Inside Ballston Quarter, The $330M Mall Redevelopment That Shows Where Retail Is Heading
The long-planned redevelopment of Ballston's shopping mall, first opened in 1951, has been gradually delivering in recent weeks with new retailers opening their doors on a rolling basis.
Spearheaded by Forest City, which Brookfield acquired last year, the $330M redevelopment brought the aging Ballston Common Mall to life with a mix of today's trendiest retail concepts. From a food hall to an interactive adventure venue to a bowling alley-restaurant-and-bar hybrid, the Ballston Quarter redevelopment offers a glimpse into how developers hope to bring the shopping mall model into a new era.
Entering the building from Wilson Boulevard, visitors come upon a large, open-air courtyard with the Ballston Quarter sign above a series of windows.
Amphitheater-style steps descend down into the courtyard, where tables and chairs sit out for guests to enjoy the fresh air. Brookfield is planning to host events with live music in the courtyard. Cooper Carry designed the redevelopment.
Four sit-down restaurants feature outdoor patios opening into the courtyard: True Food Kitchen and Ted's Bulletin on the upper level, and Copa Kitchen & Bar and Bartaco on the lower floor. Copa is the only one open now, with True Food and Ted's planning to open in May.
"This whole place is about breaking down the walls between inside and outside," Brookfield Senior Vice President Will Voegele said.
At the base of the courtyard, garage-style doors open into the Quarter Market food hall. Three food hall vendors have opened thus far: Hot Lola's, Mi & Yu Noodle Bar and Ice Cream Jubilee.
Rice Crook and Turu's by Timber Pizza Co. are preparing to open in the coming days. Future openings include Sloppy Mama's BBQ, Roll'D, Local Oyster, French Exit, Maizal and Cucina Al Volo. The Copa and Bartaco restaurants also open out into the food hall.
What differentiates the food hall from the traditional food courts seen in malls, Voegele said, is it has more local creative operators and a less formulaic design.
"Food courts have national chain tenants," Voegele said. "What people want today is more interesting, curated, unique options."
The development does have some national chain eateries though, such as Chick-fil-A, a holdover from the building's days as Ballston Common Mall.
To make the chicken chain's new space stand out, the developer opened up the ceiling around it and designed the roof, walls and patio seating as if it were an outdoor building, even though it opens into the mall's indoor walkway.
The largest of Ballston Quarter's food and beverage venues is Punch Bowl Social, an experiential retail concept that combines a bowling alley with a restaurant and bar. The 25K SF floor plan the retailer occupies is spread across several small sections on multiple floors with walkways in between, an unconventional layout for a restaurant.
"They took a space that you could probably find nobody else in the world to take," Voegele said. "It's as funky and unique as you'll ever see a space ... most tenants just want one room."
Punch Bowl Social, which opened in December, is one of several experiential retail concepts the developer brought into the project.
On the third floor, entertainment venue 5 Wits opened in an 11,500 SF space. The concept features a series of interactive adventures such as an archaeology mission, a spy thriller and a dragon-filled fantasy quest.
Recreational culinary school Cookology plans to open on the same floor with five commercial kitchens in a 5,700 SF space. On a lower level, Muse Paintbar offers painting classes with food and drinks.
Ballston Quarter also features retailers such as Nook, a play and learning space for young children, and art gallery Whino.
The gym that previously existed at the mall, Sport & Health, underwent a makeover and rebranding as Onelife Fitness. Boxing gym Bash plans to open soon.
Three anchors from the previous mall remain at the property: Macy's, Regal Cinema and the Capitals Iceplex.
A key to launching the redevelopment was Forest City's 2013 acquisition of the previous Macy's Furniture Store space. Macy's consolidated its furniture department into the main store. In its place, the developer created an open-air alley with seating in the middle and retailers on either side.
Ballston Quarter also features a new residential tower next to the redeveloped mall. The 22-story apartment tower includes 406 units and is using WhyHotel to fill units with its temporary hotel as the developer leases up the apartments.
The developer also renovated the 150K SF of office space on the property. The Ballston area has a large stock of available office space, such as Jamestown's Ballston Exchange project across the street, a redevelopment of the former National Science Foundation headquarters.
An under-construction pedestrian walkway over Wilson Boulevard will connect the two developments.
"Four years ago, a lot of people were waiting, watching, wondering what was going to happen with Ballston Quarter," Voegele said. "Us moving ahead was at least part of giving them confidence for what was going to be the center of Ballston."
Cooper Carry's David Kitchens, who designed the Ballston Quarter redevelopment, said the project is an example of how a large number of entertainment offerings can fit into dense, urban neighborhoods.
"This community has matured and grown up around the mall," Kitchens said. "This is becoming Ballston's main street."