Vil­lage of Cross Keys could be sold to a lo­cal de­vel­oper

Caves Val­ley Part­ners float­ing plan to over­haul North Bal­ti­more re­tail cen­ter

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Lor­raine Mirabella and Mered­ith Cohn

The trou­bled Vil­lage of Cross Keys could be sold to a lo­cal de­vel­oper who has be­gun float­ing a plan to re­fur­bish the North Bal­ti­more mixed-use cen­ter and bring in ameni­ties such as a gro­cery store, a restau­rant, a gym, a spa and sev­eral hun­dred new apartments.

Tow­son-based Caves Val­ley Part­ners is ne­go­ti­at­ing to ac­quire the cen­ter from owner Ashke­nazy Ac­qui­si­tions Corp., a New York real es­tate firm that also owns down­town Bal­ti­more’s Har­bor­place, which was placed in court-or­dered re­ceiver­ship in May af­ter Ashke­nazy de­faulted on its loan for the prop­erty.

Arsh Mi­r­i­man, a part­ner with Caves Val­ley, out­lined the plans dur­ing a re­cent meet­ing of the Roland Park Civic League.

“The en­thu­si­asm came out loud and clear from the crowd” of Roland Park and Cross Keys res­i­dents, said Anne Stuzin, the civic league’s first vice pres­i­dent. “The fact that it was a lo­cal de­vel­oper, some­one from Bal­ti­more, re­ally went a long way as far as re­as­sur­ance to ev­ery­one there would be lo­cal in­volve­ment with this po­ten­tial project.”

The firm has de­vel­oped sev­eral projects in the Bal­ti­more re­gion. And it has worked on sev­eral build­ings in Bal­ti­more, in­clud­ing the city’s Cross Street Mar­ket, the Horse­shoe Casino, and the of­fice and apart­ment project Sta­dium Square, all in South Bal­ti­more.

Coun­cil­woman Sharon Green Mid­dle­ton, who rep­re­sents the area, said she was op­ti­mistic about a deal with a lo­cal de­vel­oper who could help re­vi­tal­ize Cross

“Re­vi­tal­iza­tion of Cross Keys will def­i­nitely at­tract peo­ple to come and live in the area as well as shop.”

— Coun­cil­woman Sharon Green Mid­dle­ton

Keys.

“I think it’s a won­der­ful idea,” she said. “Res­i­dents have con­sis­tently ex­pressed their con­cern, par­tic­u­larly in the last five years, as some of those long­time busi­nesses started to leave be­cause of the de­te­ri­o­ra­tion or the higher rents of the prop­erty. Re­vi­tal­iza­tion of Cross Keys will def­i­nitely at­tract peo­ple to come and live in the area as well as shop.”

Mid­dle­ton said she was par­tic­u­larly pleased that the po­ten­tial new owner is lo­cal and un­der­stands the area. She also was en­cour­aged the de­vel­oper al­ready has be­gun seek­ing neigh­bor­hood in­put.

She said she sup­ported the ideas of a gro­cery store, which she thought would be a spe­cial­ized type of mar­ket, and an apart­ment build­ing pro­vid­ing more rental op­tions.

She said there are other apart­ment projects nearby and to­gether they will fill a need.

The civic league’s meet­ing with po­ten­tial new Cross Keys own­ers was part of a process in which the group weighs in on any com­mer­cial de­vel­op­ment that could af­fect res­i­dents, Stuzin said.

Mi­r­i­man, who said at the meet­ing that he would not talk to the me­dia, has not re­sponded to re­quests for com­ment.

Plans dis­cussed with the civic league in­clude adding a gro­cery store and other re­tail, such as a restau­rant, a spa and a gym to com­ple­ment cur­rent ten­ants such as Wil­liams Sonoma, Vil­lage Square Cafe and The Pied Piper chil­dren’s store.

New con­struc­tion could in­clude a five-story apart­ment build­ing on an ex­ist­ing park­ing lot and new of­fice space to re­place one of two ag­ing of­fice build­ings at the south­ern end of the com­mu­nity.

The fo­cus on lo­cal ser­vices, such as a spe­cialty gro­cer and fit­ness club, could work well at Cross Keys, which has seen in­creased com­pe­ti­tion from nearby up­scale shop­ping cen­ters, ac­cord­ing to Michael Berne, a re­tail con­sul­tant with MJB Con­sult­ing.

“It might not be the most cre­ative or sexy ap­proach, [but] repo­si­tion­ing the re­tail mix there to fo­cus pri­mar­ily on daily needs and com­modi­ties for a more lo­cal trade area does make sense,” Berne said.

Some mer­chants at the cen­ter had heard pre­vi­ously that Caves Val­ley might be in ne­go­ti­a­tions to buy the cen­ter, and that a deal could be reached within months. Meet­ing at­ten­dees were told the deal could be fi­nal­ized by spring.

“I think it would be won­der­ful,” said Betty Cooke, the owner of The Store Ltd., a long­time ten­ant among a dwin­dling group of bou­tiques, gal­leries and na­tional re­tail­ers, who did not at­tend the Roland Park meet­ing. “They’re lo­cal. They know the kind of thing Cross Keys was and could be. They know the feel­ing of it and the im­por­tance of it as a small cen­ter.”

Cross Keys was part of an ex­per­i­men­tal planned com­mu­nity by The Rouse Co. in 1965 and has a loyal lo­cal fol­low­ing in North Bal­ti­more.

Ashke­nazy ac­quired it in 2012, when the New York de­vel­oper also ac­quired the Rouse-de­vel­oped Har­bor­place. But eight years af­ter that ac­qui­si­tion, both prop­er­ties have strug­gled with fi­nan­cial prob­lems, high va­can­cies and dis­sat­is­fied ten­ants.

Amy Gold, a women’s cloth­ing buyer at The Store Ltd. for more than a decade and a Cross Keys res­i­dent, said she was im­pressed with Caves Val­ley’s pre­lim­i­nary plans to re­fur­bish the re­tail area and of­fices above it, as well as hear­ing that the de­vel­oper would try to at­tract and work with in­de­pen­dent re­tail­ers as they build their busi­nesses.

“I feel very hope­ful,” Gold said. “I feel hope­ful as an owner of an apart­ment and I feel hope­ful as a re­tail par­tic­i­pant.”

Mid­dle­ton said the de­vel­op­ers pledged reg­u­lar meet­ings.

Ashke­nazy, she said, has frus­trated the com­mu­nity.

“We have a feel­ing they’ve kicked Bal­ti­more to the curb,” she said. “I’ve not re­ceived any neg­a­tive feed­back from any res­i­dent — not want­ing this project to move for­ward.”

Stuzin noted that the sale hasn’t closed and that there weren’t any ren­der­ings to judge, but res­i­dents were glad to have a chance to see what might come to the neigh­bor­hood.

“You heard words like ‘gem,’” she said. “And peo­ple would like the luster back on the gem.”

AMY DAVIS/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

A pedes­trian walks by an empty store­front Mon­day at the Vil­lage of Cross Keys. The sale of the trou­bled re­tail cen­ter is be­ing ne­go­ti­ated be­tween the owner, New York-based Ashke­nazy Ac­qui­si­tions Corp., and a prospec­tive lo­cal buyer, Caves Val­ley Part­ners.

AMY DAVIS/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

The sale of the trou­bled Vil­lage of Cross Keys re­tail cen­ter is be­ing ne­go­ti­ated be­tween the owner, New York-based Ashke­nazy Ac­qui­si­tions Corp., and a prospec­tive lo­cal buyer, Caves Val­ley Part­ners.

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