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Tysons Corner Center proposes using parking spaces for auto sales

Electric vehicles are changing the automobile industry, including how it sells products to customers.

The sprawling dealerships that still line many major roads throughout Fairfax County will soon belong to the past, supplanted by smaller showrooms — or so Tysons Corner Center believes.

Property owner Macerich wants Fairfax County to allow vehicle sales at the mall using existing parking areas, seeking up to 240 spots to be made available for businesses. Applications submitted to the county in June for amendments to the site’s proffer conditions and final development plan suggest those spots would be used for storage.

“With over 11,000 parking spaces on-site at the Center, the maximum of 240 spaces represents approximately 2% of the total number of parking spaces available,” Brian Clifford, a senior use planner with the global law firm DLA Piper, wrote in the application.

Macerich is asking the county to allow vehicle sales at Tysons Corner Center for up to eight tenants, who would have as many as 30 dedicated spaces each in the mall’s parking decks.

Maurisa Potts, a spokesperson for the mall, said by email that the application is “simply to permit vehicle sales to take place out of retail showrooms.”

The shift comes as the retail market has been in flux and “exacerbated by the pandemic,” according to the application. Stores linked to malls faced particularly uphill battles amid shutdowns, with companies such as J.Crew, JCPenney, and Neiman Marcus part of a surge in bankruptcy protections.

Investment bank UBS noted last year, though, that online competition has been eating into profits of brick-and-mortar stores for years, and it projected that 100,000 stores would close by 2025.

Macerich’s application follows up on the rezoning approved by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in 2007 that established plans for mixed-use development around the now-open Tysons Metro station.

In the application, the property owner says permitting vehicle sales will allow the mall “to stay viable and keep up with market conditions” with the advent of electric vehicles. It argues that EV manufacturers have modernized the car-buying process and no longer require “acres and acres of asphalt filled with cars ready for customers to drive off the lot.”

Indeed, Tesla lets people request a test drive and even has a contactless way to do so. Customers order the vehicles directly through the company, which also operates the showrooms, unlike the industry’s standard of third-party dealerships selling manufacturers’ cars.

Tysons Corner Center currently has a Tesla showroom with six dedicated parking spaces, including two electric charging stations, located on-site in a nearby parking deck. The application says the county decided that could be considered retail sales, which was already permitted, as opposed to vehicle sales, since the vehicles are delivered to customers at a later date off-site.

Another electric vehicle manufacturer, Lucid, which focuses on luxury vehicles, is slated to open its own store at Tysons Corner sometime this year.

“Many car [manufacturers], including Tesla and Lucid, don’t even manufacture the vehicle until it is ordered and paid for (at least in part) by the customer,” Clifford also noted. “The showrooms themselves are smaller and given the long lead time between ordering the car and delivery of the vehicle, there is less need for a large inventory of vehicles on site.”

Vehicle service isn’t being considered with the application. Fairfax County Planning Commission is scheduled to weigh in on the application on Dec. 1, and the Board of Supervisors could do so on Dec. 7.

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