Hunt Valley Mall, once called the Death Valley of local malls because of its failure to attract shoppers, will be reinvented early next year with new stores, restaurants and a 14-screen movie theater.
Saks Off 5th, Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Talbot's, Stein Mart and the Home Place are some of the stores that the mall's developers are negotiating with, sources said. The developers would like to build 120,000 square feet of new space -- the equivalent of a department store such as Hecht's -- two new restaurants and a bank, according to Howard S. Biel, a partner with the Faison Group of Charlotte, N.C., which is redeveloping the mall.
"What is needed is a major development," Biel said. The new mall will be a hybrid, he said, with a mix of stores already there, such as Sears and Dick's Sporting Goods, off-price stores, specialty stores and another department store.
Saks Off 5th, which carries Saks merchandise at discount, would likely draw people to the mall, as would an off-price Talbot's.
"Saks can re-emerge in this town and do well," said Mark Millman of Millman Search Group Inc., a Lutherville-based national retail consulting firm.
Saks closed its store in Owings Mills Mall last year, saying the store wasn't generating enough sales.
Opened in September 1981, Hunt Valley has had a long series of troubles. Opposed by county leaders and built at the edge of a rural area, the mall did have some success in the mid-1980s. But, after the opening of the Owings Mills Mall in 1986 and the expansion of Towson Town Center in 1991, Hunt Valley Mall began to fail.
By the next year, 25 stores -- or 15 percent of the space -- sat empty. Then Macy's, which anchored the shopping center with Sears, pulled out.
Now the mall lies 50 percent vacant. On a recent weekday afternoon, shoppers were almost hard to find and parking spaces plentiful. One sales clerk, who didn't want to be identified, described the mall as "dead." She said it was a nice place, "But what do you buy here?"
Actually, some stores do fairly well, according to Biel, but he agrees that "what has been missing since Macy's closed is a reason to shop there." However, he believes the mall can be turned around with a good group of shops, including a linen store, an electronics store and movie theaters.
Biel would not disclose whom he is negotiating with. But sources in the industry said Faison has distributed marketing fliers recently listing stores that will be coming to the mall. And at the International Council of Shopping Centers trade show in Kansas City last month, the company displayed a list. Biel said he had letters of intent to sign leases with several retailers.
For the past several years, the mall's managers have been promising new stores and a redevelopment, but it never came. Biel said he began talking with the owners of the mall, Equitable Life Assurance Society, in March about the redevelopment. "Change is at hand. It is really close," Biel said.
Faison expects to make a formal announcement about the project in about a month and to begin work on the center in the spring, with a grand opening this time next year coinciding with the opening of the light rail extension to Hunt Valley.
Some of the merchants would probably choose to leave a redeveloped mall because of competition from new stores, and others will not have their leases renewed, Biel said. Still others will be moved to different locations.
The new construction is to take place on rezoned land on the east side of the mall. Two restaurants and a bank would be built in a grassy area at the corner of Shawan and McCormick roads.
"We are crossing our fingers," said John Ward, manager of Dick's Clothing & Sporting Goods. "If it happens, it will be huge for this mall." Ward said that although Dick's hasn't met its financial goals, it has done well at Hunt Valley since it opened in October 1995.
However, some retail leasing agents wonder, privately, whether the mall can survive, particularly in the middle of a rural area, wedged between three successful malls -- Towson Town Center to the south, White Marsh Mall to the east and Owings Mills Mall to the west.
"The question is," one said, "is there enough population there."
Pub Date: 11/23/96