Mall merchants in northern Anne Arundel County are afraid of being mauled by the biggest mall of them all.
Mills Corp. of Arlington, Va., is hoping to build a 1.4 million-square-foot shopping and entertainment complex in the next two or three years at Route 100 and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, Victoria Jenkins, the company's associate development director, said yesterday.
Arundel Mills would be the largest mall in the county, with perhaps 200 stores, a 30-screen movie theater, a small zoo and a "rain forest cafe" in which customers would dine amid tropical foliage and animated elephants, Jenkins said.
The company trumpets its success in building seven similar malls in Florida, Illinois, Texas, Arizona and Pennsylvania over the past 13 years. The first one, the Potomac Mills mall in Dale City, Va., has become one of that state's biggest tourist attractions since opening in 1985, drawing 20 million visitors a year.
It is Mills Corp.'s impressive record that frightens merchants most in the survival-of-the-fittest environment of the mall-heavy northern county.
A 10-minute drive east of the proposed mall's site is the 1.1-million-square-foot Marley Station Mall on Route 100. It was considered the latest thing when it opened 11 years ago with an indoor playground, glass elevators, a food court and a nine-screen cinema.
Today, 31 of its 126 stores are vacant. Nearby on Ritchie Highway are the partly closed Harundale Mall, the struggling Severna Park Mall and the Glen Burnie Mall, which has four vacancies among its 36 stores.
"I think another mall would definitely be bad for business here," said Mandy Evans, a manager at the Lerner New York women's clothing store at Marley Station Mall. "The business has already been slowing down here, and I worry that all our customers would go there instead, because people tend to prefer the big and the new."
"It'll kill us," said Jerry Warner, owner of Player Sports athletic gifts shop in the Glen Burnie Mall. "The area is already saturated with malls, and there is only so much money to be spent."
William A. Badger, senior vice president of the Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp., said the new mall would draw millions of tourists from out of state to the county to shop, stimulating businesses throughout the area.
"This will be a completely different type of animal," said Badger. "The Severna Park Mall and Marley Station Mall have a local focus. This will attract people from a much broader area."
The proposed mall would target families looking for a theme-park experience and bargain shopping instead of a standard retail mall, Jenkins said.
In addition to factory outlet stores (which Marley Station Mall and Severna Park Mall do not have), Arundel Mills would have "off-price" stores where high-end merchandise is sold at below-retail prices, Jenkins said.
Those stores might include Off-Fifth Avenue (which sells Saks Fifth Avenue merchandise at below-retail prices), Nordstrom's Rack (which offers low prices on Nordstrom's clothes), Ann Taylor Loft and Off Rodeo Drive, Jenkins said.
"Do we already have too much retail space in the county? I don't think so," said Bob Burdon, executive director of the Anne Arundel Trade Council. "We see a lot of new people and businesses continue to move in, and those businesses that plan well tend to do very well."
Tom Saquella, president of the Maryland Retailers Association, said there is no question that the new mall would compete directly with existing malls.
Marley Station Mall hurt the older and smaller Harundale Mall when Marley was built in the 1980s, Saquella said. In the same way, he said, Arundel Mills could hurt the older and smaller Marley Station Mall.
"It's a highly competitive and tough market right now," said Saquella. "You won't just have tourists going to the new mall. You will have a lot of local people shopping there, so there's no question that there will be even more competition."
Charmaine Crismond, general manager of Marley Station Mall, said the 31 vacant stores there are not a bad sign. She noted that a Sears store opened there in 1996, a J. C. Penney in 1994 and that two more stores will open soon.
Arundel Mills would cost $200 million to build and could generate million a year in sales, said Jenkins. It would create 3,500 jobs and pay $25 million a year in taxes to the state and county governments, she said.
fTC During a meeting with community organizations at the Sheraton International at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, Mills Corp. representatives said they planned to ask the county for help in financing millions of dollars of improvements to local roads.
Road projects planned
Among the road projects planned are an entrance ramp from Baltimore-Washington Parkway solely for Arundel Mills, company representatives said.
Gary Mauler, president of the West County Federation of Civic Associations, said neighbors are worried about traffic.
"This project may be great for the Mills Corp.," said Mauler. "But I don't think it will be great for the rest of us." Jenkins, whose company has not received county approval for the project, said, "It's in our interest to avoid traffic jams. If people feel it's a hassle to drive in and out, they won't want to come back."
Pub Date: 2/06/98