No new leases have been announced for Town Centre Laurel — the development that is planned for the site where Laurel Mall once stood — but agreements with tenants already announced have been officially finalized, and the project is said to be on track.
The developers of the $130 million project gave City Council members an update at the meeting on Monday night, May 13. Officials with Greenberg Gibbons Commercial, the project's lead developer, said asbestos removal and the demolition work of the existing structure went as planned. City officials were told that actual site work will begin soon.
"We're going to start with the new grading at the site next week," said Thomas Fitzpatrick, GGC's executive vice president.
Construction on the first phase of the open-air, pedestrian-friendly town center, which consists of 100,000-square-feet of space, will begin next month, and the existing Burlington Coat Factory building will be demolished in July.
Originally, Burlington was to remain open through construction of the first phase of the project, and then moved from its location on Cherry Lane to a new space in the town center. But to the surprise of officials and many residents, the store closed April 30.
"It had to close for us to bring the site together. We needed to get the building pads, the footprint, for Harris Teeter delivered by this fall, so they (Burlington) needed to be closed for that to happen," Fitzpatrick said. "They will reopen April 2014."
Next April is also the projected date for the first phase of the town center to open.
City Council President Fred Smalls said that although he was surprised to see Burlington close without a lot of fanfare, it is a good sign for the project overall.
"It signals that the project is aggressively moving forward, and that's what we want to see," Smalls said. "Now, they can focus on the full project, and this will speed it up."
City Council member Mike Leszcz was also glad to see Burlington's closure moved up and said, "Getting all the buildings down seems the most efficient way to do it."
Some leases in hand
The entire project will encompass 400,000 square feet of space with a mixture of retail, office, dining, entertainment and residential units. Council members were told that the second phase of the retail component of the project will be completed by October 2014, with the upscale rental units available in March 2016.
"We're making great progress, and hopefully, we will be able to cut the ribbon (on the first phase) within a year," Fitzpatrick said this week.
In a news release, Laurel Mayor Craig Moe, who in the past expressed frustration over the lack of progress on the project when the lead developers were co-owners Somera Capital Management and AEW Capital Management, said "I'm excited that construction on Town Centre Laurel is starting so soon and looking forward to the…economic benefits it will bring to Laurel."
Fitzpatrick estimated that during the construction phase of the project, 2,000 construction jobs will be generated, and 1,000 permanent jobs will be created when Town Centre Laurel is completed.
In terms of tenants for the redeveloped site, mall officials said fully executed leases are now in hand for a 49,000-square-foot Harris Teeter grocery store; a more than 33,000-square-foot Sports Authority sporting goods store; a 12-screen, state-of-the-art Regal Cinemas theater; and nearly 65,000-square-feet of space for Burlington Coat Factory.
"Our high-quality anchors will help attract more top-notch retailers and restaurants to a deserving community," said Brian Gibbons, GGC's CEO.
Residents and city officials have been patiently waiting to hear of new leases, but Fitzpatrick said that probably will not happen until this summer.
"We can't release the names of any (new tenants) at this time but the mall is being well received," Fitzpatrick said.
The International Council of Shopping Centers convention is in Las Vegas later this month, and Fitzpatrick said they will attend to woo potential tenants.
Although Smalls questioned GGC officials about the leasing issue, he said he is not concerned that more retail tenants have not been named.
"I think they have commitments but they are not ready to release who they are. We're (council members) not privy any more than the general public, but I'm not worried that we won't get what the community deserves, and that is high-quality stores and restaurants."
By high-quality, Smalls said he means fine-dining restaurants and high-end clothing stores.
"I want to see a high-quality men's store and restaurants with white tablecloths. There's nothing wrong with family restaurants, but I'd like to see more fine-dining in my neighborhood," Smalls said. "I have no doubt they'll deliver."
Neither does Matthew Coates, chairman of the Laurel Board of Trade.
"I'm not worried at all about them getting tenants," Coates said. "They probably have retailers in line that they just can't announce until they have everything in place."
GGC officials are confident the town center will be a success and point to their track record with rehabilitating deteriorating or closed mall sites as evidence of their ability to do just that. The company redeveloped the Hunt Valley Towne Centre and the Annapolis Towne Centre, and turned them into thriving open-air shopping centers — similar to what they plan to build at the Laurel site.
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Last year, they opened the Waugh Chapel Centre in Crofton, which Laurel city officials visited to get a better idea of the type of shopping center they have in store for the Route 1 mall site.
"Our town center will look just like that, with the same types of stores, but just on a smaller scale," Smalls said.
One thing Smalls did reiterate with the developers is the city's commitment to have minority, women and local subcontractors used whenever appropriate as work on the project progresses. Last year, he introduced legislation to that effect that the council passed.
"I want to make sure they use minority- and women-owned businesses in terms of subcontractors to do some of the finishing work like dry walling, flooring and things like that," Smalls said. "That's been on the table before, so I think when it's all said and done, everything will work out and we will have a good mall."
In an effort to make Town Centre Laurel pedestrian-friendly, plans call for bicycle racks and Zipcars to encourage people to use fewer cars and other vehicles to get to the town center, which developers said will have a walkable Main Street design.
GGC officials said they continue to be enthusiastic about the progression of the project.
"It's a perfect project in a city that needed something there, and we're glad to provide it," Fitzpatrick said.