Plan for White Marsh outlets in limbo

The owner of the White Marsh outlets site is weighing a sale, as team disbands

A 100-store outlet mall planned for White Marsh is in limbo as the owner of the property considers selling the site.

The turn comes shortly after a fight over the plans appeared to have been settled as Baltimore County voters backed zoning that would allow the outlets to proceed.

The Lightstone Group, the developer's New York-based parent company, said it is considering selling the site after receiving "several unsolicited inquiries."

"We are considering all of our options moving forward, as we continue our predevelopment activity," the firm said in a statement supplied by an outside public relations firm. "We appreciate all the support we have received from the Baltimore community."

Lightstone, which is one of the largest privately owned real estate firms in the country, has focused on the hotel industry and New York market in recent years, according to its website.

The firm declined to comment on the status of its Baltimore-based subsidiary, Paragon Outlet Partners, which had spearheaded the plans in White Marsh. Paragon appears to be disbanding.

Paragon moved out of its Baltimore offices at the end of December, according to a security guard at the Redwood Street building.

Four former employees, including R. Kelvin Antill, the development partner working on the White Marsh outlets, said they no longer work for Paragon. Paragon's vice president of leasing, Michele Dawson, said the company no longer exists, but she declined to comment further.

Mark Millman, president and CEO of Millman Search Group, a nationwide retail consulting and executive search firm, said Paragon disbanded after Lightstone decided to refocus away from outlet mall development.

"I'm getting resumes" from the people who were part of Paragon, he said.

Founded by former executives from Prime Outlets, Paragon developed a handful of outlet malls around the country, including in Orlando, Fla.; Eagan, Minn.; Livermore Valley, Calif.; and Grand Prairie, Texas. It also had projects in development near Detroit and Houston.

Paragon started pursuing an outlet mall near Interstate 95 and Route 43 in 2014, drawing opposition from some residents and nearby White Marsh Mall. The fight led to a lawsuit, zoning battle and a referendum last year. More than 58 percent of voters cast ballots in favor of the zoning bill that would allow the outlets to proceed.

G. Macy Nelson, the land-use and environmental attorney who represented residents opposed to the project, said he has seen developers walk away from deals after protracted fights before and no longer finds it surprising.

Still, he said, "I'll be shocked to hear it after all the effort they've gone through."

Officials in Baltimore County's economic development agency have not received an update, said Ellen Kobler, a spokeswoman for County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, who had supported the plans.

County Councilwoman Cathy Bevins, who sponsored rezoning to allow the project, said she was surprised and saddened, but proud of the work that had gone into the planning, including negotiations about stormwater and developer contributions to a new ramp to access the site.

Paragon had not locked in the number of tenants the firm wanted to move forward, Bevins said, noting the difficulties many brick-and-mortar stores are facing as consumers shop more online. Bevins said she hopes to see retail on the site eventually.

"The project, I don't think, is dead in the water," she said. "There are a lot of balls in the air right now, and I'm going to work with whoever wants to develop that property."

Heather Patti, a White Marsh resident who opposed the project and is president of the White Marsh-Cowenton Community Association, said she was "amazed" at the news.

"I'm not sure if it's a win or a loss," she said. "I just will be interested to know what's going to happen with that property."

Millman said White Marsh is still a good spot for an outlet mall, which could pique the interest of other developers.

"I think it's a viable project. … It would be very profitable to have a major outlet center that close to Baltimore," he said. "That's down the road."

nsherman@baltsun.com

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