And although city and mall officials realize that the redeveloped Towne Centre at Laurel will not be on the level of the planned mega Konterra mixed-use development near Laurel and I-95, or Columbia and Arundel Mills malls, they do see it as giving Laurel residents a top-notch shopping center, with many of the amenities that they now have to travel to other areas to experience.
"With the way the city is changing and with new people moving here, Laurel Mall was holding us back," Brendle said. "We had the patience of Job in waiting this out, but it was well worth the wait because we're going to get something much better than what we had before."
A long time coming
And Brendle is right. Even before it closed in May of this year, the mall had taken a big plunge from its glory days when it opened in 1979, surrounded by major anchor stores, other quality retailers and droves of shoppers. But 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 and, 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.
Five seemingly long years after the property was sold, GGC was brought in to breathe life back into the project, which they did; but as Gibbons said, it wasn't easy.
"The biggest challenge was coming up with a new design plan that made economic sense, and working with tenants who still had leases," Gibbons said, referring in large part toMacy's, whose officials owned the store's land and building; and Burlington Coat Factory, which had a long-term lease at the mall. Burlington is staying, but Gibbons said they made an "economic arrangement" withMacy's, although he would not disclose the amount of that agreement.
As the demolition takes place, the next steps for the project include getting storm water management approval for the site from Prince George's County officials. Gibbons said the mall will have an underground storm water system and environmentally friendly, collection systems throughout the property to handle rain runoff during storms.
The design plans will also have to be approved by the City Council and Planning Commission, since they are different from those initially approved by city officials, which Brendle predicted will happen soon.
"Everything we do is expeditious, especially for something like this," Brendle said. "This project is going to spur others that are in the pipeline and bring people to the area."
Moe agreed and added, "It will allow residents to shop here in the city and not have to go outside the city limits. Will the final project be all that we want? We hope so and I think people will be real pleased with it."