Even before it closed in May 2012, Laurel Mall had taken a big plunge from its glory days when it opened in 1979 as Laurel Centre, with Montgomery Ward and JC Penny as anchor stores and droves of shoppers.
By 2001, as consumer shopping habits veered away from enclosed malls and with the opening of larger, nearby shopping complexes, Laurel Mall had begun to decline. Montgomery Ward's bankruptcy led to its store closing at the mall. A year later, JC Penney left as well.
By 2005, the mall found itself in a court-ordered receivership when its owners, Laurel Centre Associates, could not pay their debts.
In steps AEW and Somera, whose officials bought the mall in 2006 for $31 million, with promises of a $450 million makeover of the mall completed by 2009. They presented much-praised plans to City Council members in 2007, with a new name unveiled — Laurel Commons — and a commitment to begin demolishing the mall's parking deck later that year.
But the recession kicked in, making financing almost impossible to secure for most retail developments, including the mall. The project stalled, many retailers left and shoppers disappeared as the shopping center deteriorated. Residents were frustrated, as were city officials, who considered revoking the $16 million tax increment financing, or TIF, the City Council had approved for some infrastructure work at the site, to be paid back at a later date.
In 2011, Owings Mills-based Greenberg Gibbons Commercial was brought in to breathe life back into the project, now called Towne Centre at Laurel. Demolition began in August, and first to go were the multilevel parking lots along Route 1 and Fourth Street. Demolition of the actual stores was slated to begin Nov. 15, a week before the post-Thanksgiving shopping season begins.
Burlington Coat Factory, which occupies the location of original anchor Montgomery Ward, remains open, and plans call for the store to be demolished last. Burlington will be closed for about six months, then reopen in the Towne Centre at Laurel.
See more photos of Laurel Mall, past and present, at http://www.laurelleader.com.