Target Stores, the country's third-biggest discount chain, has signed contracts for five store sites in the Baltimore region and four in the Washington area, said people familiar with its operations. The tracts range from Fredericksburg, Va., to Bel Air.
The Minneapolis-based retailer is close to striking deals on several other local sites for its cavernous, one-level department stores, sources said. Target stores cover from 90,000 to 125,000 square feet.
As previously reported, Target intends to open as many as 40 stores in the Baltimore/Washington corridor by the end of the decade.
The company, represented by real estate brokers Hicks & Rotner Associates Inc. of Towson, has been eyeing the area for more than a year.
Local merchants consider Target perhaps the most significant Baltimore retail arrival since Wal-Mart and Home Depot entered several years ago.
The site agreements -- mostly contracts to buy land -- demonstrate Target's progress so far in a region notoriously scarce in good locations for big stores.
And they show where the powerful retailer intends to initially train its fire on Wal-Mart, Kmart and other dry-goods rivals.
The contracts don't guarantee that stores will open. Deals could fall through if civic authorities don't approve. Big retailers across the country have met opposition in recent years from nearby residents with traffic concerns and other objections.
Indeed, one of Target's signed sites is an Owings Mills tract that was considered and then abandoned by Wal-Mart Stores Inc. after neighbors organized a vocal protest. The same group has objected to the Target project. The plot is on Reisterstown Road at Featherbed Lane.
"We're going to do everything we can to oppose it," Joseph Little, the group's co-chairman, said yesterday. "The problem isn't Target per se. The problem for us is traffic."
However, a source close to Target who requested anonymity expressed optimism that the chain will have 10 stores open in Baltimore/Washington a year from now and 20 by the end of 1996. A Target spokeswoman confirmed that the retailer is pursuing local real estate deals but declined to discuss locations.
In addition to the Owings Mills property, Target has agreed to build stores on these sites:
* On Route 24 next to the Bel Air Plaza shopping center in Bel Air. Elizabeth Carven, community development administrator, said the town council recently approved the site.
* On Route 140 in Westminster on property now controlled by the neighboring Church of the Open Door. Church lawyer Charles M. Preston declined to confirm Target's interest. But he said the church has a contract to buy 100 acres now owned by Westminster Nurseries Inc.
L * Next to a Hechinger store on Merritt Boulevard in Dundalk.
* Near where Crain Highway and New Cut Road meetin Glen Burnie.
Target is also mulling a location in the planned Nottingham Square shopping center in White Marsh. "They are talking to us, but that's as far as it's gotten," said J. Joseph Credit, vice president of center developer Nottingham Properties Inc.
The retailer is considering putting a store on the bottom level of former R.H. Macy building in Hunt Valley Mall in Cockeysville, knowledgeable sources said. In addition, Target has previously been mentioned by Bethesda developer Opus East as a possible anchor for Opus' planned Long Gate Shopping Center at Route 29 and Route 100 in Ellicott City.
Opus officials did not return a phone call yesterday.
Besides the Baltimore sites, Target has signed contracts in Largo, Waldorf, Fredericksburg, Va. and Burke, Va., a knowledgeable source said.
Target also might open a 1.4 million-square-foot warehouse in Maryland which would employ 300 and serve the local stores.
The company has narrowed its search for warehouse sites to a plot in Hagerstown and two sites in central Virginia, said Target spokeswoman Carolyn Brookter.