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Residential, retail and a new hotel: Norfolk targets MacArthur Center for a mixed-use development

Renderings show the proposed redevelopment concept for MacArthur Center, featuring high-rise residential and hotel buildings anchoring the project. (Courtesy of the City of Norfolk)
Renderings show the proposed redevelopment concept for MacArthur Center, featuring high-rise residential and hotel buildings anchoring the project. (Courtesy of the City of Norfolk)

Norfolk wants to redevelop MacArthur Center into a major mixed-use development anchored by a 400-room military-themed hotel.

Mayor Kenny Alexander said during his State of the City the redeveloped mall would include 518,000 square feet of high-rise residential space, including rentals and units to own.

“The future of MacArthur Mall demands a bold vision that celebrates our culture, reconnects our city, attracts tourists and ensures economic vitality,” Alexander said in his address to the region’s civic and business leaders.

“By optimizing existing assets, we aim to solidify Norfolk as a premier hub for business, living, hospitality, tourism, elevating our city’s appeal to residents and visitors alike.”

The redevelopment would also include opening up 2.5 acres into a pedestrian-oriented promenade.

It’s unclear from Alexander’s comments how much of the existing mall structure would be used. It’s also not clear how far along this concept is or whether the city has a developer lined up to handle what would be a major undertaking.

The city owns and operates the 900,000 square foot mall, which is currently only about half full.

The original development of MacArthur was a big deal when it was conceived in the 1990s, bucking the trend of locating malls in the suburbs by building it in the heart of downtown.

It was the city’s crown jewel, but its luster faded over the last decade. Brick-and-mortar retail languished in the face of the rise of online shopping, and malls in particular have suffered.

At MacArthur, storefronts have emptied and never got filled. Tidewater Community College moved its Barnes and Noble college bookstore out of the mall and onto its campus and large restaurant tenants have left as well.

The city, which already owned the parking garages attached to the mall, bought one of the mall’s anchor buildings after Nordstrom closed, briefly considering locating some city offices there. The city spent $18 million to buy the rest of the mall last year without an immediate plan to do anything with it, continuing to operate it as a mall.

There have been a lot of ideas about how to use the MacArthur property over the last few years. Consultants explored leveling it to create an open plaza, and more recently said it could be a small to medium convention center.

Consultants also suggested ground-up redevelopment and adaptive reuse, like what Alexander laid out Friday.

As MacArthur declined, downtown changed around it.

Once viewed solely as the region’s business center, downtown’s residential population has tripled in the last decade. Recently, the group tasked with promoting and improving the area publicly shifted its priorities to cater more to downtown residents.

Ryan is WHRO’s business and growth reporter. He joined the newsroom in 2021 after eight years at local newspapers, the Daily Press and Virginian-Pilot. Ryan is a Chesapeake native and still tries to hold his breath every time he drives through the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel.

The world changes fast.

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