Oldtown Mall in city's sights again for revitalization work

Nearby development is viewed as a benefit

April 16, 2008|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,Sun reporter

City officials are trying again to revitalize the deteriorating Oldtown Mall in East Baltimore.

Saying momentum is building for east-side redevelopment, the Baltimore Development Corp. has begun acquiring nonhistoric property in the mostly vacant pedestrian mall and is seeking a private developer to build a new housing and retail project that would complement plans for a nearby grocery store.

Plans to reinvent the mall, which started to decline more than a decade ago, and bring in a grocery store have fallen through in the past. But projects that are proposed and under way nearby have made the area ripe for redevelopment, said M.J. "Jay" Brodie, president of BDC.

For one thing, Continental Realty Corp., which has been working for three years to put a shopping center on 5 city-owned acres next to the mall, is finally piquing the interest of full-service supermarkets as potential anchors, Brodie said. And East Baltimore Development Inc. is making visible progress in its 88-acre urban redevelopment and biotechnology park under way near the Johns Hopkins medical campus.

"The timing is better now than it was," Brodie said. "Continental is still talking to grocers, and there is interest, which is heartening. And the coming along of EBDI [redevelopment] is helpful. It's close enough so people who might be interested in Oldtown see that EBDI is not just a dream now."

The city has started making offers on properties in the mall south of Monument Street at Orleans and Ensor streets.

The BDC expects the acquisition of 21 small properties on Oldtown Mall and three nearby parking lots to take about a year. The economic development agency, which has put out a request for development proposals, would then negotiate to sell the property to a developer.

Meanwhile, the BDC is continuing to negotiate a land sale to Continental, which was selected to develop the 5-acre site in 2005.

Continental also is interested in taking on the mall redevelopment, said Gene Parker, Continental's chief operating officer. Parker said Continental plans to submit a bid to the BDC by the June 4 deadline.

More than one grocery store has expressed interest in coming to the Oldtown site, Parker said. But he said the developer won't be able to pursue a supermarket more seriously until the city awards the mall redevelopment project.

"We want to be careful about moving too quickly," he said. "We want to make sure we take the time and do the project right. What we do will depend on the size of the parcel. You only have so many shots with retailers. We want to be definite about the timing and size of the project."

City officials have been trying to redevelop the mall in one of the city's oldest commercial districts for years.

The shopping district, with dozens of historic, turn-of-the-century buildings, was turned into a pedestrian mall in the 1970s, when four blocks of North Gay Street were closed to traffic.

But the mall lost customers after nearby high-rise housing was demolished. Neighborhood residents have long hoped for a supermarket, but developers selected previously were never able to move forward.

"We've tried to figure out what more does it take to make the Oldtown area come alive again," Brodie said. "We've held community meetings and said we believe we need more acquisition authority."

lorraine.mirabella@baltsun.com

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