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Mall helped solidify Short Pump’s status

Construction of Short Pump Town Center ranks 22nd on list of most significant events in Henrico history
Courtesy Forest City Enterprises
On a blustery November day 11 years ago, amid the flurry of confetti and polite applause, Short Pump officially arrived.

Sure, the nebulous region had existed for decades already – first as a rural outpost where farmland was plentiful and people were not, later as the butt of jokes from outsiders who couldn't quite figure the meaning behind its name, and eventually as the Henrico definition of suburban sprawl, when planned communities spread as far west as the county's borders would allow.

In its early modern years, Short Pump was perhaps best known as the place from which a plethora of historic structures were uprooted and trucked across the county line into Goochland, reassembled there as a Field Days of the Past exhibit. And no, an airplane didn't crash into an auto repair shop on West Broad Street years ago, though natives will recall the distinct tailpiece of a single-engine plane that seemed to indicate otherwise as it adorned the side of an auto repair shop on West Broad Street for years.

Short Pump was very much a "place" before Nov. 28, 2000, but on that day, as officials gathered beneath a tent amid wooded acres for a ceremonial groundbreaking, it was about to emerge from the shadows – officially.

'Something special'
Most of the 147 acres on which Short Pump's calling card sits today has been part of Tommy Pruitt's family for nearly a century. He grew up in a house still inhabited by his parents that sits on the south side of West Broad Street, directly across from the mall.

"We're back there every Sunday afternoon for Sunday dinner," he says, "the whole clan."

Pruitt says he wasn't quite sure what ultimately would take shape on the family's prime land – but he knew it would be meaningful.

"We always wanted to have something special there," he says. "We didn't know what 'special' was, but we knew we wanted something special."

In the mid-1990s, his company, Pruitt Associates, sought the assistance of a nationally prominent developer to help dream up 'special.' Following a nationwide search, he selected Forest City Enterprises of Ohio, and the two entities started a process that would span several years and dozens of blueprints.

The time was right, they decided, to introduce a new retail concept to Short Pump – and Central Virginia. Thus was born the concept of Short Pump Town Center, soon to become a unique two-story, open-air shopping mall in the heart of perhaps the last place anyone would have envisioned it just a few decades earlier.

An upscale, outdoor shopping mall? In Short Pump? Really?

Naysayers are quiet today, more than seven years after the mall opened in September 2003, bringing with it high-end retailer Nordstrom and a plethora of other retailers.

For Henrico County and Central Virginia, the $360-million project was the retail equivalent of a Triple A city landing a major league baseball team. It helped elevate the way retailers and other businesses viewed the market and announced that Short Pump was a major retail player, and for that, the construction of Short Pump Town Center earned the No. 22 spot in the Henrico Citizen's list of the most significant events in Henrico history.

A learning curve
The original plans for the mall called for a one-story, indoor facility. . . or a two-story outdoor facility with vehicular access throughout. . . or perhaps something else entirely.

"I probably have 100 different layouts in my office somewhere," Pruitt says, recalling the early iterations that seemed to change by the day. "We went through quite a few gyrations."

Construction of the mall also proved a learning process for Henrico County.

To fund infrastructure requirements necessary for its construction, county officials agreed to establish a community development authority (CDA) for the specific purpose of issuing $25.5 million in special assessment revenue bonds that would finance infrastructure projects at the mall site, such as entrance roads, stormwater management and traffic signals.

It was the first time Henrico had used a CDA, and the idea quickly was met with legal resistance by several Henrico residents – who claimed the decision was nothing more than a veiled way of giving taxpayer dollars to individual developers – and Taubman Centers, Inc., the owner of rival Regency Square, which claimed the idea was unfair and would hurt its Henrico property – for which it had unsuccessfully sought incentives of its own from the county.

The lawsuits eventually reached the Virginia Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of the county and the CDA, clearing the way for the bond issue. But the process delayed construction by more than a year and allowed Taubman to speed work on its own new upscale mall, Stony Point Fashion Park in Richmond. The two malls opened within days of each other in September 2003.

"If you know you're right on the issues, you've got to move forward. We felt we were on the right side of the issue," Pruitt says.

The mall opened with nearly 100 stores and restaurants and now counts 137 tenants on its list. How has it succeeded even during some lean economic years? Pruitt credits its location – surrounded by high-end residential neighborhoods, two interstates (64 and 295), a connector to Chesterfield (Route 288) and Henrico's main thoroughfare, West Broad Street – as the primary reason. Diversity of tenants and widespread appeal have helped, too.

"They really set that mall apart," he says.

Financial payoff
Financially, the decision to build the mall paid off for Pruitt, Forest City and the county. As a condition of the CDA, Henrico officials had required that the entire associated debt service of $31.1 million be paid off within five and a half years.

