A mall without walls

Although construction of Hunt Valley Towne Centre is not finished, excitement about the shopping plaza is building among people in Baltimore County.

February 19, 2005|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

The line at Panera Bread snakes out the door. There are no open tables at Chipotle Mexican Grill. Customers are pulling on the doors trying to get into Quiznos Sub, and it hasn't opened yet.

The Hunt Valley shopping spot that some locals used to call "Death Valley Mall" because of its dark, empty storefronts is hopping.

Even though construction of Hunt Valley Towne Centre is months away from completion, nearby workers and eager shoppers are dodging the orange cones and weaving around the piles of concrete blocks to patronize the businesses that are open.

"We've been waiting for this for a long time," said Trish Pollak, a mother of three from northwestern Baltimore County, as she and her children finished lunch at Panera Bread and headed to the movies yesterday afternoon. "There's finally a place close by where you can eat, walk to a movie and do some shopping. It gives you a more airy feeling than a mall."

In addition to Panera Bread and Chipotle, Caribou Coffee, EB Toys and Cingular Wireless have opened in the complex off Shawan Road. Quiznos is scheduled to open Monday.

Local residents and workers say that with each new store or restaurant, there is more excitement about the shopping area, which is modeled after an old-fashioned Main Street.

"It's generating a real buzz," says Kelly Carnaggio, a quality assurance nurse at the nearby Maryland Masonic Home who lives in Parkton.

Like others in the exurbs of northern Baltimore County, she says she has been watching closely for the "Coming Soon" signs to turn to "Now Open."

"When you live as far from your neighbors as we do, sometimes you see your neighbors out and about more often than you do when you're at home," said Carnaggio, whose 2-year-old twin daughters enjoyed cookies while Carnaggio had coffee with her sister at Caribou Coffee yesterday.

"Believe it or not, I run into more people on Friday or Saturday evening at Carrabba's [Italian Grill] than anywhere. ... This is a good place to catch up with people. It's cozy."

In addition to attracting residents from the growing northern Baltimore County and southern Pennsylvania areas, Hunt Valley Towne Centre will cater to the 50,000 people who work within 1 1/2 miles of the shopping center, said David S. Iannucci, executive director of the county's Department of Economic Development.

"We knew it would be extremely popular," he said, adding that the summer opening of Wegmans, a gourmet supermarket, is expected to draw many customers. "It's all going to come together."

Open-air, faux Main Street-style shopping centers are part of a national trend, industry experts have said, pointing to The Avenue at White Marsh as another example of the popularity of the projects.

Some aren't so sure the project is a good addition to the area.

"I liked it better when it was less congested," said Bridget Greenwalt, an advertising saleswoman who lives nearby. "This was a country area."

Development near Towne Centre has picked up in recent years, with houses being built and corporations moving into the area.

For some, such as Judy Nalepa and Marion Young, who work at nearby Procter & Gamble, the center offers alternatives to fast food or traveling to the Towson area for lunch. "It's neat to see the businesses come back," said Nalepa, a financial manager for the company. "They're sort of popping up now."

Greenberg Commercial, an Owings Mills-based developer, bought the property in 2003 and demolished much of the enclosed mall, which was mostly vacant.

In addition to Wegmans, Greetings & Readings, one of Maryland's largest independent bookstores, has announced it will open a 28,500-square-foot store at the center this summer.

At least half of the stores and restaurants are expected to be open by May. Shops include Coldwater Creek, Jos. A. Bank and Ann Taylor Loft. A day spa, a florist and a shoe store are also set to open, in addition to restaurants such as Greystone Grill, Damon's Sports Theater and Jesse Wong's Open Kitchen.

Tenants that predate the new project include Sears, Dick's Sporting Goods, Wal-Mart, Burlington Coat Factory, DSW shoe store, Regal Cinema, Outback Steakhouse and Carrabba's Italian Grill.

Greenberg Commercial developed a similar shopping center in Waugh Chapel in Anne Arundel County, which, like Hunt Valley Towne Centre, features brick pathways, sidewalk benches and a mix of chain stores and smaller, local shops.

David Goldbloom, vice president of Greenberg Commercial, said open-air centers appeal to families and workers.

"It's a comfortable atmosphere," he said. "It's going to be a gathering place."

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