Leases for a major retail store and movie theater have been signed for Laurel Mall and demolition of the Route 1 parking lot is set to begin soon, according to Brian Gibbons, CEO of Greenberg Gibbons Commercial, the Owings Mills firm that is the developer and part owner of the mall.
Gibbons delivered the good news to city officials in testimony at Monday night's City Council meeting, in which he gave members an update on the long-awaited, multi-million dollar renovation project.
Although Gibbons said he would not release the names of the retailer or movie chain because of confidentiality agreements he signed with them, he assured the council that residents would be pleased with the tenants.
"We have great leasing momentum for this project and these anchor stores will be new entrants to the market," Gibbons said in an interview before the council meeting. "We're working on three others that are not signed yet that will be new entrants, too. The conversations with these three other anchor retail stores are looking good and there are lots of smaller tenants we're working with as well."
Council members were happy to hear that construction is set to begin at the ailing mall soon. Gibbons said permits by the city and county have been approved and are in hand for demolition of the Route 1 parking garage; currently, nearly half of the garage is blocked off and not in use.
Gibbons had said he would not begin any construction until he had a couple of anchor stores signed up with "committed rents," which he now has in hand.
"We may within the next couple of weeks start demolition on the (Route 1) parking deck. We intend to file additional plans for demolition within 90 days," Gibbons said. "I can't say if the whole thing will be demolished until negotiations are completed with Macy's and Burlington. One of the hardest things in projects like this is working out agreements with existing tenants. We've made a lot of progress and hope by the end of the year to have the agreements with them finalized."
Burlington Coat Factory has a long-term lease at the mall and Macy's officials own the land and building where the department store is located at the mall.
"When we redeveloped Parole Plaza (now Annapolis Towne Centre), unlike here, we had the luxury of no tenants being there," Gibbons said. "But once we get the private agreements finalized with Macy's and Burlington, we'll roll out our conceptual plans for an open-air mall."
Gibbons said the conceptual plans for Laurel would be similar to Hunt Valley Towne Center, in Baltimore, another GGC renovation project.
GGC officials became part owners of the mall in March, when they took over the development of the dilapidated mall. In February they unveiled preliminary plans for the mall at the Mid Atlantic International Council of Shopping Centers at the Gaylord Resort and Convention Center. Those plans called for maintaining the previous developer's mixed-use concept of shopping, entertainment, offices and multi-family residences, but with a more open, streetscape atmosphere for pedestrians and vehicles, such as that found at the Annapolis Towne Centre. Gibbons told the council his company received one of the Urban Land Institute's 2010 WaveMaker Awards for best design and land use of a mixed-use project for the Annapolis Towne Centre.
"You're a breath of fresh air compared to the last developer who was tough to deal with," said Mayor Craig Moe in reference to Somera Capital Management and AEW Capital Management, the former developers of the mall. "Your word is gold with me because everything you've said you would do, you've come through."
Council members were also positive with the progress Gibbons' company has made on the mall's facelift over the past seven months.
"We're pleased because we can't go anywhere without being asked about the mall," said Council member Frederick Smalls. "We've had start and stops, but we're optimistic you will get it done."
All commercial and residential projects had been on hold, including the mall, if developers did not have their storm-water management plans submitted to county officials by May 4, 2010. County Council members were required by state law to strengthen storm water regulations, which they did in July. Developers of renovation projects, like the mall, will now have to capture and filter 50 percent of the first half-inch of rainfall and 100 percent by 2019.
Because the mall's plans had already been submitted, it could have been grandfathered in under the older 20 percent requirement, if parking lots, roofs and other impervious surfaces did not increase by more than 25 percent from what was submitted.
"I did not try to get grandfathered in under the old rules. Our storm water plans will comply with the new law of 50 percent and it will be done with underground storage," Gibbons said. "I know all in this room are real impatient to get this project done and no one is more impatient to see a dead mall redeveloped than me," Gibbons said at the Council meeting. "We're on the 10-yard line and will get in the end zone soon."