Developer touts potential jobs, tax revenue at Solo Cup site

As competition heats up between Owings Mills developers, the company that plans to build an upscale shopping center featuring a Wegmans store touted the jobs and tax revenue it said its project at the former Solo Cup site would create.

The Foundry Row development would support about 3,100 permanent jobs in Baltimore County and generate $4.8 million in annual local tax revenue, according to an economic impact study commissioned by developers Greenberg Gibbons Commercial. The study by economist Anirban Basu of Sage Policy Group is to be released today.

"We just want to show the true economic impact of the project," said Brian Gibbons, chairman and CEO of Greenberg Gibbons.

Foundry Row, expected to cost $140 million, is one of several major Owings Mills redevelopment projects in the works. As the county starts a comprehensive zoning review, Gibbons' firm is seeking approval to use the 52-acre site near the intersection of Reisterstown and Painters Mill roads for retail outlets.

The project would feature about 385,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space, plus roughly 40,000 square feet of offices.

Basu said the plan "very much fits with the aspirations Baltimore County has had for Owings Mills."

Wegmans' selection of the site shows that the area has the affluence and demand required for high-quality retail, Basu said. The popular specialty grocery store would be attractive for residential developers and also would draw consumers from throughout the region, he said.

Wegmans has said its Owings Mills site would employ about 600 people.

Developers of other projects in the area — the revamping of the Owings Mills Mall and the nearby transit-oriented Metro Centre — have raised questions about Foundry Row. Last week, mall developer Kimco Realty released traffic and market studies that said the area lacked the infrastructure and retail demand for a project such as Greenberg Gibbons'.

Gibbons, whose firm has developed "town center"-style shopping plazas in Annapolis and Hunt Valley, said retailers' interest in his project shows it can work. He said there was a dearth of high-quality retailers in Owings Mills now.

"Our leasing momentum has been fantastic," said Gibbons, who wants to start demolishing the Solo Cup factory this spring. "This whole idea that there's too much retail is absurd. It's absolutely absurd."

The company is negotiating with several national companies to anchor Foundry Row along with Wegmans, he said, including a fitness center and a sporting goods store. Signed leases could be announced within the next few months, Gibbons said.

Basu's job estimates for Foundry Row include not only positions at the shopping area but jobs that would be supported by the economic activity spurred by the center.

Geoffrey Glazer, Kimco vice president of acquisitions and development, said Monday that while he could not comment in detail on the study, because it had not been publicly released, any analysis needed to take the entire market into account.

"Any one project's economic strength and vitality needs to take into consideration how it affects other projects in the area," Glazer said.

The market analysis released by Kimco pointed to high vacancy rates in Owings Mills, which, it said, were running at more than 20 percent along Reisterstown Road.

According to Basu's report for Greenberg Gibbons, 70 percent of the vacant retail space in Owings Mills is at the mall. When that space is not counted, the vacancy rate in the area is about 4 percent, Basu said. That is much lower than rates in surrounding areas such as Towson, where more than 8 percent of retail space is empty, according to his report.

County economic development officials have said they believe the market is vibrant enough to support multiple projects. Decisions on zoning are up to the County Council.

A Planning Board hearing on zoning issues in the district is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday at Pikesville High School.

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