Once a thriving mall in Woodlawn, Security Square Mall is now an “eyesore,” Baltimore County residents say. The Randallstown NAACP hopes its new report will spur local and state interest in revitalizing the beleaguered shopping center.
Built in 1972, the mall has lost several major retailers and eateries, including J.C. Penney in 2001, Sears in 2019, IHOP and Bennigan’s, said Ryan Coleman, president of the Randallstown NAACP.
“When [Bennigan’s] closed that’s when you started to see the mall deteriorate, then IHOP closed and then J.C. Penney closed and it really started a trickle-down effect downhill,” Coleman said.
The mall, located at the intersection of Interstate 70 and the Baltimore Beltway, has more than 100 stores and restaurants. Current anchors are Bayit Furniture, Burlington, Macy’s and Set the Captives Free Outreach Center — a nondenominational church that opened the state-of-the-art Woodlawn Health Center in July.
However, residents are concerned about the mall’s struggles to attract shoppers. Robert Beckett, a Woodlawn resident of 22 years, said it’s a “shame” to witness the decline of the mall throughout the years.
“I would like to see more upscale stores like the Macy’s,” Beckett said. “I also would like to see Sears at least make an attempt to come back because when you only have one store like Walmart, you don’t have much choices.”
In June, the Randallstown NAACP organized a task force on revitalization of the mall, Coleman said.
“A task force came into my mind of some local, state, community leaders to help push this process along. We got into the real work of first off trying to interface with the community, the owners and other people on what they envision at the mall,” he said.
The new report, Coleman said, is a “comprehensive” set of recommendations on enhancing the shopping experience for the community.
It evaluated topics such as pedestrian accessibility, redesigning the mall’s appearance, a circulator bus service and ways to integrate the mall with sites around the area.
“We looked across the street at the grocery stores, gas station and some of the hotels down the street. We want the planning department to not only look at Security Mall, but really come up with a plan for all of Woodlawn,” Coleman said.
The report also details two scenarios in terms of planning and design for the mall, Coleman said.
A preferred scenario mentions a mixed-use center that would include office, retail, hotel and residential space — something that was discussed in a 2017 community meeting by developer David S. Brown Enterprises.
“We envision it to be a main street with stores on the bottom, apartments and condos on the top, green space, and a plethora of different restaurants,” Coleman said.
A second scenario proposes an extension of the mall’s concourse for a new outdoor venue surrounded by terraces, fountains, theaters, bookstores and “dynamic” entertainment venues. The plan features office space, a hotel, multifamily housing, retail spaces and a performing arts amphitheater that would seat 300 people, according to the report.
“An amphitheater-like section where you can do small concerts, Christmas events, flea markets or different community events right there is what we envision it to be,” Coleman said.
Coleman said much time and effort went into identifying what residents, community leaders and elected officials thought would be feasible for the mall’s location.
“We reached out to all the owners, we reached out to the county executive, the department of planning and the County Council as well … so numerous trips to the mall, and looking at what we had,” Coleman said.
In August, Benjamin Bard, the mall’s general manager for owner Security Square Holding LLC, said the No. 1 barrier to redevelopment is getting all of the ownership groups on the same page.
“The owners of the various parts of the mall property need to stop squabbling over lawsuits and find common ground. The people deserve better,” said County Council member Tom Quirk, who represents Woodlawn residents in the 1st District.
State Del. Pat Young, who was born and raised in Catonsville, also said it needs to be a county, community and owner effort to start redeveloping the property.
“It’s an opportunity that needs to be thought of in a collaborative manner that the county has done in the past but hasn’t done recently,” Young said.
More specifically, Coleman said, the county government needs to lead the effort to revitalize the mall.
“If the owners don’t want to come on board, then the county is going to have to do what the county needs to do. If that’s downzoning it, if that’s eminent domain, or if that’s multiple citations … whatever they need to do, but we cannot have the mall look like that,” he said.
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The county is reviewing Randallstown NAACP’s report, said Sean Naron, a spokesperson for Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr., and is committed to working and finding solutions with the revitalization task force.
Last Saturday, Olszewski hosted a community cleanup at the mall with Maryland Speaker of the House Adrienne A. Jones, Randallstown NAACP members and community leaders. The event came amid the ongoing outcry for its revitalization.
Margaret Stokes, a legislative aide for Quirk, said everyone coming together will make a difference as the community awaits the mall’s redevelopment.
“It takes the community and it takes management together to make it happen,” Stokes said.
Jones said improvements to the mall are long overdue for the residents of Woodlawn.
“We’re working on it. But we can’t divulge what [our plans] are now ... in terms of improvements to this mall once and for all,” Jones said. “We want something that the community can have pride in and all I can tell you right now is ‘stay tuned.’”