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The shopping area at the Village of Cross Keys is shown in this file photo.
The shopping area at the Village of Cross Keys is shown in this file photo. (Barbara Haddock Taylor, Baltimore Sun)

The troubled Village of Cross Keys could be sold to a local developer who has begun floating a plan to refurbish the North Baltimore mixed-use center and bring in amenities such as a grocery store, a restaurant, a gym, a spa and several hundred new apartments.

Towson-based Caves Valley Partners is negotiating to acquire the center from owner Ashkenazy Acquisitions Corp., a New York real estate firm that also owns downtown Baltimore’s Harborplace, which was placed in court-ordered receivership in May after Ashkenazy defaulted on its loan for the property.

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Arsh Miriman, a partner with Caves Valley, outlined the plans during a recent meeting of the Roland Park Civic League.

“The enthusiasm came out loud and clear from the crowd” of Roland Park and Cross Keys residents, said Anne Stuzin, the civic league’s first vice president. “The fact that it was a local developer, someone from Baltimore, really went a long way as far as reassurance to everyone there would be local involvement with this potential project.”

The firm has developed several projects in the Baltimore region. And it has worked on several buildings in Baltimore, including the city’s Cross Street Market, the Horseshoe Casino, and the office and apartment project Stadium Square, all in South Baltimore.

Councilwoman Sharon Green Middleton, who represents the area, said she was optimistic about a deal with a local developer who could help revitalize Cross Keys.

“I think it’s a wonderful idea,” she said. “Residents have consistently expressed their concern, particularly in the last five years, as some of those longtime businesses started to leave because of the deterioration or the higher rents of the property. Revitalization of Cross Keys will definitely attract people to come and live in the area as well as shop."

Middleton said she was particularly pleased that the potential new owner is local and understands the area. She also was encouraged the developer already has begun seeking neighborhood input.

She said she supported the ideas of a grocery store, which she thought would be a specialized type of market, and an apartment building providing more rental options. She said there are other apartment projects nearby and together they will fill a need.

The civic league’s meeting with potential new Cross Keys owners was part of a process in which the group weighs in on any commercial development that could affect residents, Stuzin said.

Miriman, who said at the meeting that he would not talk to the media, has not responded to requests for comment.

Plans discussed with the civic league include adding a grocery store and other retail, such as a restaurant, a spa and a gym to complement current tenants such as Williams Sonoma, Village Square Cafe and The Pied Piper children’s store.

New construction could include a five-story apartment building on an existing parking lot and new office space to replace one of two aging office buildings at the southern end of the community.

The focus on local services, such as a specialty grocer and fitness club, could work well at Cross Keys, which has seen increased competition from nearby upscale shopping centers, according to Michael Berne, a retail consultant with MJB Consulting.

“It might not be the most creative or sexy approach, [but] repositioning the retail mix there to focus primarily on daily needs and commodities for a more local trade area does make sense,” Berne said.

Some merchants at the center had heard previously that Caves Valley might be in negotiations to buy the center, and that a deal could be reached within months. Meeting attendees were told the deal could be finalized by spring.

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“I think it would be wonderful,” said Betty Cooke, the owner of The Store Ltd., a longtime tenant among a dwindling group of boutiques, galleries and national retailers, who did not attend the Roland Park meeting. “They’re local. They know the kind of thing Cross Keys was and could be. They know the feeling of it and the importance of it as a small center.”

Cross Keys was part of an experimental planned community by The Rouse Co. in 1965 and has a loyal local following in North Baltimore.

Ashkenazy acquired it in 2012, when the New York developer also acquired the Rouse-developed Harborplace. But eight years after that acquisition, both properties have struggled with financial problems, high vacancies and dissatisfied tenants.

Amy Gold, a women’s clothing buyer at The Store Ltd. for more than a decade and a Cross Keys resident, said she was impressed with Caves Valley’s preliminary plans to refurbish the retail area and offices above it, as well as hearing that the developer would try to attract and work with independent retailers as they build their businesses.

“I feel very hopeful,” Gold said. “I feel hopeful as an owner of an apartment and I feel hopeful as a retail participant.”

Middleton said the developers pledged regular meetings.

Ashkenazy, she said, has frustrated the community.

“We have a feeling they’ve kicked Baltimore to the curb,” she said. “I’ve not received any negative feedback from any resident — not wanting this project to move forward.”

Stuzin noted that the sale hasn’t closed and that there weren’t any renderings to judge, but residents were glad to have a chance to see what might come to the neighborhood.

“You heard words like ‘gem,’” she said. “And people would like the luster back on the gem.”

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