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Baltimore County residents demand Security Square Mall improvements

The Security Square Mall is a shadow of its former self, Woodlawn residents say. A new task force formed by the Randallstown NAACP hopes to change that.

The mall, built in 1972, contains more than 100 stores and restaurants, including Macy’s and So Home Furniture as anchors. But with major retailers and eateries closing their locations, including Sears in 2019 and Bennigan’s and IHOP in the early 2000s, the mall has struggled to attract large numbers of shoppers.

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“We’ve always had people wanting this mall property to be much better,” said Benjamin Bard, the mall’s general manager for owner Security Square Holding LLC. “Everybody does. I mean, nobody wants it to be nicer than I do. "

Efforts to revitalize the mall aren’t new — in 2017, developer David S. Brown Enterprises spoke at a community meeting about turning the mall into a mixed-use center, with offices, retail, a hotel and residences. It’s unclear what became of these plans, and representatives from the group couldn’t be reached for comment.

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While Security Square Holding owns most of the mall, but other pieces are owned by several groups, including Macy’s, Sears, Security Wards LLC and Set the Captives Free — a nondenominational church that purchased 160,000 square feet in 2018 to develop a community Outreach, Worship and Education Center. Those owners did not respond to requests for comment.

Bard said the No. 1 barrier to redevelopment is getting all of the ownership groups on the same page. The mall has been working on improvements with Set the Captives Free but has had trouble reaching owners like Sears, which left its property vacant.

“There are just many little issues where one owner is not happy with what we’re doing,” Bard said.

The lack of clarity about development efforts at the mall is exactly what Danielle Singley is hoping to combat. Singley, chair of the Randallstown NAACP task force focused on revitalizing the mall, said elected officials need to work with the mall’s owners on behalf of constituents.

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“We’re looking for transparency to find out what really is it that has been holding up this process,” Singley said. “They’re not accessible to us, to the community. But we know that the government has access to them.”

Sean Naron, spokesman for Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr., said in an email that the county is working with community members to ensure the mall’s long-term success.

“The County is actively renewing our investment at Security Square, opening a new state-of-the-art health center in partnership with Set the Captives Free and affirming our commitment to the revitalization of the site,” Naron wrote.

The task force’s first major community event was a walk around the mall complex Monday evening. The event drew over a hundred people, including community members and elected officials. Singley said the main goal was to raise awareness about the mall’s current state, with empty parking lots filled with potholes.

“We wanted to make sure everyone who has a key part here saw it,” Singley said. “So no one can use the excuse that ‘you didn’t know, you didn’t see it.’ We’re showing it to you. Now what are you going to do?”

Woodlawn residents want higher-end retailers, rather than more fast-food establishments or convenience stores.

“We don’t need any more of that around here,” said Denise King, 55, who lives nearby.

Danielle Singley, the chair of a Randallstown NAACP task force dedicated to revitalizing Security Mall, leads chants in front of a crowd of community members marching around Security Square Mall on Monday.
Danielle Singley, the chair of a Randallstown NAACP task force dedicated to revitalizing Security Mall, leads chants in front of a crowd of community members marching around Security Square Mall on Monday. (Lizzy Lawrence/Baltimore Sun)

The walk took place in the wake of a shooting outside Security Square last month. Baltimore police fatally shot a man outside the mall on July 13 after he shot and injured two officers who were trying to arrest him on a homicide-related warrant. Following the shooting, the Randallstown NAACP called for enhanced security and camera installations around the mall.

The group began Monday’s rally outside the former Bennigan’s, which has been vacant for 20 years, to hear remarks from community leaders.

Sen. Charles Sydnor III, a Democrat representing Baltimore County, said that after years of waiting for the mall’s owners to take action, now is the time to fight.

“The community is tired of having to go outside of this community and spending money when it wants to spend its money right here,” Sydnor said.

Singley said this issue is personal for her. She came to the mall to sit on Santa Claus’ lap as a little girl, and celebrated dance recitals at Bennigan’s. Towson, an affluent neighborhood of Baltimore County, garners much more attention, she said.

“I work in Towson,” Singley said. “It is hard for me to work in Towson every day and see beautification efforts happening there and not happening in my own backyard.”

The median household income in Towson was $88,786 in 2019 and $68,623 in Woodlawn that year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Steven Isberg, a retail industry expert and Towson University professor, said developers are drawn to areas with high-income levels. And, he said, owners won’t invest in their facilities unless there’s opportunities for cash flow.

“Business investors do not develop for the sake of the community, they develop for the sake of the money,” Isberg said. “And that’s pretty evident as you look around. So it’s a tough problem to solve.”

Singley said she’s fed up with the lack of investment in the mall, especially considering that residents are more than willing to spend their money. Right now, many residents do their shopping at malls in Howard County or in Towson, she added.

“We’re home to a thriving Black middle class,” Singley said. “That is something we should be proud of. But this is what we have to deal with.”

A crowd chants “build it up before 2030” outside the Security Square Mall at a community walk on Monday, aiming to draw attention to the lack of investment in the mall. August 2, 2021
A crowd chants “build it up before 2030” outside the Security Square Mall at a community walk on Monday, aiming to draw attention to the lack of investment in the mall. August 2, 2021 (Lizzy Lawrence/Baltimore Sun)
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