Projects started in corridor

September 11, 1994|By Shirley Leung | Shirley Leung,Sun Staff Writer

Face-lifts, reconstructions and expansions are the orders of the day for shopping centers along the corridor of U.S. 1 and Route 24.

Bel Air Plaza, Harford Mall and Tollgate Town Center all have begun multimillion-dollar projects in hopes of making the corridor the shopping hub of the county, after a three-year sewer hookup moratorium -- lifted last year -- prevented businesses from moving into or building in Bel Air.

"If you live in this county, you will go through that corner," said Mark Mueller, president of J. Gordon Mueller Co., the Towson-based leasing agent for Bel Air Town Center. The center, built in 1991, was the last development allowed to break ground before the moratorium took effect.

National chain retailers also are weighing the county seat's potential.

"What we're seeing is the big retailers -- who weren't willing to come to Harford County -- are now realizing that there are 190,000 people not being served," said Carol Deibel, Bel Air's director of planning and community development.

When renovations and expansions plans are complete, the town may have six national retailers, a new restaurant and an expanded grocery store -- all by early next year.

Renovations on three corners at U.S. 1 and Route 24 began in April at the town's oldest shopping center, Bel Air Plaza, which was built in the mid-1960s. The strip-mall plaza, on the southeast corner of the intersection, will be modernized by the addition of new storefronts and sidewalks.

The parking lot will be resurfaced and the Super Fresh store is being doubled in size, said Bud Kuhn, construction superintendent for Hostetter Construction of Hanover, Pa., which doing the work for center owner Anthony Julio.

The renovation will cost $5 million. The face-lift should be complete by November, and the Super Fresh should be open by February, said Mr. Kuhn.

Though expansion of the center has been discussed, there are no plans currently for that, said a representative from Hill Management Services, the center's Timonium leasing agent. Mr. Julio also owns the land behind the plaza.

Tollgate Mall, on the southwest corner, is undergoing the most drastic change. The Cordish Co., which owns the mall, has demolished the stores that face U.S. 1. All that is left are the anchor stores, Kmart and Giant Food at each end of the mall. When reconstruction is complete, the mall will be renamed Tollgate Marketplace.

The area between the anchor stores, which once was occupied by specialty stores, will be replaced with three national retail stores: Best Products Co. Inc., a catalog specialty retailer; Staples Inc., an office supply store; and TJ Maxx, a discount clothing chain. Those stores are slated to open by Thanksgiving, said Joe Weinberg, vice president of the Cordish Co. in Baltimore.

The $4 million renovation, which began last month, is the first phase of an effort to resuscitate the 260,000-square-foot Bel Air shopping center that has seen bankruptcy, three owner changes, major reconstruction, and 100 tenants over the years.

Renovations will include converting the mall back to its original open-air style, adding direct access to Route 24 and expanding the center by 150,000 square feet. The mall also will have stores facing Route 24. The current configuration has the backs of stores along Route 24.

Phase Two of the reconstruction will focus on the Route 24 side of the mall, which is currently occupied by Tollgate Movies 7 and Carvel Ice Cream Bakery. The theater is closed during renovations, but will reopen later and may be expanded. The HTC Carvel store remains open. Negotiations for specialty stores and national chain restaurants for that level are being worked out, Mr. Weinberg said.

The Bel Air town commissioners voted Aug. 15 to allow a Home Depot store to move into Tollgate Mall along Route 24. But Mr. Weinberg said the Cordish Co. hasn't yet decided whether to have the national chain hardware store or bring in four smaller chain stores.

Construction of a 250-seat Pizzeria Uno restaurant on the Tollgate mall property began last month. The national pizza chain site should be open for business in October, Mr. Weinberg said.

Hecht Co., in Harford Mall on the northwest corner of the intersection, continues an $8 million renovation begun in April.

Nearly 85 percent of the renovation is done, said Mike Trenary, a vice president of Mid-Atlantic Realty Trust in Linthicum, which owns and operates Harford Mall.

Mr. Trenary said the renovations should be complete by October. The work will increase the store size by more than 50 percent.

Harford Mall, built in 1972, is the only enclosed mall in the county. Further expansion of the 600,000-square-foot mall is being discussed, but no plans are final, Mr. Trenary said. Expansion plans for the Harford Mall Annex, which also is owned and operated by Mid-Atlantic Realty Trust, are currently being fine-tuned. Construction is slated to begin in the winter or early spring, Mr. Trenary said.

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