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Norfolk's City Council has signed off on a deal to buy MacArthur Center, the sprawling downtown mall that has been bleeding tenants for the last decade.

Officials say the deal, which will cost the city about $18 million when all is said and done, is meant to secure a hand in the future use of the property.

The council approved the deal on a 7-1 vote at a specially-called meeting Wednesday evening. Councilman Tommy Smigiel cast the dissenting vote. He noted that the city can "move mountains and schedule emergency meetings" to get projects done fast for downtown, but projects in other areas of the city don't get the same treatment.

MacArthur Mall was a centerpiece of Norfolk’s downtown when it opened in 1999.

But it’s been on a downward slide for years, losing tenants large and small as Americans’ buying habits have shifted away from brick and mortar.

Starwood Capital bought the troubled mall in 2014 for $265 million along with several other malls around the country. But the company defaulted on the loan that financed the purchases in 2019.

Earlier this year, MacArthur was put up for sale as part of a foreclosure agreement.

Norfolk Mayor Kenny Alexander said the purchase is a strategic move to guide the future development of a major part of downtown.

“The mall was for sale and we thought it best to be at the table,” Alexander said. “And what a better way to be at the table than to be the owner?”

The city already owns elements around MacArthur, including the now-empty Nordstrom anchor building and the adjacent parking garages.

Ideas for redeveloping the mall have been floated in City Hall before — including tearing it down and creating a large open plaza. There was even chatter at one time about moving city workers into the empty Nordstrom building when the store left in 2019.

But Alexander said the city council hasn’t discussed any long-term plans for the mall. For the time being, the city will continue to operate the mall as normal.

Alexander also said the acquisition of MacArthur Center could change the city’s approach to other projects — namely, the redevelopment of the Military Circle Mall area, which the city also owns.

“(With the acquisition of MacArthur) we could lay out in a holistic way. ‘What's going to happen at MacArthur? What's going to happen at Military? What's going to happen in St. Paul's?’ And so it's all strategic,” Alexander said.

The city has received three proposals for major makeover of the Military Circle area, including plans to develop a major arena from a group that includes musician Pharrell Williams.

However, there’s been little public movement on those plans since the proposals were revealed in August 2021.