Lowe's considers 3rd store in area 135,000-sq.-foot outlet would help jump-start ailing Westview Mall

'Very fierce competitor'


October 23, 1998|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,SUN STAFF

Stepping up its rivalry with Home Depot, Lowe's Companies Inc. is considering building its third Baltimore-area store at Westview Mall in Catonsville, where the North Carolina retailer would help jump-start a planned revitalization of the struggling center.

Lowe's hopes to build a 135,000-square-foot store and separate garden center at the mall on U.S. 40, just inside the Baltimore Beltway, though it has not yet signed a final agreement, said Rusty Collins, site assessment manager for Lowe's.

"We're being very aggressive in the whole Northeast, and all over Baltimore is a great market for retail," Collins said. "We're just strategically picking locations and doing our best to put stores there."

The home improvement retailer, which has 11 stores in Maryland and more than 460 nationally, announced a major push into the Baltimore region earlier this year, intending to square off against retail giant Home Depot Inc.

"They're a very fierce competitor, and financially very stable," said Mark Millman, president of Millman Search Group, a Lutherville-based retail consultant firm. As a "big box" category-killer store, Lowe's competes on price and on wide selection, he said. "They'll give Home Depot a run for the money."

Lowe's is building a 150,000-square-foot store in White Marsh, to open in January, and another store in Glen Burnie to open in December or January. The company is seeking other area sites as well.

Westview Mall, built in 1958 as Westview Shopping Center, has suffered from competition from newer shopping complexes. Despite a $20 million renovation in 1992 by previous owner Balcor Development Co. of Chicago, Westview has lost Caldor, Marshall's, T. J. Maxx and many small, local retailers over the past three years.

Fairfax, Va.,-based Peterson Cos., one of the Washington area's largest privately owned retail developers, bought the 700,000-square-foot mall in November with plans to revitalize it. Although it is about 40 percent vacant, anchors Value City and the 10-screen United Artists theaters remain strong, said Taylor O. Chess, vice president of retail management for Peterson.

"It's a great piece of real estate, though it's not currently positioned or marketed to tenants in a fashion that the retailers are looking for right now," Chess said. "We're hoping to modify the layout."

Once another anchor store is secured, Peterson expects to invest about $10 million in renovations, likely giving more tenants exterior entrances and upgrading signs, lighting and security.

The leasing process has moved slowly, as the developer focused on filling the anchor spaces. Over the summer, the mall gained mid-sized tenant Jeepers! Inc., a Boston-based chain of amusement-themed restaurants targeted to children.

"The marketing plan for the mall has been to put a substantial anchor on the west end of the mall, which would breathe life back into that side of the mall that abuts 695," Chess said.

Plans also call for placing one or two large anchors, in the 45,000- to 55,000-square-foot range, on the mall's largely vacant east side, he said.

Collins said the former Caldor site would be the most likely place to build a Lowe's. The retailer could not use the existing Caldor building because of its low ceilings and other limitations, he said. It was unclear whether the building next to Caldor, which housed Planet Music until its closing last week, would also be demolished. If the deal is finalized, Lowe's would open by late next year or early 2000, Collins said.

He said Lowe's plans to take on Home Depot, located just down the road from Westview.

"The good thing about having Depot in the market is we already know where the competition is, and we know where the people are going to shop," Collins said. "It helps us find sites."

Baltimore County Councilman Stephen G. Sam Moxley, who represents Catonsville, applauded the mall owner's efforts to bring in new tenants.

"Any community is concerned when you see vacant buildings," he said of the Caldor building, originally a Stewart's department store. "Since Stewart's left 15 or 20 years ago, it has always been a white elephant. Even when Caldor was there, it didn't occupy the whole building. If Lowe's is interested that would be a real boost for the mall and for the community."

Pub Date: 10/23/98

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