Retrofitting Suburbia — Henrico Edition

Regencyby James A. Bacon

Regency Square Mall, a failing, 39-year-old shopping mall in the heart of the prosperous “West End” of Henrico County, is expected to go up for sale by year’s end. While the sale likely will prove distressing to bond holders — nearly $70 million in loans are 70% secured by the mall, which is appraised at only $25 million, reports the Times-Dispatch — a change in ownership creates a tremendous opportunity for Henrico County to reinvigorate a major commercial district.

While Regency enjoys an excellent location and serves an affluent market, it faces tough competition from two newer, pedestrian-style malls: Short Pump Town Center and Stony Point Fashion Park. Regency has zero pedestrian appeal — it is a boxy building set in a vast parking lot, and it is largely surrounded by strip shopping centers, some of which are themselves getting long in the tooth. It is no longer a place where anyone enjoys spending time.

I know Regency well — it is located a couple of miles from my home, and I shop there by necessity. Despite a superficial design makeover a few years ago, the place has little appeal. The problem is that the mall and the commercial area surrounding the mall were designed in the 1970s heyday of autocentric suburbia. Everything has been sacrificed for the comfort and convenience of the automobile. There are sidewalks in the area but no one uses them; the design violates every tenet of walkability. Ironically, the Regency Square area doesn’t even work well for the automobile. There are so many ill-timed stoplights that driving through it is a nightmare — to be circumvented if at all possible.

Henrico County officials seem to understand, at least conceptually, the need to redevelop sections of the county along more urban lines, with mixed uses, higher densities and walkable streets. So far, though, they have been reactive, responding to private-sector proposals such as those emanating from the owners of the Innsbrook office park and the Libbie Hill redevelopment project. Regency Square provides an opportunity for the county to be proactive, to create a different vision for the 25-acre mall property and the larger commercial district of which it is a part.

The entire area needs to be transformed, and Regency has the critical mass to make it happen. Like the old Cloverleaf Mall in Chesterfield County, Regency Square needs to be torn down and the property re-developed from scratch. A fresh vision would allow for higher densities, mixed uses and walkable, bikeable streets connecting with adjacent residential neighborhoods. The vision would extend to adjoining commercial properties, which property owners likewise would be encouraged to re-develop.

Redevelopment would be good for the county — the same land mass would generate significantly more property tax revenue while requiring little more in the way of county infrastructure or services. Redevelopment would be good for property owners — higher density and mixed uses would make their land far more valuable. And redevelopment would benefit neighboring home owners. Instead of adjoining an unwalkable, congested and aesthetically ugly retail zone, they would adjoin a vibrant area that would provide them more convenient access to amenities and, most likely, increase their residential property values.

There is no time to lose. If Henrico wants to revitalize this important area, it needs to signal now that it is serious so that the mall ends up in the hands of an owner with the expertise and financial wherewithal to undertake a major re-development project, not some bargain-hunting bottom feeder. The county should convene a gathering of stakeholders — property owners, merchants, residential neighbors — to forge a new vision for the area and discuss how that vision might be achieved.

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5 responses to “Retrofitting Suburbia — Henrico Edition”

  1. Andrew Moore Avatar
    Andrew Moore

    Great idea! This sounds like something Partnership for Smarter Growth should be involved in.

    Andrew Moore

  2. Let’s talk! (We have other stuff to talk about anyway.) I don’t seem to have your contact info. Call me at (804) 873-1543 or email me at jabacon[at]

  3. Danny Wahlquist Avatar
    Danny Wahlquist

    You don’t like the Douglas Freeman West proposal? 🙂

    1. Danny, you sound like you’re joking but I’m always paranoid that I’ve missed something.

  4. Danny Wahlquist Avatar
    Danny Wahlquist

    Saw this on facebook this week from

    A great piece of land is opening up for DSF expansion.It has 26 acres, a building with 820,000 square feet of classroom space,a food court,a parking lot,it’s on the corner of a major intersection and best of all it’s all ready built.With an appraised value of $25 million, the mall is likely to fetch much less than what is owed on the loan.The county could save millions by buying and converting it.The turn around time could be 10-12 months after all the tenets are gone.
    Kids seem to gravitate to it anyway and some wouldn’t even notice the change…….
    ~ Tim Cook , Blake Eudailey

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