TownMall wants to demolish Wards site

If city approves permit, store would be rebuilt to attract a new anchor

April 18, 2002|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

The owners of TownMall of Westminster have applied for a demolition permit to tear down the former Montgomery Ward store, the first step toward revitalizing the mall with what is expected to be a two-story department store anchor.

Sally Aman, a spokeswoman for mall owner Strategic Resources Corp. of New York, declined to name any new tenant. However, she said that the mall has been in discussions with prospective tenants and realized that such retailers needed 160,000 square feet of space.

The Wards store, which closed early last year, was 80,000 square feet.

"We're preparing the [site] so that a potential tenant could walk in and start building," she said. "A lot of this stuff we're doing is an attempt to make the property as attractive to potential tenants as possible."

It will be at least three weeks before residents hear bulldozers, Aman said. The estimated cost for the demolition is $300,000, according to the application submitted to the Carroll County Bureau of Permits and Inspections.

"It's the first step in this process," said Thomas B. Beyard, Westminster's director of planning and public works, referring to the demolition application. "It looks like things are starting to happen."

Making room for a new anchor is the latest in a series of changes by Strategic Resources to revitalize the former Cranberry Mall, which the company bought in 2000.

Besides changing the name, the owners spent $5 million on improvements, including new exterior signs, the removal of large concrete planters inside the mall and new seating.

A new department store can't arrive too soon for Howard Gathagan, manager of the Dollar Tree, which is next to the former Wards store.

"It would be a major asset to the mall, and it would build my traffic," he said. "I think whoever you talk to at the mall, they'll say we need another major company here."

Local industry watchers agreed that a department store would make a huge impact on the mall and surrounding area.

"Reanchoring the mall is absolutely the way to go," said Susan Anderson, vice president with H&R Retail, a retail real estate company in Chevy Chase. "This will help both Sears and Belk draw people into the mall."

Aman's company approached the Westminster Common Council last year for a rezoning request to allow a two-story section at the mall.

In November, the council approved that request, and also permitted the mall to change the number of parking spaces from five to four per 1,000 feet of lease space, extend the maximum height of the shopping center from 50 to 75 feet, and raise the height of signs outside the mall.

Even when it opened in 1987, the 525,000-square-foot mall - the largest in the county - had problems.

One of its original anchors, Baltimore-based Hutzler's, pulled out before the mall opened, leaving Belk, Montgomery Ward and Sears as anchors.

With the closings of Caldor in 1998 and Wards early last year, only two anchors are left.

Subsequent retail vacancies and increased competition along Route 140 led to lackluster retail sales of $19 million in 1999, down from $20.4 in 1998.

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