Rotunda redevelopers to expand plaza

Hekemian & Co. now plans to redevelop the Rotunda mall with an expanded plaza to include more programmable space for public outdoor events, as recommended last month by Baltimore City's Urban Design and Architectural Review Panel.

But Hekemian won't budge on its plans to close most of the interior mall to the public, which was a sore point with the UDARP panel last month and with City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke at a hearing on the Rotunda redevelopment project.

Clarke said Tuesday that she still objects to closing the mall inside and plans to keep the issue alive. UDARP is scheduled to hold its second Rotunda hearing Thursday, Aug. 16.

Clarke made her comments after a meeting of Hekemian's community advisory task force. The redeveloper convened the task force to fill in area residents on project changes Hekemian will present to UDARP.

Other tweaks planned include a series of terraced steps from Elm Avenue to the plaza, to be called a square, Hekemian representatives told the task force. They also said they are talking to Johns Hopkins University officials about connecting the Rotunda and the nearby former Zurich Insurance Co. building at Keswick Road and 40th Street with a stairway.

There was no discussion of closing the mall's interior, however. Those plans met with resistance last month from UDARP panelist Jay Brodie, the now-retired president of theBaltimore Development Corp., and a north Baltimore resident. Brodie complained that closing the mall inside would be bad for the public.

Clarke told UDARP last month that closing the mall inside would be especially bad for the many seniors who live within walking distance of the mall.

Chris Bell, a senior vice president for Hekemian, and Al Barry, Hekemian's local land use consultant, said at the time that closing the mall inside and turning stores outward to face the public square was always part of plans for revamping the struggling mall.

Clarke said Tuesday she still objects.

"I haven't changed my mind and I won't," she said.

Current redevelopment plans call for about 375 apartments, aimed at empty nesters and young professionals. The project also includes a five-story building with four stories of apartments and a lower level of additional retail. A parking garage with 1,100 spaces is also planned, as are several restaurants.

Hekemian's scaled-back, $100 million plan no longer calls for a hotel, a 22-story apartment building or underground parking.

Hekemian hopes to get building permits for redevelopment by the end of the year and break ground by next May, with a completion target date in 2015.

There was also no mention to the task force of the three grocery chains that the Messenger reported earlier this month are in the running to succeed Giant Food as the mall's market. But Clarke told Bell and Barry before the meeting she would like the task force to visit each of the grocers in contention, which sources say are Graul's Market, The Fresh Market and MOMS Organic Market.

Barry and Bell said no decision has been made, but that task force members can visit the store nearest them. MOMS has a store in Timonium, Graul's in Ruxton and The Fresh Market in Towson and the Quarry Lake complex in Greenspring.

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