For Owings Mills Mall site, un­cer­tainty about the fu­ture

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Pamela Wood

At the open­ing of the Owings Mills Mall in 1986, politi­cians cracked cham­pagne bot­tles on the brass stair rails and pink and turquoise feath­ers rained down from the sky­lights onto a throng of shop­pers be­low.

With a Saks Fifth Av­enue depart­ment store and spe­cialty re­tail­ers sell­ing furs and de­signer clothes, the mall was cel­e­brated as the high-end cen­ter­piece of the emerg­ing, af­flu­ent sub­urb.

Thirty years later, work­ers have en­cir­cled the mall with screened fences and are tear­ing it down.

Owings Mills Mall is now seen as a spec­tac­u­lar fail­ure. Yet its demise hasn’t slowed in­ter­est and re­tail growth in an area of the county still seen as an emerg­ing hub. Even as ten­ants left the mall, de­vel­op­ers were build­ing the ad­ja­cent Metro Cen­tre with of­fice and re­tail space, and new apart­ments grew up next to the Metro sta­tion.

About a mile and a half away, the sprawl­ing Foundry Row cen­ter on Reis­ter­stown Road opened last month with more than 350,000 square feet of re­tail space, an­chored by a Weg­mans gro­cery.

Brian Gib­bons, whose Owings Mills­based Green­berg Gib­bons Com­mer­cial is re­de­vel­op­ing Foundry Row at the for­mer Solo Cup fac­tory site, says he’s “very bullish” on Owings Mills — an area with a me­dian house­hold in­come of more than $71,000, ac­cord­ing to cen­sus data. The coun­ty­wide me­dian is $66,900.

Kimco, the New York-based own­ers of Owings Mills Mall, say they’re high on the area, too, and are plan­ning to build a new open-air shop­ping cen­ter in its place.

But they’ve been mum on what ten­ants might be in­cluded, height­en­ing con­cern amid res­i­dents, county of­fi­cials and oth­ers who see the mall site’s fate as crit­i­cal to the fu­ture of Owings Mills.

Bal­ti­more County Coun­cil­man Ju­lian Jones re­cently con­vened a pair of com­mu­nity meet­ings over ru­mors a Wal­mart su­per­store might an­chor Kimco’s new cen­ter.

Jones, a Wood­stock Demo­crat who

rep­re­sents the mall area, said res­i­dents told him loud and clear they don’t want a big Wal­mart — es­pe­cially be­cause there are al­ready two Wal­marts in the area in cen­ters that could suf­fer or close if an­other opens.

Wal­mart of­fi­cials have said talk about a pos­si­ble new store in Owings Mills is “spec­u­la­tion,” and de­clined to com­ment fur­ther.

Jones said he’s “not very im­pressed” with what Kimco has re­vealed so far, and has urged them to build a high-qual­ity project.

“I want some­thing nice,” he said. “What­ever hap­pens, we’re go­ing to live with it for the next 30 years.”

Still, he said, “the im­por­tant thing for me is to make sure what­ever hap­pens there, that it be suc­cess­ful. Right now I’m try­ing to work with [Kimco] to achieve the pri­mary ob­jec­tive, which is to get it de­vel­oped.”

A spokes­woman for County Ex­ec­u­tive Kevin Kamenetz said the county hopes Kimco will “aim higher than a Wal­mart su­per­store.”

“The county ex­ec­u­tive has com­mu­ni­cated di­rectly with Kimco on many, many oc­ca­sions in re­cent weeks and months,” spokes­woman Fronda Co­hen said. “He re­ally has told them he wants them to … cre­ate a qual­ity de­vel­op­ment for the peo­ple of Owings Mills.”

The Owings Mills “fash­ion mall” opened to great fan­fare 30 years ago, but the 1992 mur­der of Christina Marie Brown shook the pub­lic’s con­fi­dence in the mall area.

Brown, 28, was shot to death as she walked along a path from the mall to the Metro sta­tion. Nigel An­to­nio Carter, then17, was sen­tenced to life in prison for the mur­der.

The mall de­clined in the years that fol­lowed. High-end re­tail­ers left, to be re­placed by mid-range stores.

Saks Fifth Av­enue left Owings Mills in 1996, fol­lowed by Sears in 2001 and Lord & Tay­lor in 2002.

By Septem­ber 2015, only a few stores re­mained. Kimco closed off the in­te­rior sec­tions of the mall, leav­ing only Macy’s and JC Pen­ney open for busi­ness.

Those stores closed, too, and de­mo­li­tion be­gan this year.

As far back as 2011, Kimco pro­posed work­ing with then-owner Gen­eral Growth Prop­er­ties to “de-mall” the site and re­de­velop it. Kimco even­tu­ally gained sole con­trol of the prop­erty and re­ceived pre­lim­i­nary ap­proval from the county for an open-air cen­ter.

No per­mits have been granted, but plans filed with the county show four pos­si­ble vari­a­tions. All in­volve two main rows of shops and vast park­ing. One plan in­cludes a 12-story of­fice tower and garage; two oth­ers in­clude a gas sta­tion.

Kimco of­fi­cials have de­clined to an­swer ques­tions, but said in a state­ment the com­pany is “con­sid­er­ing sev­eral dif­fer­ent re­tail al­ter­na­tives, in­clud­ing a new open-air power cen­ter con­cept that will en­hance the avail­able shop­ping op­tions and com­pli­ment the sur­round­ing com­mu­nity.”

The com­pany said it is “en­cour­aged by the con­sid­er­able in­ter­est we’ve re­ceived from po­ten­tial re­tail­ers at this early stage.”

Civic ac­tivists say they rec­og­nize high­end stores failed at Owings Mills Mall, but they don’t think a Wal­mart-type store is right, ei­ther.

Mark Ste­wart, pres­i­dent of the Reis­ter­stown-Owings Mills-Glyn­don Co­or­di­nat­ing Coun­cil, says he wants to see some­thing akin to Hunt Val­ley Towne Cen­tre, where Green­brrg Gib­bons turned a mori­bund mall into an out­door cen­ter.

Stores should be nice, he said, but the mall ex­pe­ri­ence proved con­sumers in the area won’t sup­port ex­pen­sive re­tail­ers.

LLOYD FOX/BAL­TI­MORE SUN PHO­TOS

Three decades ago, the Owings Mills Mall opened with great fan­fare as an up­scale shop­ping des­ti­na­tion. Now sur­rounded by fences and be­ing torn down, it could be re­placed by an open-air shop­ping cen­ter or an of­fice build­ing.

LLOYD FOX/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

Com­mu­nity groups and county of­fi­cials don’t know what the owner of the Owings Mills Mall site has in mind, but they want some­thing bet­ter than a Wal­mart.

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