Reinventing Wilde Lake the aim

The Baltimore Sun

A new grocery store anchor for Wilde Lake is not viable, so re- inventing the space as a mixed-used development with residences, offices and retail is the best way to make the village center successful for another 30 years, its landlord said this week.

"How do we create a place that's special and vibrant and different from what we already have?" asked Geoffrey Glazer, vice president of acquisitions and development for the mid-Atlantic region of Kimco Realty Corp. "We're trying to make this a very festive place [where] people want to gather."

Kimco, which owns the village center, envisions a project that will cost at least $40 million, featuring high-end rental housing that appeals to empty-nesters and young professionals, in multistory buildings with 125 units each, and underground parking.

The earliest the project could get under way would be late next year or early in 2010, Glazer told a meeting of the Wilde Lake Village Board on Monday night.

The revitalized center calls for about 50,000 square feet of retail and office space, compared with 95,000 square feet now, Glazer said. And notably missing would be the anchor grocery store that merchants, residents and a position paper drafted by the village board have identified as crucial to the center's success.

"No large, national grocery retailer is interested," Glazer said. "I don't want to beat around the bush here."

Grocery stores, which average 50,000 square feet these days, are far larger than the footprint of the former Giant store that left in September 2006, he said. When stores are that large, there can be only so many before the market is saturated, he said.

Produce Galore, a specialty grocery store and deli, closed Friday after 33 years in the village center.

Three grocery stores have opened or are planned in east Columbia. A Trader Joe's recently opened at Gateway Overlook; Harris Teeter is scheduled to open in Kings Contrivance in May; and a two-story Wegmans is planned at Snowden River Parkway and McGaw Road.

"I want a grocery store," said Shep Jeffreys of Wilde Lake. "I believe we need a grocery store. Do you believe that without an anchor store there will be enough traffic to support those pretty little awning stores that you have there?"

Glazer said that Kimco villages in Philadelphia have tenants that very successfully feed off one another without huge anchor stores.

"I've talked to all the food players," Glazer said of plans for Wilde Lake. "I'd love to get a food player. It just hasn't worked out."

The reinvented village center would feature outdoor cafes, a Main Street setting with highly visible storefronts, specialty stores and green space, he said.

"I love it," said Joyce Ardo of Wilde Lake. "I'm really excited about it. I'm moved by your commitment to the village center."

But in the crowd, which included many longtime residents and some merchants, not everyone was as comfortable with Kimco's proposal.

"I am not so excited about what I'm seeing," said Jay Bonstingl, who lives in the village. "It looks to me like you are going to turn the village center into a residential project. I don't see anything but some neat buildings for rich people."

In an interview later, Bonstingl asked: "Has everyone in Columbia lost the appetite for the human scale? It seems to me what he's really saying is, 'We're stuck with this plot of land, so we'll build residences and rent them out to rich people and turn what was a nice human-scale village center into one more residential tower."

Philip W. Kirsch, vice chairman of the Columbia Association representing Wilde Lake, said he was troubled by the drawings he saw.

"I want a very vibrant village center," he said. "When I look at your plans, I see an apartment complex. I don't see a village center."

Andy Solberg, who lives in Wilde Lake, said he hoped that developers would remember the original function of the village center as they move forward.

"The village center to us Columbians is a place where we can get basic services," he said. "I hope you will keep this in mind for those of us who live here. I hope it will not be just ice cream shops."

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