Rotunda's future

Sheldon Pearlman, owner of Amazing Spiral in the Rotunda mall, doesn't feel that Giant leaving will be his death knell, but worries about the lack of other businesses, many of which have moved out. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr./Baltimore Sun / February 6, 2012)

After years of impasse, a behind-the-scenes deal between Giant Food and Rotunda owner Hekemian & Co. could make long-awaited redevelopment of the mall in Hampden a reality.

In an agreement inked last week, New Jersey-based Hekemian agreed to let Giant out of its long-term lease in the Rotunda, so that Giant could relocate its undersized, 41-year-old store to the former Fresh & Green's, a larger space in the Greenspring Tower Shopping Center, a quarter-mile away.

In exchange, Giant agreed to let Hekemian replace the Giant store with a smaller "boutique" grocer of no more than 20,000 square feet in the Rotunda, so as not to compete with Giant in its new digs, said Chris Bell, senior vice president for acquisitions and development at Hekemian.

He cited Trader Joe's as an example of the kind of boutique grocer that he said would be "a nice fit" in the mall.

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Now, Hekemian is getting ready to reconvene a long-dormant advisory group of community leaders that used to meet regularly to give Hekemian officials input on the mall's redevelopment before the project stalled, said Baltimore City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, whose 14th District includes the mall.

Clarke said Feb. 6 that Bell told her the advisory group is expected to start meeting again in about six weeks.

"It sounds as if they're ready to roll" on redevelopment, Clarke said. "There's no more strings tying them down."

The deal kills one key aspect of Hekemian's redevelopment plan, which called for Giant to close the 33,000-square-foot Rotunda store and build a 73,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art store in the Rotunda's back parking lot.

But Bell said the deal also unties Hekemian's hands.

"We've been waiting for two years for Giant to decide what they wanted to do," Bell said. "We are delighted they made a decision."

Hekemian still plans to do a mix of apartments and retail as part of redevelopment, but has no start date or timetable, he said.

"We are going to push forward with this redevelopment as fast as we can," Bell said.

Landover-based Giant Food's spokesman Jamie Miller said the grocer's departure could "expedite" the redevelopment of the Rotunda.

Clarke said she thinks surrounding communities would be happy with a smaller grocery store and a scaled-back redevelopment plan for the mall, "as long as it's crammed with features that we want and enjoy and need."

Giant now will remodel the 47,000-square-foot Fresh & Green's, 1020 West 41st St., and reopen it as a Giant in about six to eight weeks, Miller said. Then, the Giant in the Rotunda, one of the oldest and smallest in the region, will close, Miller said.

Giant purchased the Hampden and Parkville Fresh & Green's stores last week, ending weeks of speculation about why the Hampden Fresh & Green's suddenly had bare meat cases and no produce. Store managers said they had no word from Fresh & Green's Toronto-based management about what was going.

Nick Hyson, manager of the Rotunda Giant, said he will manage the new store. Employees of the Fresh & Green's are expected to be kept on, Giant and Hekemian officials said.

Waiting for Godot?

Meanwhile, many merchants in the Rotunda are weary of waiting for redevelopment and said they'll believe it when they see it.

"They don't talk about it anymore," said Shabir Malik, owner of Casa Mia's, the lone eatery in the 929,000-square-foot mall