Updating Roland Park community leaders Thursday on plans for redevelopment of the Rotunda, a representative of the mall's owner began by acknowledging what was foremost on the community's mind — the relocation last week of the longtime Giant supermarket to the nearby Green Spring Tower Shopping Center in Hampden.
"They've got a spanking new Giant. Good for them," Chris Bell, a senior vice president for mall owner Hekemian & Co., told the Roland Park Civic League. "We've got a nice new hole in the Rotunda. We're working on fixing that."
But while Hekemian hopes to land a new grocer by this summer, whoever it is wouldn't be able to move in until redevelopment as a whole is completed, at least two years from now, Bell said.
All the components of the redevelopment plan, including an apartment building and additional retail, must be done together, said Bell, senior vice president of acquisitions and development.
"It's a cohesive whole," Bell told civic league members meeting at Roland Park Presbyterian Church. "It's really not a phaseable project. You can't stop, build one thing, stop."
League president Phil Spevak, noting that getting a new grocery store to replace the departed Giant is a priority for many residents, asked if the grocery part of the project could be done soonest.
But Bell said, "Ít's just not doable."
The good news, consultant Al Barry said afterward, is that Hekemian wants to line up a new grocer as quickly as possible, because the old Giant space should be redesigned to a specific grocer's specifications, and Hekemian wants to start construction on the overall redevelopment by the summer of 2013.
That adds a sense of urgency to getting a commitment from a grocer by this summer, Barry said.
"I gotta believe the sooner they get somebody signed up, it makes the design process better," he said.
Giant closed its undersized Rotunda store March 29 after 41 years and opened a converted Fresh & Green's in Green Spring Tower the same day. Hekemian agreed to let Giant out of its long-term lease in the Rotunda, and Giant agreed to let Hekemian find a new grocer of no more than 20,000 square feet for the Rotunda, so as not co compete with Giant in its new location.
Community speculation has centered on the possibility that a Trader Joe's or Fresh market might move into the Rotunda. Bell didn't dissuade the league of that notion, saying he has been in contact with numerous grocers of that size.
"Pretty much everybody's interested," he said. "I talked to Trader Joe's three times already. They want to see what we've got, along with others."
Residents are hoping for progress on redevelopment and a new grocer soon. Spevak said he has watched the Rotunda "dwindle, dwindle, dwindle," since the mid-1990s, as many former tenants have left and have not been replaced.
"There's hardly anybody there," said Barbara Hooke, a resident who attended the presentation.
Reiterating what he told an advisory community task force in February, Bell told the league that plans for redevelopment call for a five-or-six story apartment building with market rate apartments and retail on the ground level. Plans also call for some condominiums, he said.
Current retail would be turned outward to face a courtyard, with the apartments rising above it, he said.
Earlier plans for a hotel and a 22-story apartment building have been scrapped, he said.
Hekemian's original plans for a $180 million redevelopment died when the economy falter in 2008, Bell said. The scaled-back project is expected to cost around $100 million, he said in February.