The new owner of the Shops at Kenilworth wants to knock out the walls to revitalize the aging neighborhood shopping center with more windows, more places to eat and a rooftop terrace to help boost sales.
But the $20 million in changes aren't meant to alter the flavor of the small Towson mall, known for summer movies and holiday trains, easy in-and-out trips and longtime local tenants.
"We'll do all the stuff that we've always done, but it's going to have a more sleek, contemporary look," said Brian Gibbons, chairman and CEO of Greenberg Gibbons, which took a stake in the property in July and expects to close on the full property in April, a deal valuing the center at roughly $25 million.
The 142,000-square-foot mall opened in Towson in 1978 and now boasts about 25 stores, anchored on one end by the Stebbins Anderson home store and on the other by Jos. A Bank Clothiers.
Kenilworth Limited Partners of Cincinnati, which became part owner of the mall in 1989 and acquired the whole thing in 1994, spent $3 million on renovation in 2008.
Greenberg Gibbons' plans are grander. Designs show a new, recessed entrance facing Kenilworth Drive, carving about 8,000 square feet from the current boxy footprint, with outdoor seating, landscaping and windows in new stores.
On the western side of the building, the Owings Mills-based developer would build a 20,000-square foot "marketplace," where Gibbons said the firm wants to have a mix of dining options, such as a full-service restaurant and perhaps a place where a shopper could nosh on tapas and get a bottle of wine to go.
The interior would also get refreshed.
Greenberg Gibbons plans to seek permits in the coming weeks, with the hope of starting work in late spring and finishing the project in mid-2017, Gibbons said. The renovation would be completed in phases, starting with the new entrance, and the mall would remain open throughout the construction.
"It's a great location with great surrounding demographics," he said. "We thought it was really underperforming because it hasn't received enough tender loving care."
Dwarfed by the 1.05-million-square-foot Towson Town Center just up the road, the Shops at Kenilworth are closer in size to Belvedere Square, which has about 110,000 square feet. Gibbons said the new marketplace is supposed to channel some of Belvedere's vibe, creating a place where people can linger and eat.
Gibbons declined to discuss the center's sales, except to say that they are "strong."
Greenberg Gibbons' other projects include the Hunt Valley Towne Centre, Foundry Row and Waugh Chapel Towne Centre in Gambrills.
Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz said in a statement that the firm's investment in Kenilworth speaks to Towson's growth, calling it "terrific news."
"Having them bring their expertise to this very familiar location is just one more example that it is indeed Towson's time," he said.
Tom Maddux, principal at KLNB, said additional food options should help boost visitors, and sales, while the design changes are in keeping with current trends.
"You energize the property by letting people see in and out and making it feel more accessible," he said.
Mark Millman, CEO of the retail consulting firm Millman Search Group, said the wealthy surrounding neighborhoods call for something more upscale.
"I think that's where they want to focus it, on a good upscale boutique mall that has good food, good merchants, a good mix of products," said Millman, who has worked with a number of the property's tenants. "It's needed work, major work, for a long time and I'm glad that Greenberg Gibbons has stepped up to the plate."
The plans show the home improvement store Stebbins Anderson consolidating onto one floor, a move that would reduce some of the shop's furniture and hardware offerings.
The move opens space for a new, perhaps national brand, Gibbons said. There are also roughly 8,000 square feet vacant elsewhere in the mall, which they hope to fill with smaller specialty stores. He said no new tenants have been confirmed.
"From our perspective, this is a slice of Baltimore," he said. "We think part of its success is the quaint nature of it."
Ken Knight, Stebbins Anderson vice president and general manager, said he had been considering a consolidation for several years, as sales have not grown since the recession amid increased Internet shopping by consumers.
"We have been in the same two-story format in the mall since 1978 when the Kenilworth mall was constructed, so it only makes sense that we make some changes," he said. "I do not want to see Stebbins fall by the wayside as so many other stores have fallen."
Knight said he and others are excited about the plans.
"It's like a whole new mall," he said.