Outfitted with a new name and new logo, TownMall of Westminster unveiled plans yesterday for more than $5 million in improvements and the opening of a new national retailer - Old Navy.
Owners of the county's largest enclosed shopping center - formerly Cranberry Mall - hope to give the struggling mall new life by filling the 81,000-square-foot site formerly occupied by Caldor with three retailers including an Old Navy store and a brew pub-type restaurant.
Old Navy, which is part of The Gap, sells moderately priced sportswear for men, women and children. It is especially popular among children ages 10 to 12, and the store would be the only Old Navy in Carroll County, said Michelle T. Berliner, an associate director of asset management for Strategic Resources Corp., the mall's owner.
"Old Navy will provide this mall with a type of merchandise it's missing," said Berliner, who noted the store wouldn't open until Thanksgiving 2001.
Having Old Navy makes the mall more attractive to other retailers, including The Gap, which is interested in locating in the mall after Old Navy, she said.
Built in 1987, the 525,000-square-foot mall, which is anchored by Belk, Montgomery Ward and Sears, has had a high number of vacant storefronts in the past few years. Occupancy at the mall dipped from 81 percent in 1998 to 75 percent in 1999, according to Securities and Exchange Commission documents. The Caldor site has been vacant since 1998 when the national retailer went out of business.
The Westminster mall is 27 percent vacant. However, Berliner said the 80 tenants will be joined by 20 seasonal retailers such as Hickory Farms for the Christmas shopping season to make the mall fully occupied.
Other improvements to the shopping center include fanciful new exterior signs consisting of 45-foot-tall striped pylons topped by whirligigs, more windows, better lighting and shiny yellow-and-red car-shaped strollers available for shoppers to use at no cost.
In addition, the owners are demolishing seven large concrete planters inside the mall and replacing them with new seating, including an area featuring comfortable leather couches. The initial renovations will cost more than $5 million, Berliner said.
The owners hope the alterations will help TownMall compete against other retail sites in the region.
"We needed a way to separate ourselves from the power centers," Berliner said. "We want people to understand that this is a place where they want to come and spend a lot of time."
The mall was sold in April by Shopco Regional Malls, the owner since 1988, to Strategic Resources Corp., after 18 months on the market. The new owners changed the mall's name that month in an effort to make it more of a community center.
Mall management plans to go before the Westminster Planning and Zoning Board on Oct. 12 to seek approval to change exterior signs. Many of the interior changes will be made by Thanksgiving.
Kelly Soles, a Westminster mother of two toddlers who was shopping at the mall Tuesday, was pleased to hear about the planned changes.
"That's great," said Soles, who goes to the mall about once a week. "We love Old Navy."
However, she would like to see more significant improvements as well.
"It would be nice if they had another department store here," Soles said. "I have to go to Owings Mills when I want do some real shopping."