Rotunda redevelopers offer task force a preview of proposed changes

New details about planned redevelopment of the Rotunda have emerged, including a possibly quicker timetable for moving a new grocery store into the struggling mall in Roland Park.

"One of the (grocery retail) groups we're working with has expressed a desire to move in as soon as possible. We're hoping the logistics work out," Al Barry, a local land-use consultant to mall owner Hekemian & Co., told a neighborhood advisory task force Tuesday. "Retailers like parking and access. That's going to be a challenge."

That was a more optimistic assessment than in February, when Barry and Chris Bell, Hekemian's senior vice president of marketing and development, told the group they doubted a grocer would be willing to move in now, only to have to close for a year and a half when construction begins next year.

Bell and Barry also gave the citizens task force a more detailed timetable for getting Baltimore City approvals and permits and starting construction. They said they are tentatively scheduled to make an initial presentation to the city's Urban Design & Architecture Review Panel on July 19 and hope to seek design approval from the Planning Commission in late August or early September.

They also said they hope to apply for building permits in December.

"We're pushing as fast as we can," Bell told about 15 task force members who attended the meeting in the mall on June 26. He said Hekemian would like to break ground by April or May of 2013, and estimated the constructed period as 20 months.

The citizens advisory task force was meeting for the second time since Rotunda redeveloper Hekemian & Co., which purchased the mall seven years ago, reconvened the panel in February. At that time, the ambitious, $180 million project — which called for a rebuilt, state-of-the-art Giant supermarket, condos, apartments, a hotel, underground parking and existing retail turned outward to face a plaza in what is now the back parking lot — had been stalled for four years, and so had the task force.

Much has changed since then. The original Giant moved in March to the nearby Green Spring Tower Square shopping center in Hampden. Scaled-back plans now call for a $100 million redevelopment featuring a smaller, boutique-style grocer, no condos, hotel or underground garage, and no 22-story apartment tower, as first planned. The new plans call for about 300 apartments, aimed at empty nesters and young professionals, and a new loading dock, Bell said.

The project also calls for a five-story building with four stories of apartments and a lower level of additional retail.

A six- to seven-deck, above-level parking garage is planned, as are several restaurants, Bell said. The mall is still expected to have about 140,000 square feet of office space, he said.

The Rotunda Cinemas will also stay. Operator Ira Miller said he is adding a fourth screening room.

The plaza is envisioned as hosting concerts and festivals to make the Rotunda "more of a gathering place," Bell said.

Bell told the task force in February that New Jersey-based Hekemian has funding for the project and that Bank of America, which has closed its branch in the mall, is the lender.

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