Sewage plant expansion key to enlarging Harford Hecht's


With plans afoot to expand a sewage-pumping station that serves the commercial district along U.S. 1 in Bel Air, the Harford Mall owners appear headed toward an agreement that would enlarge the mall's Hecht Co. anchor.

Officials with BTR Realty Inc., which owns and manages the mall, are to meet early next month with representatives of the Arlington, Va.-based Hecht Co., to continue negotiations.

The Hecht Co. operates 16 stores in Maryland and others in Virginia and the District of Columbia. BTR also operates four strip shopping centers in Maryland, as well as shopping centers in Arizona, New York and Virginia.

F. Patrick Hughes, BTR's president, said tentative plans are to add as much as 50,000 square feet to the Bel Air Hecht's store, which now occupies about 100,000 square feet. "It's been a very successful store for them," Hughes said.

Last year, Harford Mall, Harford County's largest enclosed shopping center, added a new wing and a food court, as well as more modern architectural features, all at a cost of about $5 million.

The single-story mall now covers 550,000 square feet and has about 65 stores and eight stalls in its food court.

"We wanted to bring the mall into the 1990s," Hughes said. Neon lights, skylights, new store fronts and other amenities spruced up the 18-year-old mall.

Planners with the town of Bel Air and Harford County expect the pumping station expansion question to be resolved in the next month. Because far more sewage was being produced than the pumping station could handle, the county last year imposed a moratorium on new sewage hookups. That meant any work at Harford Mall or nearby had to wait. Other nearby shopping centers, including Bel Air Plaza, also have discussed expansion plans.

Carol Deibel, a planner for the town of Bel Air, said a $1 million expansion that will double the capacity of the pumping station should be completed in 12 to 18 months. The county is to foot the bill initially, then recoup the cost through surcharges on new hookups.

Deibel added that she is working with BTR to ensure that there is adequate parking for any expansion, which would be built out onto the existing lot that surrounds the mall.

"They are just meeting their parking requirements now," she said. That may mean that BTR would have to consider building a multistory parking deck. The town requires that retail outlets have at least one parking space for every 200 square feet, which means the mall might have to add as many as 250 additional spaces.

Expansion of the Hecht's store in Harford would come despite other area expansions by the Hecht Co. Hecht's Towson store recently completed a 40,000-square-foot addition. The company also plans to move into the old Hutzler's space at White Marsh Town Center, in eastern Baltimore County, by the end of next year.

Hecht's spokeswoman Peggy Disney said the company felt that sales at the Bel Air store would be strong enough to support an expansion.

The Bel Air Hecht's expansion would be built at ground level, but there are discussions of eventually adding a second floor to preserve parking space, she said.

In addition to the planned expansion of the Bel Air Hecht's, BTR is considering adding another anchor store at Harford Mall and even more retail space.

Last year, BTR officials said a 300,000-square-foot expansion was being planned. "We're still pursuing that," Hughes said, adding that a construction schedule had not been established.

The mall also hosts community meetings, fund-raisers and the like.

"We're the community center for Harford County," Hughes said. "We really want to be the focal point. That should translate to sales."

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