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Planned makeover for Village of Cross Keys

FitnessWilliams-Sonoma Inc.HarborplaceThe J. Jill Group Incorporated

Conceding that the Village of Cross Keys is in need of "investment," the owner of the residential, retail and office complex is planning a mostly cosmetic makeover that would revamp the gatehouse, freshen the courtyard of the shopping center, and turn a so-called "tennis barn" on the grounds into a fitness center.

"We buy properties that we want to improve," Joe Press, a senior vice president for Ashkenazy Acquisition Corp., told the Roland Park Civic League on Thursday. "This property hasn't had much put into it in a number of years. It needs a face lift. There has been a lack of investment."

Ashkenazy, which also owns malls and shopping centers nationwide, including Harborplace in downtown Baltimore, purchased the Village of Cross Keys Shopping Center in 2012. Now, Ashkenazy is seeking to make physical improvements to the Rouse Co.-built shopping center, which is known for its throwback feel of the 1950s-70s, as well as for its mix of independent boutique stores and national chain retailers, including Williams-Sonoma, J. Jill and Talbots.

Plans for Cross Keys include downsizing and modernizing the gatehouse with its terra cotta roof at 5100 Falls Road to give the stores more visibility, updating signage and storefront exteriors surrounding the courtyard using a lot of natural wood, and building a 30,000-square-foot fitness center, probably with an indoor public pool, where the tennis facility is now. The tennis courts would remain. Ashkenazy doesn't have a tenant yet in mind, officials said.

Officials also said they hope to use the courtyard for more public events and concerts, as Belvedere Square does on Friday evenings.

Press was joined at the Roland Park Civic League meeting by Bryce Turner, of Baltimore-based BCT Architects, and land use attorney Stanley Fine.

Fine said the improvements would have to be approved by the city because Cross Keys is a planned unit development and Ashkenazy would be making major amendments to the PUD. Officials also said the improvements are subject to approval by the civic league because Cross Keys operates under long standing community covenants that would have to be amended, too.

But no redevelopment is planned.

"We're not changing a single square foot," Press told the civic league.

Press said Ashkenazy is not trying to spruce up the center because of competition from other area malls and shopping centers, such as Belvedere Square, which has undergone its own face lift, and the Rotunda, which is now being redeveloped.

"We're not reacting," he said.

League members were generally complimentary of the proposed changes.

"You haven't told us anything that's freaking us out," said league board member Andrew Marani, a builder.

But league president Chris McSherry said she is worried that the changes, especially a fitness center, would generate more traffic on busy Falls Road, and said she hopes that some kind of traffic-calming would be done on Falls Road in conjunction with the project.

Ashkenazy officials said they are considering build a pedestrian bridge to the shopping center from Falls Road. Fine said the city would require a traffic impact study.

The tenant mix is expected to remain roughly the same.

"We personally think have a good mix is the right way to go," Press said.

Fine said the Ashkenazy contingent came to the league to present preliminary plans and suggested convening a work session in January.

"I think we would all agree that Cross Keys needs a freshening up and this is a first step," Fine said.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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