Snazzy mall to sprout as a Hunt Valley centerpiece

Mall Retail

Outlook 2004 : Turning Points

January 11, 2004|By Andrea K. Walker | Andrea K. Walker,SUN STAFF

After years as a place where too few people wanted to shop, Hunt Valley Mall appears on its way to becoming one of the region's biggest draws.

The mall's new owner, the Erwin L. Greenburg Commercial Corp. of Owings Mills, has demolished the vacant enclosed part of the center to begin construction on a "Main Street" lifestyle center that they will rename Hunt Valley Towne Center.

About 80 percent of the 380,000 square feet of new retail space is under lease negotiations, and the first tenants are expected to move in by the end of this year. The revamped shopping center in northern Baltimore County will include 900,000 square feet. Several current mall tenants - Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Sears Roebuck & Co., Burlington Coat Factory, Dick's Sporting Goods and DSW Shoe Warehouse - are to remain.

Since opening 22 years ago, Hunt Valley has struggled in spite of being located in a relatively well-off, if not densely populated, residential area. The closing of Macy's as an anchor store in 1992 spurred an exodus of other stores, squeezed between high rents and not enough shoppers. Two other developers tried to transform Hunt Valley Mall but never followed through on plans.

But the new "lifestyle center" retail concept, and Greenburg's strategy to land tenants new to the area, make the mall ripe for a turnaround. Neighboring, growing Carroll and Harford counties could also provide additional customers drawn to a destination center.

"This is a prime area for development," said Brian J. Gibbons, Greenburg president and chief executive officer. "It's a wealthy area, and it's an underserved area."

Gibbons said the tenant list will include a mix of upscale clothing stores, a bookstore, furniture store and fitness center.

He said the $70 million project will be similar to other lifestyle centers that have become popular in recent years and include clothing stores such as Talbot's and AnnTaylor, and home goods stores such as Restoration Hardware and Pottery Barn. One end of the project would house an area of restaurants.

Construction of the center's key anchor, the gourmet and mega-grocer Wegman's Food Markets Inc. of Rochester, N.Y., should near completion this year for a grand opening early next year. Gibbons unveiled a model of the center last month that showed an open air mall with shops and restaurants that line a grassy area with benches, fountains and a plaza for skating.

"This should be an exceptional project that will finally after 15 years hit the nail on the head and be extremely successful," said Mark Millman, president of Owings Mills based-Millman Search Group, a nationwide retail consulting and executive search firm that will help find tenants for it.

The new mall will be slightly smaller than Towson Town Center, which is 968,000 square feet. The area's largest shopping center is the Arundel Mills outlet mall in Hanover, at 1.4 million square feet.

David Fick, a Legg Mason retail analyst, predicts that the mall will attract three times as many people as before. Wegman's stores elsewhere typically draw people from 30 miles away, when most grocery stores draw from five to seven miles, Millman said.

"Shoppers will go out of their way to shop at the new project," Fick said. "There was no reason to go to the old project."

TIMELINE

1981

Hunt Valley Mall is built in northern Baltimore County.

1992

In a major blow, Macy's closes.

2004

The Erwin L. Greenberg Commercial Corp., which purchased the mall in 2003 from Connecticut-based Starwood Ceruzzi, begins bringing in new tenants in an open-air marketplace concept.

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