Cecil County's newest and by far its biggest shopping mall is scheduled to open near North East late next year. The Maryland I-95 International Mega Mall is expected to house more than 500 stores selling equipment ranging from cell phones to bulldozers.
Unlike most malls, the mega mall will limit its products to those manufactured in China, South Korea and other Pacific Rim countries, according to King Mark, an executive with ATEC Holdings Inc., a Baltimore-based company involved with the project.
"Our main business will be wholesale," said Mark, director of construction and land acquisition. "It will primarily be a business-to-business operation, but we will also sell retail. We will welcome individuals who walk in off the street. They don't have to be wholesale buyers."
He said individual consumers could buy at the wholesale price, but he cautioned that many of the stores may not have a large inventory and they would not sell their sample product.
Lawrence F. Haislip, a lawyer with Miles & Stockbridge who is working with the company, said, "The mega mall would be like the Towson Town mall except the stores would be smaller."
He said most companies would have a 20-foot-by-20-foot store from which to display their products, but some companies might purchase three or more booths to have larger selling spaces.
Jason C.H. Wang, chief executive of ATEC, which is on Baltimore National Pike near Westview Mall, said the mega mall would serve as the U.S. base of operation for small to medium-size Asian companies wanting to tap into the North American market.
By grouping a large number of companies into one facility, he said, it will make it considerably less expensive for the companies to gain access to the market here.
Wang said the mega mall is expected to draw wholesale buyers from a radius of 700 miles, a region that takes in parts of Canada and about a third of the United States.
He said the mega mall will be developed by Mid-Atlantic Asian Products Distribution Outlet Center, a partnership unit of ATEC that is composed of about 50 individual investors, most of them from Maryland and other East Coast states. ATEC identifies itself as a private company that seeks to promote the sale of Asian products in the United States and the sale of U.S. products in Asia.
The mega mall will cost $150 million and is expected to generate about 1,500 jobs.
It is also expected to have a significant economic impact on a part of the state where many residents have to leave the county to find work.
"It's an exciting project," said W. Paul Gilbert, Cecil County's director of economic development. "It will bring a lot of new business to that part of the county. It will lure wholesale buyers from the entire eastern third of the country and these people will be spending money in the region. They will be eating at restaurants and staying at hotels."
The port of Baltimore is also expected to benefit. "It will increase imports as well as exports," said Cynthia Burman, a business development and customer service representative with the Maryland Port Administration. "All of their volume will move through the port of Baltimore.
"It will mean more business for ocean carriers calling on Baltimore," she said.
Burman added: "It could mean more carriers calling on Baltimore. More business for trucking companies serving the port, and more business for warehouses at the port and for the terminal operators that work the vessels."
Wang said the mega mall is being patterned after a similar operation that ATEC opened in Shanghai in 1992. He said that facility houses about 500 U.S. companies, including some industry giants like General Motors Corp. and Boeing Co., that sell products in that part of the world.
At North East, the company has a contract to purchase a 385,000-square-foot building in North East Commerce Center, near Interstate 95 and Route 272, that was previously used by Fleming Foods.
The plan is to convert the structure into a two-story building and add an attached parking garage.
Mark said the stores would be on the first floor, with offices above.
He said customers would walk into the first floor to view the merchandise. After making a decision, they would go upstairs to place their orders. They could purchase a single item such as a dress shirt or order 10,000 or more shirts.
He said that stores will display a wide variety of equipment, including computers, furniture, carpet, shoes, auto parts, textiles, leather goods, hardware, sports equipment, books, art, toys and jewelry.
The Asian Mega Mall may prove to be the start of a much larger wholesale and retail operation in the county.
The company has plans for two other malls that it hopes to locate in the same area.
A second mall would serve as a European center, featuring businesses from that part of the world seeking to tap into the North American market.
"This is just a dream at this time," said Mark, but if things go as planned the second mall would open by the end of 2006.
A third mall is targeted to open two years later. It would feature companies from Latin America and Africa.