The New Regency, Better than the Old Regency… But Not the Best It Could Be

Rendering of outdoor plaza proposed for the new Regency Mall. Source: Baskervill

by James A. Bacon

The most important urban redevelopment project in Henrico County is taking place at the old Regency Mall, once a typical suburban mall anchored by department stores, surrounded by acres of asphalt, and disconnected from the shopping centers and neighborhoods around it. Once upon a time, the idea of driving to the mall and then strolling around in air-conditioned comfort was deemed the pinnacle of suburban living. But the Macy’s, and Sears, and many chain stores are all gone.

Five years ago, The Rebkee Co., purchased the parcels for the mall and out buildings for a total of $18.4 million with plans to execute a drastic overhaul.Β Until very recently, the only signs of change were reconstruction of streets accessing the mall and the addition of several stand-alone chain restaurants such as Panera, Chipotle, First Watch, and Starbucks on the periphery. There was no sign that the new owners had any intention to incorporate any element of walkable urbanism. I wrote off the project as a dumpster drive of a project consisting of buying the property at distress prices and generating quick, low-risk returns… in other words, business as usual that would blow an opportunity to create anything resembling urban living in Henrico.

But I may have been wrong. According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Rebkee is undertaking a makeover of the mall as a mixed-use facility combining 320 apartments, entertainment, and some retail.

With the surge in online retail, traditional retail continues a long-term decline. Any mall re-developer has to take that fundamental reality into account. Rebkee is trying to create a destination based on entertainment. The new Regency will include a three-pool “aquatics center,” a Surge trampoline park, a movie theater complex, and a 6,000-square-foot plaza that will host concerts and possibly a farmer’s market.

The developers also are building a 320-unit apartment complex, which will wrap around a 372-car parking deck. A central courtyard will include a swimming pool, fitness center and other amenities. The property has been rezoned to allow up to 1,250 residential units. Penneys maintains a store in the mall, and there will be room for other stores and restaurants. There is no indication in the article that any provision has been made to include office space, however, so the best that can be said is that the project will be partial mixed-use.

The most important gap in the article is any description of how all these elements will be knit together, and how they will integrate with surrounding neighborhoods and shopping centers. Will the reconstituted mall be pedestrian-friendly? If so, will the new Regency be walkable within the complex but otherwise accessibly only by car, as several other self-contained Henrico developments are? Or will it provide pedestrian access to neighboring properties and catalyze the re-development of a much larger area?

Building islands of walkability is preferable to building more surface parking lots. But an archipelago of walkable islands doesn’t add up to much. Henrico needs what the City of Richmond has, which is entire neighborhoods of walkability seamlessly stitched together that allows inhabitants to walk more and drive less. The biggest missing element appears to be the lack of commercial office space, thus eliminating any hope of anyone walking to work.

From what I’ve seen in the mall itself and read in the RTD article, the new Regency will be a big improvement over the old Regency but will fall short of what Henrico needs it to be.

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13 responses to “The New Regency, Better than the Old Regency… But Not the Best It Could Be

  1. Here we go again … referencing that leftist rag of a newspaper as if it was providing accurate and reliable information. I guess refusing to pay for a subscription is not the same as refusing to read it…

    πŸ˜‰

    At any rate, thank you for posting a non-partisan article that addresses a real issue which is the impending demise of malls and similar and their conversion to things the community needs – or more to the point – to things that have a market demand.

    It’s indeed a bit of irony that what used to be the antithesis of walkable urban is being reinvented to walkable urban. πŸ˜‰

    We’ll have to come up with a new term – similar to gentrification – mallification or some such.

  2. I wish I could short sell this project because that’s just what I would do. A mini-Tysons without a subway. No offices but an aquatics center, a trampoline park and the ultimate “doomed to fail” venture – movie theaters. Six Flags over Short Pump. I can’t see it.

    Until the suburbs of Richmond get serious about mass transportation and transit oriented development they are doomed to stay in perpetual suburban sprawl.

  3. I am probably telling my age, but I can remember when Regency was built. It was shortly after we had moved to the Richmond area and were living in the West End.

    Then we moved to the Lakeside area. Not long after that, a new mall went up not far from us–Virginia Center Commons. Now, that one is pretty much deserted. Henrico County is in discussions with Rebkee, the same company that bought and is transforming Regency, about plans to transform Virginia Center Commons. In this situation, the county is expanding upon its commitment to amateur sports and is planning to spend $50 million to construct an arena on the Virginia Center property, consisting of 4,500 seats and 12 basketball courts. The plans for the mall property are still under discussion, but they include shops, cafes, trails, open green space, and a hotel.

