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Tomorrow's mall: Viking Plaza - Management hopes to add entrance, make many improvements

Trees were cleared east of the mall along South Broadway to prepare for a possible new entrance and to improve visibility.1 / 2
Drawing courtesy of Widseth Smith Nolting and Associates This drawing shows the future plans for the Viking Plaza Mall. It is only in the conceptual phase at this point and the plans hinge on approval from the city.2 / 2

Imagine a shopping mall with a park-like atmosphere - inside and out.

Shoppers driving into the mall don't just see a parking lot. There's a pond, along with benches and inviting green spaces.

Inside the mall are creative playscapes for children to enjoy and comfortable seating areas for parents to watch them.

It's a place where families can relax, have fun and enjoy as a destination, not just as a generic place to shop.

It's what the new management of the Viking Plaza Mall, Lexington Realty International, envisions.

The company took over management of the mall in January of 2009. Although the lackluster economy is making it challenging, the company says it is still committed to making the Viking Plaza "tomorrow's mall."

Two representatives from New Jersey-based Lexington, President Alan Retkinski and Ira Einhorn, leasing executive, recently talked with the Echo Press about the mall and its future.

It wasn't a phone interview. Retkinski and Einhorn fly into Alexandria about once a month to meet with Viking Plaza managers Bruce and Ann Butler and the business owners who rent space in the mall.

Lexington owns and manages malls across the United States, including Wisconsin, New Jersey, Illinois and Mississippi.

By dealing with so many malls, the company has a good idea of what makes a mall successful, Retkinski said. It's using that knowledge in planning major upgrades at Viking Plaza, he said.

"We want to let people in Alexandria know that the owners have a commitment to make the Viking Plaza tomorrow's mall," Retkinski said.

The plans for Viking Plaza aren't just lofty dreams; the company has already invested a tidy sum of money to start the transformation, Retkinski said. A three and a half acre space of land between the mall and South Broadway has been cleared of trees, making the mall much more visible from that direction.

The goal, pending approval from the city and others, is to build a new entrance from South Broadway into the mall, where Jo-Ann Fabrics and J.C. Penney are located. "It will be an easier way for people to come in," Retkinski said.

Other improvements, which are also pending approval, include adding indoor play areas, new outdoor signage, free wireless Internet service throughout the mall (which is now about 80 percent covered), more public seating areas and the possibility of new restrooms.

"We're hopeful that the upgrades will make people realize that the mall is not just another box of cement," Retkinski said. "We want to make it a place for people to enjoy."

Lexington plans to use local companies for the mall improvements, such as local contractors, furniture stores, architects and banks.

"This has been a great town to work with," Retkinski said. "We want to give back to the community."

Another key goal is to draw more tenants into the mall. Right now, the mall has about 34 businesses renting space but there is room for another five tenants.

Because the mall already has a strong dining atmosphere with D. Michael B's, Bayfield's and the Brass Lantern, the focus is on drawing more retail tenants, Retkinski said.

Although the economic downturn makes it challenging to find tenants to move into the mall, the ownership is optimistic that the retail market will turn around soon.

"Alexandria offers tremendous opportunities," Retkinski said. "We've been working on a lot of possibilities and we feel confident that things will turn around quickly."

At one point, Lexington was considering changing the name of the mall but it soon realized that Viking Plaza has built a solid recognition over the years.

Retkinski said the goal is to build off that reputation with an improved mall with added features, convenient entrances, more tenants and greater foot traffic.

"We have a favorite saying: We have no problem dreaming as long as we're not sleeping," Retkinski said. "In other words, we don't just want to dream for the future. We want to make it happen."