Owings Mills Mall builder raises concerns about area market

The Owings Mills market can't handle major retail development at the former Solo Cup property and other sites along the Reisterstown Road corridor, according to studies commissioned by the developer planning to revamp the mall.

The market analysis and traffic studies released Wednesday by Kimco Realty come as Baltimore County begins a broad zoning review. As competition builds between developers, Owings Mills revitalization is expected to be among the most controversial topics.

Kimco is planning a $65 million redevelopment of Owings Mills Mall, now more than half-empty. It is one of three major projects in the area. Nearby, a large mixed-use development called Metro Centre is under construction; and at the site of the former Solo Cup factory, the firm Greenberg Gibbons wants to build Foundry Row, a retail development anchored by a Wegmans grocery store.

The mall and Metro Centre sites are zoned for retail use; the Solo Cup property is not.

"This market only will bear so much retail," said Geoffrey Glazer, Kimco's vice president of acquisition and development.

Too much development could lead to "market deterioration," according to Kimco's retail study, conducted by the Bethesda firm Streetsense. It could saturate the market and scatter demand among too many stores and restaurants.

Greenberg Gibbons plans to release its own economic impact study next week.

The firm "is very bullish on Owings Mills and is excited by the opportunity to deliver a first-class retail project with Wegmans that will benefit the community," Tom Fitzpatrick, the firm's president and chief operating officer, said in a statement.

"It seems [Kimco's] report was designed to paint a highly negative picture of the Owings Mills retail market. We do not share that view," Fitzpatrick said. "In fact, we believe that Foundry Row will complement other developments planned for the area and that a rising tide will lift all boats."

Glazer and Howard Brown of David S. Brown Enterprises — developer of Metro Centre — have contended that retail uses at the Solo Cup property would create traffic congestion and too much vacant space in the area.

About 600,000 square feet along Reisterstown Road could be approved for retail use this year, including the Solo Cup site. According to the study, granting those requests would lead to 19 percent more retail space than demand can support.

The vacancy rate along Reisterstown Road is more than 20 percent, according to the study. Kimco plans to turn the mall into an outward-facing "town center" and reduce its retail space by 100,000 square feet.

A separate traffic study by Wells & Associates in Annapolis and commissioned by Kimco says Reisterstown Road would need substantial improvements if the Solo Cup site becomes a retail destination — "and should be funded and built in advance of the anticipated development."

County officials believe Owings Mills "is a vibrant market and strong enough to support multiple projects," said Fronda Cohen, a spokeswoman for Baltimore County's Economic Development Department. But the outcome will ultimately come down to the County Council, she said.

A Planning Board hearing on zoning issues in the 2nd District is scheduled for March 29 at Pikesville Senior High School. County Council Chairwoman Vicki Almond, who represents the area, has said she believes that all three projects can succeed but there might have to be compromises on the amount of new retail space approved this year. She was not available for comment Wednesday.



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