    The location of Virginia Center Commons does not lend itself to “walkable urbanism” unless its redevelopment included a lot of residential units and some business, which does not seem to be the case at the moment.

  4. We have our share of semi-empty, on their way to more empty, malls and other commercial places. We’re seeing more Neighborhood scale commercial which is a modest strip on the fringe of one or more neighborhoods… grocery, pharmacy, gas, cleaners, hair, pizza, etc…

    But in our area, a significant number who live here -make their way to I-95 each morning to a job in NoVa. The biggest local employers in the Fredericksburg Area are the shools, WalMart, Geico and the car dealers.

    Almost no neighborhoods that were not originally built with walking paths will agree to have them built… they don’t want “outsiders” walking in their neighborhoods… “walkability” or not, i.e. go find your own path.

    • Larry,
      Interested in your comment about walking paths. Are the “outsiders” the true reason for the sidewalks not being built? Or is that just LarryG spin? I always thought that cost was the real reason. If not part of the original plan, VDOT won’t pay for them, homeowners have to. I remember from Arlington days that just the curb and gutter alone was considered an expense that had to have Board approval. And then there’s the issue of which homeowners have to give up land to make the sidewalk.

      I’d love to have sidewalks in the sprawling subdivision where I live. Right now we walk our dogs cautiously against traffic hoping we will not get run down by cars going 45-50. And, BTW, we have plenty of those …”outsiders”.

      • No “spin”, just the facts… πŸ˜‰

        First, differentiate between walking path/trails and sidewalks (which usually front the houses).

        Second, sidewalks are not prohibited, they are the choice of the developer and customers. No ordinance prevents them but if they are not put in initially – it means easements on lots… won’t get 100% and local govt won’t pay for them anyhow. Usually, they come from VDOT along a busy road that has obvious footpath use.

        But walking trails – they can get put in for a development – but the homeowners do not want them to link up with other trails.

        In other words, they do not want their subdivision trail to be part of a larger trail network – so for instance, several developments could have a trail system that led to a school or a small neighborhood strip with grocery, phramacy, etc but that pretty much does not happen because people do not want people from beyond their own subdivision walking on trails in their subsdivision.

        This is in the suburbs. In urban areas – there are already sidewalks, marked road crossings, and access to community walking trails.

        But out in the suburbs… they show up at hearings vociferously opposed to any walking trail that would come close to their subdivision or connect to an existing trail in the subdivision – that would bring in “outsiders”.

        Same way with roads. They do not want their subdivision road to connect to other subdivisions adjacent to them resulting in a separate entrance for each one. Different reasons… cut-through traffic.

        People want isolated enclaves.

  5. Ok, for sidewalks, the reasons are economic as I thought. For walking trails, it’s more complicated, though I understand the point. I always thought that the walking trails objected to were ones that ran across the back of residents’ lots. Since most suburban folks live in the back of their house, I can understand this objection if that’s not what you bargained for when you bought the house. It wouldn’t matter whether the Tom was an “outsider” or your neighbor.

    • depends on the location. The Heritage Trail – a 3 mile long circuit in Fredericksburg goes “behind” a whole bunch of homes, but the city was committed to building it and had the right-of-way.

      In more than a few suburban subdivisions – the trails do run behind the homes but often beyond the typical rear lot and people buy those homes – BUT they object to any external trails connecting to “their” trail so conversely, they will never be part of a regional trail either.

      And yes, those folks drive to Fredericksburg to enjoy their trail – that goes behind other folks houses…

      πŸ˜‰

    • Walking trails are typically built in a subdivision’s Common Open Space, which very often is located behind some or all of the lots in the subdivision.

      Many localities encourage (require?) these trail systems to be connected between subdivisions with the goal of creating a trail network linking large portions of the county together.

      Larry is right. Many residents oppose connecting the trails to each other.

  6. I guess it depends on what you thought you “bought into” when you bought the property.

    • It does… but a lot of high-dollar developments DO have walking trails…they’re desirable amenities – to be able to take a walk off your
      own property without being in the street.

      Some folks build fences to shield their backyards… some developments use berms and shrubbery to separate the trail from backyards.

      we had an effort locally to build trails on top of the water/sewer easements and that effort went down hard… lots of opposition but a lot of support also – but the opposition won out making the additional argument that maintenance of monitoring of the trail would require taxpayer dollars…

      VDOT has been trying to mandate two entrances to new subdivisions (for fire/rescue access) but that also has run into opposition.

      Like I said – suburbanites tend to want private enclaves with one entrance, no sidewalks or trails, but roads maintained by VDOT! πŸ˜‰

  7. Does this mean Cars and Coffee’s days are numbered?

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