Novel stores, experiences key to success of the Owings Mills Malls site redevelopment

The long wait is over — almost. Owners of the now-demolished Owings Mills Mall, after a decade of hesitation and secrecy, announced plans recently for a $108 million outdoor shopping center on the desolate site.

As Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz put it, with more than a little edge in his voice, “We finally got something done here.”

Yet we won’t know precisely which stores will be in the new retail development, other than a Costco warehouse, until next year.

We also don’t know whether the shops will compete against existing stores along Reisterstown Road. That would be a zero-sum game with shops at the new Mill Station taking away customers from established local retailers.

Not until 2019 can we look forward to the opening of this 31-shop complex, built on a site initially intended 30 years ago as the focal point of the county’s designated growth area in northwest Baltimore County.

Today, more than 33,000 people live in Owings Mills — 30 percent white and 49 percent African American with a median household income of $70,000. Figuring out the kinds of stores, restaurants and amenities that appeal to residents is the challenge confronting Kimco Realty.

Politics played a role in the long delay for a mall replacement plan.

A major fight erupted when a competing developer proposed a large retail complex on the site of the old Maryland Cup Co. manufacturing plant at Reisterstown and Painters Mill roads. Lead tenant: the popular supermarket retailer Wegmans.

Owners of the Owings Mill Mall, General Growth Properties and Kimco, tried to block that project, waging a furious battle to defeat the rezoning bill for Foundry Row in the Baltimore County Council.

Those owners, plus the builder of Metro Centre sandwiched between the two sites, vied for the support of Councilwoman Vicki Almond. Eventually, she sided with Foundry Row.

The losing developer groups then tried to petition the rezoning bill to referendum, but they hired a shady subcontractor to gather the needed petitions. In the end, the referendum was tossed out for lack of enough legally valid signatures.

Now Foundry Row is a bustling outdoor shopping and dining center with Wegmans, as expected, drawing large crowds. Metro Centre is slowly taking root with a mix of apartments, casual dining, offices, a large county library and a branch of the Community College of Baltimore County.

What will Mill Station add that doesn’t prove duplicative?

Kimco is promoting the 148,000-square-foot Costco membership store as offering “a deli, bakery, food court, garden center, optical department, photo center and a gas station.”

It also says the well-worn AMC multiplex “will soon be fully modernized to offer a state-of-the-art cinema experience.”

An improved movie-viewing complex will be cheered by cinema buffs, but the addition of a large warehouse shopping store could produce some unwanted consequences.

There already is a BJ’s Wholesale Club nearby on Music Fair Road, the site of the once-popular Painters Mill Theatre. Not far away sits a busy Sam’s Club.

Will Costco drive BJ’s out of Owings Mills? Hopefully, the addition of Costco will lead to customer-friendly price wars that eventually benefit all three companies.

America’s retail environment is rapidly transforming, thanks to Internet shopping. Many enclosed malls anchored by huge department stores are disappearing. We learned that the hard way at the Rouse Co.’s Owings Mills Mall.

To succeed, Kimco will have to choose wisely in its bringing to northwest Baltimore County new and novel shopping, dining and entertainment experiences.

Barry Rascovar’s blog is www.politicalmaryland.com. He can be reached at brascovar@hotmail.com.

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