"Well, this is day one," said Ray Nowowieski, general superintendent for Bozzuto Construction Co., wearing his hard hat and surveying the phase 1 work already under way as redevelopment of the Rotunda mall began.
Baltimore City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke stopped by to see what was going on and to help Bozzuto and Hekemian & Co, the redeveloper, get permits to open an office inside the mall, where only two retail tenants, Rite Aid and the Rotunda Cinematheque movie theaters were still open. A third retail tenant, the eatery Casa Maria, which has a long-term lease, is expected to return in January.
Other retail tenants, who were on monthly leases, are gone, including Hair Cuttery and Radio Shack, both of which have joined the relocated Giant at the nearby Green Spring tower Square shopping center on 41st Street.
Nearly 60 office tenants upstairs in the mall, including a Social Security Administration office, will remain open during construction, but must put up with the noise of construction and demolition, said Nowowieski and Hekemian senior vice president Chris Bell, who stopped by to see the start of the roughly $100 million redevelopment project that has been talked about since 2005 but stalled in 2008, due to a bad economy.
Early Tuesday morning, the front parking lots on 40th Street were blocked off and mall traffic was diverted to the back lots. A lower lot was already being milled to rip up asphalt and a chain link fence was erected between the usable back parking lots and a lower lot at Elm Avenue and 38th Street. Near the fence in the east corner, Hampden-based Potts & Callahan, one of an estimated 50 or more subcontractors, already had a construction trailer. Potts & Callahan will be doing a lot of the grading and sediment control work, said job foreman Richard Sussan.
Hekemian & Co. plans to redevelop the mall with a mix of apartments, town houses, restaurants, additional retail and an eight-story parking garage for mallgoers. Construction of the garage and work on the interior of the mall would be finished sooner than the rest of the project, probably by early 2015, said Al Barry, a local land use consultant to Hekemian & Co.
On the first day, parking was reduced to 267 spaces, a loss of by about 60 or 70 spaces. No longer available was parking in the front, but Hekemian got back some parking spaces that had been leased to Roland Park Pace, a retirement community, Bell said.
"The Rotunda is open for business. There's plenty of parking," Bell said.
Not much work was being done in the mall's interior, although partitions were put up to separate pedestrians from construction as the project unfolds, Nowowieski said.
Leaving the mall after a doctor's appointment, Sarah McWilliams, 22, of Homeland, said she didn't know enough about the project to render an opinion on it. But she had one immediate observation.
"The parking is a little annoying," she said.
But Guilford resident Tom Boyce, an insurance agent, liked what he saw.
"I'm impressed by it," he said, stopping his car to ask Nowowieski about the project. "Nobody likes new things, but time marches on and people need places to live."
The Baltimore City Planning Commission in February voted to approve the design of the Rotunda redevelopment project. Plans call for 382 apartments, 182,000 square feet of additional retail and 153,000 square feet of office space. The interior of the mall would be closed and storefronts would be turned outward, facing a central plaza.
The redevelopment project is significantly scaled back from an original $180 million proposal that called for a 22-story apartment building, a hotel and underground parking.