The decades old center is transforming into a hub of culture. —Kate Masters
It was a different era in 1978, when the Tackett’s Mill Center first sprang up in Woodbridge. Potomac Mills Mall wouldn’t open for another seven years, the Lake Ridge community was still expanding, and much of eastern Prince William County was still largely undeveloped farmland, leaving a gap in commercial property from Lake Ridge all the way to Dale City.
According to Nancy Kyme, the chief financial officer for the property, the entire county was clamoring for a town center, and Tackett’s Mill seemed like just the place. In 1984, the center was refinished, and with its unique new colonial architecture style, the Woodbridge shopping strip offered a picturesque place for Prince William residents to shop, dine and socialize.
That was over three decades ago, though, and a lot has changed in Woodbridge since the ‘70s. Potomac Mills entered the scene in 1985, making Woodbridge a shopping destination with more than 200 retailers and over a million square feet of retail space. Kyme says the suburbs moved toward Manassas, and as residential areas changed, Tackett’s Mill tenants fled the scene, gravitating toward the larger commercial centers springing up on I-95 and the Prince William Parkway.
“Big chains have avoided Tackett’s Mill ever since because they want to be near [the mall],” Kyme says. The 2008 financial crisis didn’t help matters, and the once-bustling shopping center now houses 14 empty storefronts behind its charming historic façade.
There’s a morose story behind Tackett’s Mill’s decline, but Kyme isn’t giving up on the center. A series of projects are underway to revitalize the shopping plaza, all part of an effort to transform the former Woodbridge hot spot into a flourishing center for the arts. Kyme’s biggest goal is to turn a 5,000-square-foot building within the center into an affordable artist’s colony, complete with a gallery space and individual studios. One of her biggest assistants has been Nick Zimbro, an artist who began his career at the Workhouse Arts Center and currently serves as one of Tackett’s Mill’s artists-in-residence.
“We would like for the community to have a place where they can go, locally, and feel like they are joining into a culture,” Zimbro says. “There has never been anything like this in Woodbridge, I’m certain of it.”
To mold the new Clearbrook Center of the Arts at Tackett’s Mill into a place for artists, Zimbro and fellow artist Nelson Gutierrez are working on a 10,000-foot installation. The project is slated for completion late this year, or early 2015, and Zimbro says the unveiling could also serve as a fundraiser for The Clearbrook Foundation, the non-profit underwriting the Clearbrook Center of the Arts, for the foundation to fund other art projects.
Zimbro is also working with a local Eagle Scout on a bench-building project for the shopping center’s courtyard. Sean Zylich is overseeing the construction of 12 wooden benches for Tackett’s Mill, and Zimbro will head up a decorating competition that guarantees $500 to the participant with the most creative bench.
But it’s not just visual arts that are redefining the center. Tackett’s Mill has two new poet laureates to promote creative writing around Prince William County, and the shopping center began to offer a weekly farmer’s market last summer. There’s even a push to preserve the local ecology of Tackett’s Mill—the Prince William Conservation Alliance rents an office in the center, and executive director Kim Hosen is hoping to install a donated purple martin house and attract more bluebirds to the paths around the plaza. On October 11, the center will host an Earth Fling to show off some of the natural vibrancy in the area.
Though some think that culture in Woodbridge goes about as far as the Potomac Mills IKEA, Kyme is hoping that a revamped Tackett’s Mill will serve as a new community hub for Prince William residents exhausted by I-95 traffic and a stream of largely identical strip malls.
“We’re bringing life to a center that is already very beautiful and unique,” she says. “The goal is for Tackett’s Mill to become synonymous with art in the eastern end of the county.”