"That was a tough pill," Pruitt says. But by late 2009, the amount had been paid entirely from the tax revenues generated at the mall, and the CDA was dissolved. Henrico received an additional $4 million in tax revenue during that period and more than $8 million in incremental revenue during its 2010 fiscal year.

"The Short Pump Town Center CDA is a great success story," Finance Director John A. Vithoulkas said at the time. "We reached full payoff in five years with the unanticipated benefit of significant revenue over and above the debt payments."

Pruitt credits the county with its willingness to lend support to the project.

"When they became convinced that we could produce, that's when they really became great team members," he says. "I don’t think we could have envisioned [the mall] turning out better. It's been very, very popular, and we continue to build the tenant list every year."

"But even now, we're still trying to tweak that mall," he says, citing the recent addition of the Hotel Sierra on mall property as an out-of-the-box idea that has worked. More creative plans, he says, are on the way.

Short Pump pride
In the years since the town center opened, another massive development – West Broad Village – has sprouted in Short Pump, and several strip malls have developed along the outskirts of the mall. The mall regularly attracts shoppers from as far as Charlottesville and beyond.

But Pruitt downplays the significance of the mall in solidifying Short Pump's place on the local and regional map.

"I'd love to take credit," he says, "but that was a dynamic area. We're there because of the residential growth that had already occurred.

"I think Short Pump would have developed very well without the mall – a lot of it already had."

Perhaps. But like much of Henrico County, Short Pump was – and is – at times a mystery. Where does it begin? Where does it end? The mall also gave Short Pump something that was certainly – and boldy – its own. And it helped transform its name from comic fodder to corporate envy.

"I've had a lot of business associates come to me over the years, and they asked me to help change the name of Short Pump," Pruitt says. "I would politely listen, but respectfully decline. We were very proud of the name Short Pump."

"I've been in meetings in other parts of the country with tenants and clients now," he says, "and they all know the name Short Pump."


Community

Varina Ruritans honor students

The Varina Ruritan Club hosted the winners of its 2014 Environmental Essay contest at its monthly meeting March 11 in Varina.

The contest, in its eighth year, was for the first time open to students in grades 3-5 at Varina Elementary School. (It previously was open to Sandston Elementary School students.)

The meeting included the winners, parents of the winners, Varina Elementary principal Mark Tyler and several teachers who were in charge of the contest at the school. > Read more.

Baseball game to benefit Glen Allen Buddy Ball


For the fifth consecutive year, St. Christopher’s and Benedictine will play a varsity baseball game at Glen Allen's RF&P Park as part of a fundraising effort for the River City Buddy Ball program.

The game will take place Saturday, April 12, at 7 p.m., and the teams hope to raise $3,000 through donations, raffles and other efforts. Admission to the game is free, but fans who attend are asked to donate funds for the Glen Allen Youth Athletic Association's Buddy Ball program, which enables disabled children and teens to play baseball. > Read more.

Highland Springs field to be dedicated in honor of longtime coach Spears

The Henrico Division of Recreation and Parks will dedicate the Highland Springs Little League Majors Field in memory and honor of Rev. Robert “Bob” L. Spears, Jr., on April 12 with a ceremony at the field at 8 a.m.

Spears served the league as a coach and volunteer for 30 years and was praised as a pioneer for equality. His “Finish strong” motto embodied ethical perseverance on the field and in life. > Read more.

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Entertainment

A fun, fuzzy ride

‘Muppets Most Wanted’ worthy of its franchise

Do Muppets sleep? It’s hard to say.

They don’t really eat (or breathe, as far as anyone can tell). And only occasionally do they have visible, functioning legs.

As far as anyone knows, sleeping might be off the table. And that makes it very hard to accuse the Muppets of sleepwalking through their latest feature, Muppets Most Wanted – even if that’s exactly what’s going on.

Jim Henson’s beloved creations were back in a big way after 2011’s The Muppets, with fame and fortune and even an Oscar, a first for the group (“Rainbow Connection” was nominated, yet somehow failed to collect at the ’79 ceremony). > Read more.

Weekend Top 10


There’s no excuse for kids and families to not get out of the house this weekend! The Armour House and Gardens has an “Egg-celent Egg-venture” planned and Reynolds Community College will host the Reynolds Family Palooza. If you’re looking to give back to your community, Dorey Park will host Walk Like MADD and coordinators2inc will present the annual Kids Walk for Kids. And a special event for children with special needs will be on Sunday – the Caring Bunny will be at Virginia Center Commons. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

A new meaning for fried chicken

Is it heresy to say – in this bastion-of-tradition capital of the Old South – that it's time for Southern fried chicken to take a step back and make way for a new fried chicken king?

Count me among the new believers bowing to Bonchon Chicken's delectable double-fried bliss. Hand-brushed with signature garlic soy or hot sauce, flash-fried once and then again, the decadent drums and wings take "crisp" to a new level. If you're eating with a crowd and everyone bites in at once, be warned: you might need ear plugs to handle the din. > Read more.

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