The Mall in Columbia

The L.L. Bean store at the Columbia mall will be leveled to make room for an “open-air plaza” with new restaurants and retail stores. (Photo by Nate Pesce / July 25, 2012)

An "open-air plaza" surrounded by yet-to-be-selected restaurant and retail tenants is planned to be built at the Columbia mall in the space currently occupied by L.L. Bean, mall owner General Growth Properties announced Tuesday, July 24.

GGP presented its site development plan for what has been termed a "lifestyle center" to about two dozen Columbia residents at a pre-submission community meeting held in the Rouse Student Services Building at Howard Community College.

The plan is to remove 30,000 square feet of retail space, all of which is currently occupied by L.L. Bean and the small surface parking area behind the store.

"When we remove that store, it's going to allow us to expand to about 75,000 square feet of new retail shops and restaurants, and about 25,000 square feet of open air plaza," said Jim Kreps, senior director of design for GGP.

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Names of potential tenants for the new space are not being released at this time because negotiations are still underway, according to GGP Senior Development Director Jim Whitcome.

"At this point, we have a tremendous amount of (interest from) retailers, many of which are new to the market," he said.

Asked if some of the existing mall tenants could move to the new outdoor space, mall Senior General Manager Katie Essing said: "It's a possibility."

Though the mix of restaurants and retail has not yet been determined, Essing said the corner spaces on either side of the plaza are envisioned as restaurants to continue the chain that currently runs from The Cheesecake Factory to P.F. Chang's. The rest of the space along the plaza is envisioned as retail.

The plaza, planned to be 55 to 65 feet wide, will be located directly behind the existing fountain in front of the L.L. Bean store. The fountain will remain and will be refurbished, Whitcome said.

The open-air plaza is planned to directly connect with the Warfield neighborhood, where Howard Hughes is building a mix of residential and retail on empty parcels across the parking lot.

"Overall, we're creating a new outdoor environment ... and at the same time some very exciting and interesting tenants that will unfold," Kreps said.

At the end of the plaza will be an entrance to the mall, located where the J.Crew store is now. The space had been previously used as an entrance before the L.L. Bean store was built. Public restrooms, accessible only from outside the mall, will be located directly to the left of the entrance.

J.Crew is moving to another space within the mall, just a few storefronts down from its current location, in about four to six weeks, Essing said. As construction on the entrance is not expected to begin until 2013, she said the space will be used for temporary tenants, likely one serving holiday shopping needs.

L.L. Bean, which has been in its existing space for about a decade, volunteered to downsize, according to Whitcome, who said negotiations for relocating the store are still in progress.

"We are in constant negotiations with them, and we want them to stay … but at this point there's no resolution," Whitcome said.

Tom Metzger, store manager of the L.L. Bean who attended the meeting, also cited the ongoing negotiations.

"We are still interested in the Columbia area," he said. "It's just a matter of finding the right retail space for us."

The downsizing, Metzger explained, is in line with corporate plans to operate smaller stores.

Parking concerns

Though no additional parking is required or planned to be built as a part of the project, several residents raised concerns about it, noting that finding parking already is difficult at times.