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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.

But with opposition entrenched, Wegmans eventually signed on to be an anchor at the soon-to-be demolished Hunt Valley Town Centre, The Baltimore Sun reported at the time.

Almost 10 years later, , 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 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  and David S. Brown Enterprises, which is building the .

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 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.

ddbs00 March 14, 2012 at 12:48 PM
If the SOLO Cup property fails to be rezoned commercial, who do these competing developers think is going to come in and occupy that area and bring in manufacturing jobs? Isn't it best for Owings Mills -- which is what Brown claims to care about -- that competing interests work together to turn all of our downtrodden areas into something useful rather than let one languish so one or two of them wins?
LWS March 14, 2012 at 01:08 PM
As long as the mall and metro center remain attached to the metro, then folks will not likely hang out there--the mall failed because it lacked adequate security and the gangs and kids took over the space, making most locals feel unwelcome--and unsafe. Wegman's is doing the right thing to stick to their guns and stay at the Solo site--why would they want to locate at a doomed spot?
Chuck Burton March 14, 2012 at 02:12 PM
There was a time when manufacturing depended on railroads, which is likely why Solo's predecessor located where it did - that's no longer true. Reisterstown Rd. is no longer a manufacturing district - Baltimore Spice is gone, and Solo is leaving. It would make no sense to try luring a manufacturer into what is now, de facto, a commercial district. But Wegmans and a handful of satellites would fit beautifully. The Mall, speaking truthfully, would be better off being intensively redeveloped as a mid to high rise office and residential area, satellite to the Metro Center and the Metro itself, maybe with a bit of convenience shopping. That would also fit with the highway resources Mr. Brown talks about.
Sue Russell March 14, 2012 at 02:58 PM
Make the Owings Mills Mall into an outlet mall. This would be a great location because it is in the middle of the beltway.
Lake3270 March 14, 2012 at 04:00 PM
Wegams on the Riestertown Road corridor would UPGRADE the area.. replacing SOLO with another manufacturer would not lure additional retailers to the area or tax paying home owners ! LISTEN TO THE CURRENT LONG RESIDENTS !! WE WANT WEGMANS ! This will only draw more people to the area which is great for Owings Mills.. 11yr resident and homeowner
Marc Shapiro (Editor) March 14, 2012 at 04:58 PM
We have reported on recent crime stats at the mall in this article: http://owingsmills.patch.com/articles/owings-mills-mall-not-so-dangerous-statistics-show which shows that it's not as dangerous as people might think. Howard Brown and Geoffrey Glazer have told me about their plans for a security presence, which I will explain in an article in the near future.
Marc Shapiro (Editor) March 14, 2012 at 05:00 PM
It's clear that everyone wants Wegmans to come to Owings Mills, it would obviously be a welcome addition to the area. But does the issue of traffic on Reisterstown Road concern any of you? Do you think the mall's infrastructure makes it a more attractive spot like the developers quoted in this article said?
Bob R. March 14, 2012 at 06:58 PM
It seems the whole point of this article is nothing more than a high stakes gamble. Esssentially saying that we should bet Owing's Mills' fiscal future based on a decision that Wegman's 9 years ago. Thinking that Wegmans will relent and take a spot at the mall if they don't get their zoning. But what if they don't relent? As they've already told us that they aren't going to do. Then the Solo site sits abandoned and rotting on Reisterstown Rd. I for one do not think it's worth the gamble. And yes Marc, it is worth putting up with the additional traffic on our already overcrowded Reisterstown Rd. Better heavy traffic than losing this golden opportunity.
Pamela F March 14, 2012 at 08:52 PM
Wegman's would be welcome upgrade for Reisterstown Road---if Wegman's walks away, we're left with the eyesore that's there now! Ms Almond please don't let this oppourtunity get away!
Terri Steel March 14, 2012 at 11:31 PM
This is a no brainer. Wegmans will only upgrade the Solo Cup property and everyone wins. The mall would be better suited to be used for outlets or offices. Until the security has been highly improved there is no way that local residents will venture there.
Lake3270 March 15, 2012 at 12:39 AM
Yes..Traffic does concern me; didn't the Wegmans developer offer solutions to help with alleviating traffic congestion on Reistertown Road? Like perhaps having an entrance/exit of Painters Mills, behind the property..near BJ Wholesale; and possibly connecting a drivethru from adjacent shopping center ? @Marc ..Yes, Owings Mill Mall area has the infastructure to deal with traffic .. However , Wegmans's doesn't want that location . There is a perception that there is alot of crime around the mall..; this maybe more myth than truth .. However for Wegmans ...I think is about LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION and that's there choice. What is the alternative for that space? Do you have manufacturers ...knocking down the doors and ready to close shop in China ... to relocate to Owings Mills ??? Get real people !
Barbara Whitman March 15, 2012 at 02:05 AM
There are many unspoken issues about the mall. Why did people stop going? Will they return? Wegman's has figured out what county officials have not.
