2015 | News

Community Sees White Flint Mall Case as Turning Point in Area’s Transformation

After Friday's decision by a federal jury, people who live and work in the area are ready to see promised redevelopment begin

Suzanne Hudson has lived in the neighborhood behind White Flint Mall since before the mall existed.

She’s hoping she’ll live there long enough to see it developed into the mixed-use town center long promised.

“I would like to see it done before anything happens to me or I move,” said Hudson, the past president of the Garrett Park Estates-White Flint Park Citizens’ Association. “I would like to enjoy it.”

For Hudson and other community leaders who have invested their time and effort in White Flint’s transformation, last week’s apparent conclusion of the mall’s trial against Lord & Taylor provided both a new source of worry and optimism that the path is now clear for redevelopment.

Demolition begins last month on a garage behind White Flint Mall. Credit: Aaron Kraut

Lerner Enterprises and the Tower Cos., the mall’s owners, haven’t said if or how that decision affects their development plans.

“From my perspective, this is the green light, not the red light,” said County Council member Roger Berliner, who lives near the mall site at the new Pike & Rose development north of the White Flint Metro station.

“I think people are generally eager for this project to move forward,” Berliner said. “I certainly am. I think it’s going to contribute to the vitality of our community and to its economic vitality. We’re ready to rock and roll.”

Howard Feldman, who owns a State Farm insurance agency, moved his business to an office building across Rockville Pike from the mall almost three years ago anticipating its redevelopment.

“What we’ve watched is just some demolition. It went from being a very depressed mall with very little inside to what you have today,” Feldman said. “What’s frustrating is watching the amount of construction and development that’s going on at Pike & Rose and wishing we were as far along as Pike & Rose. I would say there’s some frustration, but most of the people that are living and working here are just hopeful that things will come around.”

Amy Ginsburg, executive director of the Friends of White Flint nonprofit, said the immediate future of the mall site is the most common question she gets. The mall has been emptied of all its tenants except for Lord & Taylor, which has an easement agreement for its building.

Demolition of the mall’s two back garages started in July. Later that month, a YouTube video shot by somebody with a drone-mounted camera from inside the cleared out mall went viral.

“Whenever I tell someone I’m the executive director of Friends of White Flint, chances are pretty good the next question is, ‘Oh, when is the mall coming down,’” Ginsburg said. "Then the second question is, ‘Is a Wegmans coming?’"

The popular grocery store chain has long been rumored for a prime anchor spot in the mall’s redevelopment plans. According to The Washington Post, court documents from the Lord & Taylor trial showed the mall and Wegmans were in extensive negotiations.

When the project went to the Planning Board in 2012 for its sketch plan approval (it’s the last time the plan was presented in public) it was set to bring about 1 million square feet of office space, 2,400 residential units, 1 million square feet of retail space and a 280,000 square-foot hotel.

Hudson, who remembers being able to walk to the mall for food, a movie and shopping, just hopes something happens soon.

“It’s been three years. We were hoping shovels would be in the ground by now,” Hudson said. “You understand that the whole White Flint planning process is going to take 20, 30, maybe even 40 years for some of it to occur. But we were really hoping to see a lot of things happen before then.”