Lee District Supervisor Jeff McKay thinks Springfield Mall is still a safe place to shop, but he understands why some area residents might be too spooked to visit the half-empty facility.
“Right now, when people are in Springfield Mall, they’re scared because it’s so desolate,” McKay told Patch.
More than half the mall’s storefronts are currently vacant while officials at Vornado Realty Trust, the mall’s New York-based owner, figure out plans for redevelopment.
Fairfax County officials had hoped these redevelopments would begin in the fall, but Vornado has yet to make a move, and residents are growing concerned.
Minor Incidents, Mostly
The majority of the crimes at Springfield Mall are minor incidents, such as larcenies and shoplifting. But some residents cite more serious, isolated incidents, such as robberies, as reasons to worry about crime at the facility. In September 2008, a 61-year-old woman was abducted from Springfield Mall in a carjacking and died when her assailants crashed the car in Prince William County.
According to the Fairfax County Police Department's crime map, there were 21 reported incidents at Springfield Mall during August 2011. Of the reported offenses, 18 were larcenies, two were drug offenses, and one was a destruction of property offense.
“I think the biggest way to make people feel safer at the mall is to get people back to the mall, and the only way you’re going to do that is with a complete transformation,” McKay said. “The mall has been through a few new coats of paint, and it doesn’t get people to come back.
“They have to recapture people who had bad experiences there in the past,” he said.
However, Nancy-jo Manney, executive director of the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce, said the mall's management had done a good job of making improvements to the facility's safety. "They’ve gotten rid of tenants that were less than desirable and some that were attracting the wrong crowd," she said.
She also thought the mall's lack of operating storefronts helped make the space more safe. "The lack of tenants in the space, which is part of the improvement project, makes it safer because there’s not as many people there," she said.
Redevelopment May Mean Crime Reduction
McKay believes that redeveloping the mall will reduce the criminal activity on the premises.
The first phase in Vornado’s long-term plan for the structure is a serious overhaul of the mall’s interior. This redevelopment includes a brand new food court, and over the next decade, Vornado also intends to build outdoor store space along Loisdale Road, office space and housing.
Some of the store vacancies are intentional in preparation for the mall's redevelopment—vacant storefronts allow stores to move around to accomodate construction.
"Getting people back into the mall, mentally, just makes people feel safer," McKay said. "You feel like everybody is watching out for everyone else."
Neither Manney nor McKay had specific information regarding when Vornado intended to begin its renovations, and calls to Vornado officials earlier this summer have not been returned.
A Joint Safety Effort
Fairfax County police officers have patrolled the mall for some time, said Officer Eduardo Azcarate, a spokesman for Franconia District Station.
"The officers who work at the mall have been in constant communication with the management," Azcarate told Patch in an email. "Site security has obviously been a topic discussed, with recommendations made by the officers."
Franconia District Officers worked with the mall’s security personnel and developers during the redesign process, McKay said. "Our police were at the table when they redesigned [the mall]," he said. “They had a lot of input into the way corridors are designed. They made some observations I wouldn’t have thought of.”
For instance, police recommended that the railings on the mall’s upper levels be replaced with Plexiglas, McKay said. This will allow patrols to see more clearly into stores below if their help is needed.
McKay maintained that Springfield Mall is a safe place for residents to shop. "I don’t feel unsafe at the mall," he said, while admitting that "it is eerie to be in there."
Springfield Mall security personnel could not be reached in time for the publishing of this article.