It's All About Wegmans, Or Is It?
Developers experience déjà vu over the Wegmans proposal in Owings Mills.
About 10 years ago, Wegmans was set on opening a store at Texas Station in Cockeysville. But Baltimore County and area activists wanted to save the parcel Wegmans was after for the light industrial use for which it was zoned.
Wegmans’ senior vice president for real estate development, Ralph Uttaro, said the parcel was perfect – in a high-density, high-income residential area easily accessible by roads – and no other site met its needs, The Baltimore Sun reported in Sept. 2002.
Almost 10 years later, a similar debate is occurring, and a developer with a stake in the process said the community would be better served if Wegmans once again changed direction. Other developers and business owners who said they might be adversely affected agreed.
Just as before, Wegmans needs a site, the Solo Cup site on Reisterstown Road in this case, to be rezoned from manufacturing to commercial, and the plan for that Foundry Row development is drawing opposition from residents concerned about traffic and developers concerned about building a better retail corridor. Parallel developments are being proposed at the Owings Mills Mall and Metro Centre.
“We feel that the best location for us is Foundry Row and, therefore, have signed a long-term lease for that location,” read a letter to Baltimore County Council Chair Vicki Almond from Uttaro. “Regardless of whether or not zoning approvals are granted for the Foundry Row site, we will not locate a Wegmans store at Owings Mills Mall.”
Two other developers near Foundry Row—the development where the Wegmans store would be located—have complained that the project is incompatible with their plans. Those developers are Kimco and General Growth Properties, which are overseeing the Owings Mills Mall redevelopment and David S. Brown Enterprises, which is building the Metro Centre project.
Greenberg Gibbons Commercial is the developer working to redevelop the Solo Cup site with Wegmans and other retail.
Howard Brown, chairman of David S. Brown Enterprises, equates the current situation to the Texas Station situation, mostly because of infrastructure.
“The mall has the infrastructure in place,” he said. “They spent 100 or so million dollars on that infrastructure.”
The intersections by Solo Cup are failing, Brown said, and the 550,000 vacant square feet at the mall outweighs the 330,000 vacant square feet on Reisterstown Road.
Brown, who has been developing property along the Reisterstown Road corridor for decades, wants to preserve the shrinking manufacturing space in Owings Mills and see the county focus on the mall.
“The mall has been broken for many, many years and Owings Mills really needs the mall to be resuscitated, not as a mall but as some other use,” he said. “There are not enough retailers to support the mall and Solo Cup.”
Preserving the county’s shrinking manufacturing base is something officials brought up 10 years ago as well. Fronda Cohen, who was Baltimore County Economic Development’s marketing director at the time, told The Baltimore Sun the county wanted to preserve as much manufacturing land as possible.
As opposition remained, Wegmans warmed up to the idea of locating somewhere else in Baltimore County and withdrew its plans for Texas Station in early 2003, citing opposition from community and business groups, The Sun reported.
By April, a Wegmans spokesman told The Sun that the alternative Hunt Valley Town Centre concept was a “perfect backdrop” for the store. The 400,000 square-foot Hunt Valley mall was to be demolished and turned into a 330,000 square-foot open-air “Main Street” with high-end restaurants and shops, The Sun said.
Much like the Hunt Valley project, Kimco is working with mall owner General Growth Properties to demolish the nearly dead Owings Mills mall, keeping JCPenney and Macy’s on as anchors, and building an open-air town center with upscale cafés, restaurants and retailers.
But in Uttaro’s letter to Vicki Almond, he made it clear Wegmans is not interested.
“We have consistently maintained our stance that the Owings Mills mall property is not a desirable location for a Wegmans store,” his letter said.
Geoffrey Glazer, Kimco’s vice president of acquisitions and development for the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions, acknowledged that General Growth Properties was in talks with Wegmans before it signed on to Foundry Row. He echoed Brown's concerns, saying putting a Wegmans on Reisterstown Road will throw a wrench in redeveloping the mall.
“This is a retail development that somewhat out-positions the mall, and if you put big box retailers out on Reisterstown Road, it will have a dramatic impact on who can be attracted to come back to the mall,” he said.
Bruce Levine, director of commercial real estate at M. Leo Storch Management Corp., which operates the nearby Garrison Forest Shopping Center on Reisterstown Road, agreed. He said a Wegmans on Reisterstown Road would take business away from the smaller shops in the corridor, such as his tenants, and there isn’t enough residential development to justify adding so much retail at Solo Cup. For him, it also boils down to infrastructure.
“We already have gridlock on Reisterstown Road from 4 o’ clock on in both directions,” he said. “Widening in front of the Solo Cup plant for a block is not going to make that much of a difference.”
He said he fully supports the mall project.
“That [mall] was flourishing at one time,” he said. “Those dollars left the mall area and went to Towson, and went to Columbia, and went to Arundel Mills. That was sucked out of the Owings Mills mall.”
Brian Gibbons, the president and CEO of Foundry Row developer Greenberg Gibbons Commercial, could not be reached for comment. He previously told Patch that his development will work to improve traffic and he doesn't consider it to be in competition with the mall or Metro Centre.
Councilwoman Vicki Almond has been reaching out to developers and retailers, and will make a final decision in September on whether or not she supports the rezoning at Solo Cup.
She said she sees Wegmans as a destination and it fits Foundry Row. She also pointed out that Red Run Boulevard seems to be where a lot of high-tech and manufacturing companies are locating. For her, three different developments means a lot of new jobs.
“This is our shot to put Owings Mills on the map, and if we don’t do it now this isn’t going to happen,” she said.