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WATCH NOW: Remaking Regency: 'We are finally at a point where things are really happening at Regency'

WATCH NOW: Remaking Regency: 'We are finally at a point where things are really happening at Regency'

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All that is left from the former Sears store at Regency mall is a pile of debris and metal. The upper level mall entrance is closed and being reworked. The former Macy’s South building’s interior has been gutted.

A lot is happening these days at Regency — all part of plans to transform the aging mall into a mixed-use development with retail, restaurants, apartments, offices and entertainment venues.

The two-level shopping center, known for decades as Regency Square and once the region’s most upscale regional mall, opened in 1975.

Like other aging shopping centers across the country, the owners are trying to breathe new life into the mall and to that area of Henrico County.

New restaurants — First Watch, Panera Bread, MOD Pizza, Chipotle and Starbucks — have opened up in the past year or so along Parham and Quioccasin roads. Other tenants have been added, too.

Now, the focus is the mall itself.

By early 2022, Regency should have 320 apartments where Sears once stood.

An aquatics center is being built inside the former Macy’s South building. The first phase should open up in about a year or so.

A new plaza entrance is under construction on the upper level, opening up the mall to look more like a park with a stage and seating.

Between the new plaza and the J.C. Penney store will be shops and restaurants that will have entrances facing the parking lot. To the right of the plaza will be home to two new unnamed restaurants that will have a rooftop deck.

A trampoline park is taking over part of the former Macy’s North building. The Surge Adventure Park is slated to open later this month or early August.

“We are very excited with where we are now and where Regency is going,” said Mark H. Slusher, senior vice president of Thalhimer Realty Partners, the investment and development subsidiary of the Henrico-based commercial real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield | Thalhimer.

Thalhimer Realty Partners and Richmond-based The Rebkee Co. bought the enclosed part of the mall, the two former Macy’s buildings and related parking lots in early 2015 for $13.1 million.

In 2018, the owners bought the Sears building and surrounding parking lots on 8.7 acres for $3 million. They paid $2.1 million last year for a 3.2-acre parcel where the former Sears tire and auto store was located.

“It is taking a little longer,” Slusher said about the redevelopment plans. “But probably our expectations were not realistic. Besides, who could have predicted the seismic shift in the retail business. In 2014 when we decided to acquire it, the retail landscape looked nothing like it does today.”

Rob Hargett, a co-founder and principal of The Rebkee Co., said the Regency redevelopment has had a lot of moving parts.

“This is slower than we would like. We have had fits and starts,” Hargett said. “This is a labor of love. We are long-term players. We are finally at a point where things are really happening at Regency ... so people don’t have to keep imagining what we are doing.”

The owners, Slusher said, are trying to have the right type of tenants.

“We’re putting in apartments. And we are adding more entertainment — consumers want experiences that they can’t get on the internet. And we are reducing the amount of retail,” Slusher said.

The redevelopment plans at Regency is a microcosm of what is happening elsewhere across the country with decaying malls and the revitalization of urban areas, he said.

***

The most visible change at Regency was the demolition of the former 151,571-square-foot Sears store, which took place in the past month.

Sears closed its store there in 2017.

The building was knocked down to make way for a planned 320-unit apartment complex.

Construction on the five-story apartment buildings should begin later this summer. The first apartments should be ready for occupancy in early 2022. The whole project should take about 20 months to complete.

The apartments will wrap around a 372-car parking deck. A central courtyard will include a swimming pool, fitness center and other amenities.

Plans call for a driveway and outside plaza to separate the apartment buildings from the mall.

That lower level plaza will be carved out from some of the current mall space — basically from where the Sears building entrance had been to the mall’s elevator. Part of the current food court — the area closest to the former Sears — would be taken down to make way for the plaza.

In all, the plaza would take up about 10,000 square feet.

Regency would still have a food court — it would be slightly reconfigured, Slusher said. It might be a food hall, for instance, he said.

“It is all still very much a work in progress,” Slusher said.

The owners also are trying to determine what to do with the former two-level Forever 21 store, which closed last year as part of the chain’s bankruptcy case.

The 45,700-square-foot Forever 21 store had been considered a mini-anchor tenant because it took up almost an entire section of the mall’s interior space near the former Sears store.

