Walmart to open Baltimore Co. store on Liberty Road in 2012

7-year delay frustrated residents, officials

February 14, 2011|By Raven L. Hill, The Baltimore Sun

After a seven-year delay, Randallstown residents cheered Monday over an announcement that a Walmart will open on Liberty Road next year.

Officials and residents have long hoped that the store — a planned $9 million, 160,000-square-foot supercenter with groceries and a pharmacy — would revitalize the aging commercial corridor, encouraging other national retailers and restaurants to set up shop in the affluent, largely black community. The new building will replace a strip of boarded-up stores in the rear of Liberty Plaza at Liberty and Brenbrook roads.

Acknowledging "years of false starts and broken promises," Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz said the store is expected to open in September 2012 and generate 350 jobs.

"Baltimore County is excited and ready to work with them to get it open even sooner than that," Kamenetz said. "We're not going to let this fall by the wayside. Having Walmart is going to make it that much easier to encourage more investment."

Residents have long complained about the community's excess of discount stores and fast-food chains. Despite having one of the highest median household incomes in the county, residents must drive to nearby Owings Mills and Columbia for big-box stores and sit-down restaurants.

Walmart originally announced plans to open the Liberty Plaza store by fall 2006 after two years of lobbying by county officials to come into the area. Officials attributed delays to the sluggish economy and protracted negotiations over who would pay to clean up dry-cleaning chemicals at the site.

Walmart will complement other Randallstown businesses, including Marshalls, also in Liberty Plaza, and Home Depot, Kamenetz said.

In January, Kamenetz announced that he would request $2 million in state aid for Liberty Road infrastructure improvements to boost economic development efforts.

Among the crowd of residents, community leaders and public officials, the word that seemed to be on everyone's lips was "finally."

"We're near completion," said Councilman Kenneth N. Oliver, adding that he's still working on the restaurants. "We've still got more work to do."

Having seen the transition of Liberty Road through the decades from his perch as pastor of Union Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church behind Liberty Plaza, the Rev. Charles Sembly said he's excited about the development prospects.

"It is our hope that other national retailers will see this region as a viable corridor in which to open businesses," Sembly said.

But in efforts to lure national retailers, it's important that small business doesn't get left behind, said longtime Liberty Road-area activist Emily Wolfson.

"It's wonderful that Walmart is coming," she said, "but we also need to have the small-business [owner] be able to survive on a corridor like this."

raven.hill@baltsun.com

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