Cloverleaf's Re-tread 

Now on its third developer, Chesterfield still wants to save an aging mall. Meanwhile, the auto center is thriving.

Meanwhile, the biggest tenant on the property says sales are hopping.

"We're doing well," says John Michalik, assistant district manager for Firestone Complete Auto Care, which operates the tire and auto center in the mall's parking lot. Michalik says Firestone has no plans to move. "The mall is a destination," he says. "People come to us because we are here."

Chesterfield purchased the ailing mall and its surrounding 45 acres for $9 million in 2004. Now, as the county courts its latest developer, Crosland Inc., Firestone presents an interesting dilemma: Its retail success means a buyout of Firestone's lease, with eight years remaining and a five-year option, could be costly. Already, gaining control of the property would cost some $14.45 million, dimming the county's hope of recouping its investment in the property.

Ultimately, that points to yet a larger question: If there's such value in the property, why is the county intervening to save it?

Tom Jacobson, director of community revitalization for Chesterfield County, says the county has intervened to ensure the property develops properly. "A private developer cannot afford by themselves to develop the property," he says. "We need to be a financial partner in the eventual redevelopment."

With Crosland, the county has made preliminary concessions. The county would help foot the bill for infrastructure improvements — demolition costs, road improvements, etc. — to the 83-acre mall site. In exchange, the county expects Crosland to purchase the buildings from the county at a cost of more than $9 million, along with the rights to the land where the property sits to the tune of $3 million to $4 million.

On top of that, the county anticipates operating expenses and lease buyouts, which would come in around $1.45 million.

Crosland officials, however, are still doing their "due diligence" and are expected to make a final decision within six months.

The previous developers who worked with the county found the price tag too steep. Philadelphia Management Co. backed out in November; before that, Chesapeake Realty Ventures LLC passed on the project.

The only developer with the financial backing to emerge thus far has been a Richmond-based church. The Rev. Steve Parson, head pastor of the Richmond Christian Center, says he's ready and willing to pay the county more than $9 million to gain control of the mall, where he'd like to build a 5,000-seat sanctuary. He says he also would develop the remainder of the mall site in accordance with the county's wishes.

Parson, however, says he's been repeatedly rebuffed by county officials.

"I don't believe they will be able to come up with the money," Parson says of Crosland, adding that he has already talked with several banks and been assured that his organization can finance Cloverleaf's revival. "We want to make a presentation [to the board of supervisors] to show them the ability that we have. Then there will be no reason not to accept it. What we would like to do is what they would like to do."

Jacobson says Crosland has extensive experience in developing properties in depressed areas. For its part, Crosland says Cloverleaf is ripe for a mixed-used development including residential, office and retail tenants. "We believe this site holds merit for several large-format retailers that are absent in the immediate trade area, as well as medical office users and multifamily residents," James Downs, vice president of Crosland's retail division, says in a statement.

So far, that hasn't been the case. The mall has lost all of its anchors, and the previous management company had no luck in securing replacement retailers. But Firestone's success offers hope. The site, after all, is at a well-traveled intersection of U.S. Route 60 and Chippenham Parkway.

Parson, the most persistent of the developers chasing Cloverleaf, holds out hope that the current developer will include the church in its plans. The county has already invited Parson to meet with Crosland. "I'm believing all the way to the end," Parson says. S

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