LAS VEGAS — Andrew B. Frank, LAS VEGAS - Baltimore's mayor and economic development officials have traveled thousands of miles to this desert gambling oasis to persuade retailers and developers to put their money on Charm City.
During the three-day International Council of Shopping Centers convention, which ended yesterday, Baltimore officials offered up what they believe are sure bets for retail investment, everything from neighborhood shopping centers to downtown Charles Street to big projects on the city's east and west sides.
Efforts to sell Baltimore as a retail town should pay off big in coming months, officials from Baltimore Development Corp. said. They're hoping for restaurants, grocery stores, small shops that can serve neighborhoods and nationally known chains to bring shoppers downtown.
Mayor Martin O'Malley, and other members of the city's team, lured retailers, brokers and developers to the glossy Baltimore booth with Phillips crab balls and Berger's cookies. They may have come for the food, but plenty stayed to talk business. "We're here to let developers and retailers know that we are ready for retail," said Andrew B. Frank, executive vice president of the BDC.
The timing is right, he said, thanks to a growing base of hotels and residences, rising property values and a stabilizing population.
"More and more, retail is an important component of economic development, particularly for cities like Baltimore," Frank said.
Among the projects or areas that officials highlighted at the trade show, the largest U.S. annual gathering of retailers and developers looking to lease stores, were Harbor East (formerly Inner Harbor East), Reisterstown Road Plaza, the redeveloped Belvedere Square (which received a public-private partnership award from the shopping centers council) and neighborhoods such as Belair-Edison.
"Baltimore today has a lot more to sell than we did four years ago, and we're not asking retailers to be pioneers," Frank said.
Retail representatives such as Joseph Marciano, director of real estate for Ritz Camera Centers Inc., a 1,200-store chain based in Beltsville, stopped by Baltimore's booth to get an overview of projects coming on line in hopes of opening more stores in the city.
"The goal is to foster good relationships and to look at new projects," Marciano said.
The BDC made its first trip to the annual convention last year and already is seeing the fruits of the hours of meetings and conversations.
Bought shopping center
For instance, appointments with TJX Cos. led to the chain opening one of its apparel concepts, A.J. Wright, in Westside Shopping Center; meetings with Giant Food Inc. - here and in Maryland - have resulted in the supermarket chain planning to open stores in Waverly and at Reisterstown Road Plaza; and Burger King has been rehabilitating six stores in the city as part of plans that grew out of last year's meetings, said Kevin J. Malachi, the BDC's director of small business and neighborhood development.
Also as a result of last year's conference, Owings Mills-based Black Oak Associates bought Belair Edison Crossing shopping center on Belair Road, which is anchored by a Food Depot. Black Oak is working to turn the shopping center into a power center, and the project was showcased this year at Baltimore's booth.
"Those we are meeting help us establish relationships to make these things happen," Malachi said.
Large glossy photos
Malachi spent a couple of hours yesterday morning walking the trade show floor. He headed down "retail row," passing booths for Subway and Save-A-Lot, handing out cards, thanking retail contacts for previous deals and seeking out new players.
Back at the booth, which featured large glossy photos of the Power Plant Live entertainment center just north of the Inner Harbor, Camden Yards and the Hippodrome Theater, a centerpiece of the west-side retail and residential redevelopment, a steady stream of people stopped by.
B.J. Halavi, president of P.P.I Capital Inc., a Los Angeles-based shopping center owner, asked BDC marketing director Gay G. Legg about centers that might be for sale in Baltimore. His company is interested in buying Baltimore centers, he said, because the properties offer a greater return on investment than in other parts of the country.
"The prices are far more reasonable for us coming from California," he said.
Margaret A. Meginniss, who is handling leasing for Harbor East, shared booth space with BDC to work on deals for the mixed-used development of hotels, offices, apartments and 300,000 square feet of retail stores and restaurants expected to open by 2006. The project already includes a Whole Foods supermarket, a wine shop, Fleming's Steakhouse and restaurants Roy's and Charleston, as well as a commitment from Madstone Theaters to run a seven-screen, art house cinema.
Meginniss said she is focusing on leasing two parcels that should be completed within two years.