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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.

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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