More market rate apartments, a senior living complex or an office building are being considered for the former Forever 21 space as well as for the parking lots closest to Starling Drive. The mall’s owners are in talks with potential companies that want to build a senior housing complex.

Henrico supervisors rezoned the Regency property last year to allow up to 1,250 residential units to be built there.

The residential component defines what the owners are doing, Hargett said. The idea is to make Regency a place to live, work and play, he said.

***

The upper level entrance is getting a major makeover.

A 6,000-square-foot plaza is under construction. Slusher calls it the gateway to the mall.

There will be a stage for concerts and space for a possible farmers market.

For the first time, shops and restaurants will face out to the parking lot between the Penney’s store and the plaza entrance.

Foot Locker will move from inside the mall to the new space facing the parking lot. Jersey Mike’s Subs and YogaSix also will be next to Foot Locker.

Those tenants should open this fall.

Next to Penney’s will be McCormack’s Big Whisky Grill restaurant, which is moving and downsizing. It had operated to the right of the entrance in a 10,000-square-foot space since the fall of 2014 by taking over the former Texas de Brazil space.

By relocating McCormack’s, that opens up space for two restaurant concepts by the same owner, Slusher said. He declined to say who the new restaurant operator will be or what the concepts will be.

There also will be a 4,000-square-foot rooftop deck.

***

The two former Macy’s buildings are being redeveloped.

Both stores closed in March 2016 as part of a national downsizing by the department store retailer.

Part of the three-story Macy’s North building has been turned into a Surge trampoline park, which combines entertainment, fitness and sports.

It occupies 40,000 square feet plus a small mezzanine level.

The trampoline park is on what had been the second and third floors of the former Macy’s store. The third floor is gone to provide the ceiling height needed for the trampolines.

No tenant has been signed for the first floor of that building, Slusher said.

“We have had several prospects but no signed leases,” he said.

The former Macy’s South building is being turned into an aquatics center.

NOVA of Virginia Aquatics will operate the new swimming facility under a 20-year lease. The aquatics center will include two 25-yard pools and an Olympic-size 50-meter pool.

Construction began earlier this year with the goal to open the aquatics center in July 2021.

The first phase of the project calls for about 1,000 of bleacher seats with about the same number in a second phase. It also will have locker rooms, a swim shop and a mezzanine level.

Henrico plans to contribute $1.75 million to the project in installments over the next five years.

In a nod to the aquatic center, the road along the south side of the mall property — from where Holly Hill Road ends at the mall property to Starling Drive — will be named NOVA Way, Slusher said.

***

J.C. Penney is the mall’s remaining anchor tenant.

That building and the one housing Firestone along Parham Road are the only two buildings that Thalhimer Realty Partners and The Rebkee Co. do not own.

Penney’s filed for bankruptcy protection in May, making it the biggest retailer to do so since the coronavirus pandemic began. The chain is laden with debt and has had trouble connecting with shoppers, who are increasingly skipping the mall and shopping online.

As part of its bankruptcy reorganization, Penney said it planned to permanently close nearly a third of its 846 stores in the next two years. In June, it started closing 154 stores, including one in Danville and one in Staunton.

The Plano, Texas-based chain has not made any announcements about its five Richmond-area locations.

Last year, Penney shrunk the amount of shopping space at its two-level store in Regency. All of its departments now are on the upper floor. The bottom floor is closed off.

Regency’s owners have discussed buying the 160,000-square-foot store, which was built in 1976. The chain owns the 6.91 acres that the store and parking lot sit on.

“We think that Penney’s is a great anchor for Regency,” Slusher said. “We have been in discussion with them since we bought the mall in 2015 to see if they wanted to sell it and remain there.”

***

A movie theater complex is in the works for Regency, the mall’s owners say.

A proposal announced in May 2017 to bring a Regal Cinemas theater to the Macy’s South building fell through. That’s where the aquatics center is now going.

“We are still in discussion with another theater operator,” Slusher said. “There is still a good possibility for a theater.”

A Valvoline auto center is under construction next to the former Sears auto center.

At Parham and Quioccasin roads is a pylon sign with the Regency Square name at the top. The owners dropped the “Square” part of the mall’s name a couple of years ago — simply calling the development Regency.

That also will be changed “as we introduce some of the branding elements for Regency,” Slusher said.

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