The merchants at Mondawmin Mall in West Baltimore are apparently fed up after a wave of crime, including an armed robbery of a jewelry store in the middle of the day. Some gave up sales to shutter their doors in protest last week to try to get the attention of city officials and the property’s owners. We hope the red alert worked.
Mondawmin Mall is no Harbor East or Rodeo Drive with its hodgepodge of independent sneakers stores and low-priced clothing establishments, but it is an important retail anchor in a part of the city sorely lacking in other amenities.
The neglect of the mall is unacceptable and shameful, and not fair to the residents of the surrounding neighborhoods who want a safe place to shop just like everyone else. What shopper in their right mind is going to risk a trip to a mall where armed bandits are running around freely with people milling about? If employees say they fear for their lives, and hired security is scared to do their jobs as merchants contend, how are shoppers supposed to feel?
The city and Brookfield Properties need to make it a priority to improve the conditions at the mall, which ironically was once highly celebrated as being ahead of its time as the city’s first two-story enclosed shopping center. Clean up the crime and spruce up the building because it would be a major failure if it were ever to close. Nobody has proposed such drastic measures yet, but the mall needs to be better maintained to attract people and remain viable in a retail environment that favors internet shopping over bricks and mortar.
Not so long ago, city officials viewed the mall as an asset and showed support for bringing new development beyond the bounds of the Inner Harbor and downtown. They launched a $70 million revitalization effort at Mondawmin in 2006 that included the highly celebrated opening of a Target store. They threw in $15,000 in tax incentives as a cherry on top. A Marshalls, TGI Fridays and other retailers soon followed, and the project was looked at as a huge success story by city officials.
Now, the building that once housed Target remains a large, highly visible hunk of emptiness and a symbol of the mall’s recent struggles. The retailer never publicly said why it left last year after more than a decade, but city officials have said sales weren’t high enough and there was talk of high theft rates. No matter the reason, the loss of the store seemed to have dulled the excitement the past improvements had sparked. Other closings followed, including a Rite Aid drug store and a Marshall’s, although it was replaced by a Planet Fitness gym. Not helping matters have been numerous burglaries at the mall, including that of a Forever 21 and Denim Boutique over the summer. In another incident, an SUV drove into the window of a children’s clothing store and looted it of merchandise. Forever 21 recently declared bankruptcy, and with it comes the possibility that Mondawmin could lose another major anchor.
At first there was outrage over the Target closing and a quickly gathered community meeting where public officials and the Baltimore Development Corp. expressed displeasure about the retail void Target’s absence would create. Residents, not just from surrounding neighborhoods, but other areas of the city, lamented about having to go the suburbs once again to shop. They begged city leaders to save their store. Former Mayor Catherine Pugh spoke of grand plans to replace the popular retailer with movie theater using an investment from Goldman Sachs. So far, nothing has happened.
Ms. Pugh is no longer in office after resigning amid controversy over the questionable sale of children’s books she authored. No one else has stepped forward and publicly released any plans about the potential future of Mondawmin.
We need city officials to find the momentum and interest that prompted improvements at Mondawmin a decade ago. Though not ideal, they could use the recent burglaries as a catalyst for change. Turn a negative into a positive. With the right tenant mix the mall still has the potential to attract customers, not just from West Baltimore, but from Charles Village, Hampden, Roland Park and other areas of the city. It could even attract residents from parts of Baltimore County that border the northern parts of the city. Target proved people would come from all over if given a place to shop.