Winchester shopping center sale could revitalize area
During his time on Winchester City Council, Jeff Buettner recalls, plans to revitalize Ward Plaza shopping center were a frequent topic of conversation at every council retreat, going back as far as 1998. Now, as interim executive director of the Winchester Economic Development Authority, he believes that vision is coming close to fruition.
“It is a project that is near and dear to my heart,” Buettner says. “It’s just been floating out there for so long, and this is as close to having something happen as I’ve seen in my time involved with city government.”
The 19.6-acre property, originally opened as a shopping center in the 1960s, finally sold on June 1 after decades on the market. H. Paige Manuel, who represented the former owners, Walter Enterprises, in the sale, says the buyer, McLean investor John W. Gray Jr., intends to demolish the existing structures in November, with plans to replace Ward Plaza with a mixed-use development, including residential units and a smaller shopping center that the new owners — Winchester Acquisition Partners, the company name Gray purchased the shopping center under — hope will be anchored by a supermarket. Manuel says the area is currently a food desert, an area with limited options to purchase healthy, affordable food.
“If we get your typical footprint of a 40,000-square-foot supermarket, you’re probably looking at a 50,000- to 60,000-square-foot shopping center,” Manuel says.
Gray declined to comment on his plans before October, but Buettner says that Gray is finalizing details on potential tenants at the new shopping center.
Winchester City Manager Dan Hoffman, who was also involved in talks regarding the property, said in a statement that Ward Plaza has been a priority for many years in the city’s comprehensive plan, named as one of five “catalyst” sites which are intended to bring walkability, mixed-use development and improved street connections to the area.
“This project will bring vital housing and retail opportunities to the Winchester community and spur economic development in the heart of Winchester’s commercial district,” Hoffman said in the statement.
Buettner knows that even with the sale of the property, the developer will still have to apply for rezoning and present a site plan before the city can approve it and redevelopment can begin: “It’s up to the developer to take it across the finish line, but we have confidence based on everything we’ve seen.”