
He didn’t offer a timetable for the transformation but said “It’s not anything that’s going to happen overnight.”
Movement and Optima probably won’t be going anywhere in the near future, though. Movement has signed a lease through November 2030, and Optima plans to occupy its space through August 2024, according to the commercial real estate listing with Colliers International.
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