Work is scheduled to begin this fall on a town-center style project in North Stafford that the developer says will include shops, apartments and a movie theater.

The Garrison at Stafford is a sprawling new pedestrian-friendly shopping center in the 400 block of Garrisonville Road that is zoned for 500,000 square feet of retail stores, 450 apartment units and a movie theater. The property is being developed by The Pence Group of Reston, which manages shopping centers, hotels and office buildings throughout the United States.

Area residents will recognize the developer’s work locally, as The Pence Group built Stafford Marketplace off Garrisonville Road starting in 2003. That shopping center includes Kohl’s, Target, Lowe’s, Starbucks and other retail stores and restaurants.

Geoff Pence, president of The Pence Group, said he looked for additional opportunities in Stafford County following that project. As a result, he acquired a 57–acre parcel west of the 610 Carwash three years ago.

“We got it zoned, had some leases signed. We’re looking forward to getting started on the actual, physical construction,” said Pence, who explained the project will be accomplished in two phases.

The first phase of the project is scheduled to begin this fall.

“The initial build-out will be 200,000 square feet of retail and a little over 100 apartment units,” Pence said.

He said he expects retail stores to open 14 to 16 months after his builders start moving dirt.

“We’ve still got to finish up a couple of things, but that’s our hope,” Pence said.

Pence has a signed lease with Regal Cinemas as the first phase’s main attraction.

“We do have a signed lease with Regal but are working through a few issues that are necessary to begin construction,” Pence said.

Pence also said agreements have been secured with both Olive Garden and Longhorn Steakhouse restaurants.

Pence described the development as “a town center-type project,” with a movie theater as its anchor.

“It will have some apartments on it, as well,” Pence said. “I’m hoping in a month we will have more information to share on dates and other tenants.”

Stafford Supervisor Mark Dudenhefer recently began posting a “Garrison update” on his social media page to help keep his constituents up to date on the new development. Dudenhefer’s updates have drawn nearly 100 responses from area residents.

“Besides my transportation initiatives, there’s no bigger project on my plate,” said Dudenhefer. “I can’t go to church without being asked about the movie theater.”

Dudenhefer confirmed there are plans for upscale apartments, ample parking, restaurants and the theater.

Dudenhefer said, “I’ve been told they’re going to build their top-of-the-line theater in Stafford.”

Also at the group’s website, renderings of the project show two parking decks on the property, in addition to traditional parking spaces located throughout the new project.

For the second phase of the project, the rendering includes a supermarket, as well as a Total Wine & More store.

“As to what’s going in there, we’re talking to all kinds of users,” Pence said. “We’re going to get on and get into phase one before we start focusing on phase two.”

“I think Stafford’s ready for a project like this,” he added. “I think it’ll be a great addition to Stafford.”

Another planned shopping area nearby—the former Aquia Town Center—remains idle, with no signs of a rebound.

In addition to a movie theater, the former 200,000-square-foot shopping center that once stood outside the gates of Aquia Harbour featured a grocery store and several retail outlets.

In 2007, the shopping area was razed in anticipation of a mixed-use development that was to include shops and restaurants anchored by an upscale grocery store.

Mosaic Realty Partners, a Maryland-based real estate investment firm, owns the 25-acre site.

In April, Mosaic Principal Isaac Pretter said the company was actively searching for an interested anchor store to get the ball rolling.

In June, Deputy County Administrator Mike Smith said the county was applying pressure on Mosaic to improve the appearance of the area while the developer continued its search for an anchor store and subsequent retail outlets.

In response to a request for an update on Aquia Town Center in early August, Eron Sodie, another principal of Mosaic Realty Partners said, “I really have nothing to update you on.”

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James Scott Baron: 540/374-5438 jbaron@freelancestar.com