NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — The former Nordstrom department store at MacArthur Center will continue to sit empty for now, as Norfolk city leadership finds converting it into office space is still too uncertain.
In Tuesday’s Norfolk City Council work session, City Manager Chip Filer recommended the council “press pause” on the idea of using the sprawling space to house multiple city departments. He cited multiple reasons including construction costs, the changing dynamic of in-person workspaces that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused and the unknown future of MacArthur Center.
The Nordstrom closed in 2019 after two decades at the downtown mall.
Since last October, the city has been studying the possibility of using the former three-floor 130,000 square foot department store that it owns to house city departments that currently lease space at private property. Specifically IT, public utilities, economic development and neighborhood development departments.
At the time, then-Chief Deputy City Manager Winter Benda said retrofitting the space could cost $14.85 million and save more than $700,000 in real estate leases.
Since then, three different construction companies applied to do the work and Raleigh-based Clancy & Theys was chosen as the preferred proposal.
Their pitch involved major changes to the structure that would add natural light through atriums and light wells.
However, the price far exceeded the original estimate. Filer told City Council the total design/build construction cost could top out at $47.1 million.
Virginia Beach is currently in the process of building a whole new city hall from scratch for $50 million.
“We have so many pressing needs, to move forward with a municipal building at this time may not be the prudent thing to do,” Mayor Kenny Alexander said.
The current lease for where IT and public utilities is housed expires in less than a year and a half, per city documents. Alexander recommended the city put all its efforts now into finding a new home for them.
However, other City Council members said the community does want answers on what will happen at Nordstrom.
Regional shopping malls have been suffering in recent years as online shopping and an overall overdevelopment of brick-and-mortar retail has taken its toll.
A recently approved downtown plan for the city imagined a 2030 MacArthur Center broken up into different uses.
“Everyone is asking, of the many projects, MacArthur is always on the list. Where are we, what are we doing?” Councilwoman Courtney Doyle said.
Filer said as the city only owns the ground lease for the mall, it is at the liberty of the mall.
Councilman Tommy Smigiel pointed out that with the amount of space of the Nordstrom, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to think about the possibility of moving all of city hall there at one point.
Filer agreed and ensured council members the conversation would continue.
“I think this is a reasonable active use for that building, regardless of what may transpire at MacArthur,” Filer said. “I think we can press pause for now and reexamine this at a later date in a more holistic manner, perhaps when its a better conversation to talk about … does almost all of [city hall] end up going there.”