NORFOLK, Va. — It’s been a Hampton Roads staple for more than 50 years: Military Circle Mall in Norfolk has seen its ups and downs, new purposes, and untapped potential.
The mall first opened in 1970, anchored by J.B. Hunter, JCPenney, Smith & Welton, and Leggett. In 1981, our archival footage shows the mall thriving, even before the American mall boom of the late 80s and early 90s.
In 1996, the mall underwent a $15 million renovation, followed by the construction of a new Sears just three years later. But it didn’t take long for the mall’s rise to turn into its inevitable fall.
In 2012, that new Sears would close, followed by JCPenney two years later. Vacancies have plagued the mall ever since.
But the last two years have been unexpected redemption for the mall. As one of the central testing and vaccination sites in the area, Military Circle Mall is a place where thousands have gone to protect themselves against COVID-19.
And beyond the pandemic, there is hope for Military Circle, still. The city is looking to redevelop much of the retail space and is currently seeking the public's input.
There are three proposals before the city from three different development groups -- including a proposal from Grammy Award-winning artist and Virginia Beach native Pharrell Williams -- all outlining different visions for new mixed-use districts that will sit on the site of the shopping mall.
There's no deadline for the public comments to end, so any long-term vision of the future of Military Circle will remain long-term for the time being.
For now, it will remain mostly a destination for people seeking tests and vaccines. At least with that, the mall can proudly wear a new, hopefully temporary, badge as a beacon of hope during a worldwide pandemic.