Redeveloper prepares for next Rotunda hearing

It could still be several months before Rotunda redeveloper Hekemian & Co. announces who the grocer for the mall will be, Hekemian officials said as they prepared to go back before a Baltimore City board to answer questions about the project.

Hekemian senior vice president Chris Bell, who is scheduled to appear before the Urban Design and Architectural Review Commission for the third time Thursday, Jan. 10, said several probable Rotunda tenants have signed letters of intent but no announcements are likely until leases have been signed.

Three boutique grocers are said to be in the running to succeed Giant Food, which closed its store in the Rotunda last March after 41 years and opened a new store in Green Spring Tower Square shopping center nearby.

The candidates are MOMS Organic Market, Graul's and The Fresh Market, City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke and several sources close to the selection process have said.

Clarke said last week she is still concerned about Hekemian's plans to close the interior of the mall to the public, except for the movie theater, while repositioning stores in the mall so that they face outward into a plaza in what is now the south parking lot.

But Clarke said she is heartened that Hekemian appears to be making plans to preserve the historic Rotunda building, including the Rotunda area, sooner than she thought the redeveloper would.

Clarke said she is hopeful that speeding up the preservation timetable would allow a grocer to move in more quickly. She has been critical of Hekemian's admonitions that it needs to wait until the entire building is redeveloped. Bell has said a boutique grocer would probably be unwilling to lease space in the mall, only to have to close for 18 months once redevelopment starts.

Groundbreaking is set for this May. Bell and land use consultant Al Barry reiterated that there is no way to move a grocer in until the rest of the building is done, but Barry said. "At the latest, it'll be two years from May, when everything else opens up."

"We're building the whole project," Bell said. "We know everyone wants a grocery store sooner, and if we can make that happen, we will."

Thursday's meeting of the urban design panel, known as UDARP, is to address lingering but mostly small or technical questions and recommendations about the project, from the color of the brick used to the use of open space for public events and activities, Bell said. The UDARP panel has already give schematic approval to the project.

Plans for the Rotunda redevelopment, scaled back since the mid-2000s, call for a $100 million project with about 300 apartments, but not a 22-story apartment tower, as first planned. Also gone from the plan are the originally envisioned condos, a hotel and an underground parking garage, as well as original plans for a new, state-of-the-art Giant supermarket in the back parking lot.

The project now calls for a five-story building with four stories of apartments and a lower level of additional retail. Several restaurants and a six- to seven-deck above-level parking garage is also planned, plus about 140,000 square feet of office space.

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