Momofmany March 15, 2012 at 02:43 AM
WAIT A MINUTE! Let's go back in recent history and the "BIG" announcement by county officials @ both locations? Oh........do we have amnesia? There were two media events the first with KIMCO at the mall and the second with Glazer et. al at the Foundry Row site? They lead us to believe that this was a "Done deal???" Now both projects are in jeopardy....WTF. I say we all back Mr. Brown who has planned the METRO Center project for nearly 10 yrs. That is a sensible project adjacent to the subway and a mix of govt., commercial, retail, office, hotels etc. Why not flow that urban design into the mall and extend it even further to the Foundry Row and connect the whole thing with a monorail and pedestrian walkways. You could have a downtown Columbia or Reston VA type projects all linked together. What you really need is a James Rouse type of visionary with a Donald Schaeffer type of politician (taking risks without regard to self) put them all together and you have an Owings Mills urban core that meets area needs for the next 50 yrs.????? Our economic development people have created a debacle while adjacent counties continue to attract and build similar and successful projects. Just go to Annapolis, Columbia, Bethesda, Rockville and Silver Spring and you will see what I mean? Opening a few Sonics and a "Super Wal-Mart" is just not long term sustainable economic growth? Will the Towson re-development fall prey to a similar fate?
Buck Harmon March 15, 2012 at 12:51 PM
I kinda like Ms. Almond...she seems like a really nice gal...I'm not sure that she has the skill set needed to deal with these corporate powerhouses though. It's tricky business at best. I drive to Hunt Valley Wegmans because it's a nice ride but can't see myself headed to OM...the ride isn't enjoyable. Build an arts campus that would create learning opportunities that don't currently exist in the area...
Almond is a nut March 15, 2012 at 01:11 PM
If Wegmens comes to that site you can say bye=bye to Giant and Super-Fresh. Then you will get to look at boarded-up shopping centers with graffitti all over them. Ask the retailers at Hunt Valley Mall if wegmens brought them increased business -- aks the surrounding centers what they think of it.
Chuck Burton March 15, 2012 at 01:20 PM
Exactly!! It's why I think the Mall would be better employed as a mid-to-high-rise office and residential development (continuing the pattern already established with the Care First offices and the portion already rebuilt as residential), with only convenience shopping. This would fit well with the Metro Center next door, the Metro, itself, and the highway access. It would also complement the business and residential devlopment along Red Run Blvd, and there is room for a small park and maybe an elementary school, if needed, on the other side of Red Run.
Chuck Burton March 15, 2012 at 01:24 PM
The above was intended as a reply to Momofmany, but for some reason didn't appear sa a reply
Alisa Bralove-Scherr March 15, 2012 at 01:29 PM
I'm quite disappointed with how the various developers want members of the community to take up sides. I support all of the projects, and I believe they are all good for the area for different reasons. It's not beneficial to our area to divide us into a pro-Wegman's camp and a pro-Mall camp. There are hurdles to overcome with each of the projects. Foundry Row will introduce new traffic challenges. I wonder if the people who support Wegman's will also support the necessary upgrades that go along with it, even if that means widening some of the roads in the valley. The mall project must understand the fears (mostly unfounded) that drove people away from the mall in the first place. They should also understand that some of this fear is rooted in racism, but that shouldn't keep our community from moving forward. There are some people who will never return to the mall, but there are plenty of us who look forward to this long-overdue rebirth.
Nancy March 15, 2012 at 06:14 PM
I was in high school when OM first opened and worked there. It was a clean, safe place wiht a wide range of retailers and good selection of merchandise. I moved back to the area a few years ago and decided to take my toddler girls for a little outing in OM mall. One second, we were sitting on a bench and everything was calm, and the next second, two men had pulled knives at each other and were swinging them around; there was blood, etc. That was bad, but worst was that I was one of the very few people running away from the fight; most people were running toward it screaming and hollering. NO racism here; it is simply a truth. That place had turned into a fight club. I would love for the people who live in OM/Reisterstown/Glyndon and beyond to be able to use this space with their families. It can only happen if SAFETY is addressed first!!!
Theodore D. Levin March 19, 2012 at 03:52 PM
If our narrow minded opposion to Wehmans gets their way, then Owings Mills and the Mall, Foundry Row, etc will not become a success.. It's the old fogies who don't want progress just like many in our U. S. Congress.
Sigrid Houston March 19, 2012 at 06:39 PM
Pamela, I completely agree with you! There are already enough eyesores on Reisterstown Road. I am hoping we can work with Wegman's and find a site/situation that works for everyone! I would personally like to see Foundry Row come to that area. I can really visualize something like that really sprucing up the neighborhood, and we need a bit of sprucing up!
teddy h March 21, 2012 at 03:11 PM
i agree with you, the mall is a better fit for the same reasons that it works in Hunt Valley. The traffic situation would be crazy!

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