NORFOLK, Va. — The year was 1999.
All eyes were on the celebration of the next big thing in Hampton Roads: the opening of MacArthur Center and a new era of retail right in the middle of downtown Norfolk.
72,000 people packed the brand new mall that day, while 216,000 people passed through in the first three days of its opening.
Years and years passed, and the mall remained one of the best in America.
Fast forward to today and a lot has changed.
More than a dozen stores -- once staples at the mall -- are now gone. Its three-story anchor Nordstrom left in 2019, and the most recent departure, the Apple Store, was announced last week.
Add in three separate shootings at the mall in a year-and-a-half span and the coronavirus pandemic, which froze in-person shopping altogether, and it’s clear that the once-prized mall is struggling to survive.
This situation is not unique to MacArthur Center. Department store retail has been on the decline for years, with Norfolk’s downtown mall weathering the storm better than most.
But there is hope for the massive, 1,100,00 square-foot mall. The Downtown Norfolk Council has just presented three possible ideas for its future.
The first would open up the ends of the mall, light up the space outside and have retail on the first floor with office space on the second floor.
The second plan would essentially cut the mall down the center to extend Market Street as a landscaped, pedestrian-friendly promenade. There would still be retail space inside, but mix-used space and residential elements would be added to its footprint.
The third idea involves demolishing MacArthur Center and building a new urban district.
Jared Chalk, Norfolk’s Director of Economic Development, and Mary Miller, the President and CEO of the Downtown Norfolk Council, like option two.
“Freeing up that size of a redevelopment site in downtown is unique and will provide a ton of opportunity,” said Chalk.
Miller tells 13News Now an out-of-state economic consultant is in the middle of a retail study of the area that should be completed by May. While the city doesn’t own the entire mall outright, it will give leaders the groundwork to move forward and get the mall back to what it does best.
“MacArthur did a lot of things for Norfolk,” said Chalk. “Since 1999, it’s been a catalyst for development.”
While the future of retail is grim, there’s hope in the future for Macarthur Center and, at the very least, a plan forward.