It sounded like a recession success story -- less than a year after construction was completed, amid central Maryland's worst economic climate in a decade, the Roberts Field Shopping Center along Route 30 here was more than 75 percent leased.
The 81,000-square-foot center, completed in April and owned by Columbia-based McGill Development Ltd., cost more than $8 million to build.
But despite having a major grocery, national hardware, video retailer, liquor store, pizza shop and six other enterprises under its farmhouse-inspired roof, Roberts Field's developers in July filed for protection under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.
McGill Development Co. -- considered one of the largest retail landlords in theBaltimore area -- also owns shopping centers in Bel Air and suburbanWashington. According to court records, McGill listed debts of $52.8million, owed primarily to Florida-based CrossLand Savings Bank and Towson-based Hicks and Rotner Associates Inc.
McGill Development Limited Partnership No. 4, which owns Roberts Field, listed $9.5 million in assets and $8.7 million in debts.
"McGill had a slow start-up as far as getting tenants," said Mitchell Stevan, the developer's Baltimore bankruptcy attorney who filed the papers in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Baltimore July 22.
"As a result, the interest charges to creditors accrued before they had the money to deal with them."
Chapter 11 gives McGill time to work out repayment agreements with its creditors. Its business can continue while it negotiates a settlement.
Despite the filing -- which has pared McGill's Columbia work force from 19 to two -- Roberts Field has become one of the town's most desirable retail addresses.
"The location is great," said Ann Summers, who with her husband, Frank, owns and operates Ace Hardware. "People can see us. They can see our sign from the main road."
Since opening their store on July 6, the couple have been pleased with the number of customers.
While the shopping center has received a number of new businesses, like Ace Hardware, established town merchants also have moved there. Some were once located in the failed Hampstead Village Shopping Center or on Main Street.
Hampstead Liquors ownerPatty McDade relocated after spending 10 years on Main Street, desiring a more convenient location.
"A lot of my customers were from the Roberts Field area, and when I heard that the shopping center was going to be built, I contacted the Realtor," she said.
McDade opened her store in the shopping center on May 24 and said she has no regrets.
In an interview before the bankruptcy filing, McGill Chairman Christopher Kurz said that overall, the shopping center has been successful in what many analysts are saying is a weak retail market. Hesaid he is positive about the future of the center and hopes to attract other merchants to occupy the nearly 20,000 square feet of vacantspace.
"We are very optimistic about the shopping center," said Kurz. "We feel that we have done very well so far, and our expectations are to fill the space no later than next spring."