Publisher Kenneth Brown

Publisher’s Column: What is the Role of Developers and the Community in Retail Success?

I attended the community input meetings held last month in Owings Mills and Randallstown concerning the future redevelopment of the Owings Mills Mall. There were easily close to 500 people there. Their comments expressed an entire spectrum of ideas, as well as emotions—from passion, anger, bewilderment and reticence. Out of both meetings the takeaway was that Kimco Realty, the mall’s sole owner, was the bad guy and that Walmart was a respectable business but an unworthy option as a prime mall tenant. The community believed they deserved better.
Kimco is the largest developer of open-air shopping centers in the country. Analysts will tell you that in order for a mall and shopping center to be successful it is essential they nail down the right tenant mix, and that one of the anchor stores has to be a retailer that brings in daily and consistent foot traffic. That’s where Walmart comes in.
Why didn’t the mall succeed? Where have all the retail stores gone? Why are they not staying in this area? Saks Fifth Avenue stayed in Owings Mills for 10 years before closing their doors. Then Lord and Taylor and Sears came in and left shortly thereafter. What made them leave? With the high-household-income communities of Randallstown, Owings Mills and Pikesville, were there not enough people spending it at the mall? Were we choosing to take our shopping dollars somewhere else?
I get the part where retail is having some problems. But stores seem to be leaving the northwest at a faster pace than other communities. Obviously, if a store is making money there is no reason for them to leave. But what else goes into the decision when executives and owners are sitting in the boardroom analyzing the situation?
When major retailers leave, malls have to scramble to fill those holes. It affects the other tenants who depend on those stores to bring people to theirs.
If tenants are saying, “no, I don’t want to come here,” how can we examine our community to understand what is it about this area? Why do businesses seem to believe that they can do without certain locations in their portfolio but still be able to secure certain community’s dollars anyway?
Kimco is not investing $25 million in a piece of real estate just to put a Walmart there. I believe they are dealing with challenges in attracting certain types of anchors.
Most of us would not have known about this issue if Councilman Julian Jones did not organize the community meetings. However, in the future I’m hoping the community will have the opportunity to get involved sooner, either by their own proactivity or by elected officials or business leaders soliciting their input.
The mall has been in decline for a long time. There should have been community meetings years ago to find out how the mall could be fixed from the political perspective, the county government perspective and the community’s perspective. We can go to our elected leaders, our business associations and our government representatives at any time to share our concerns and ask what can be done and how can we help.
We have been talking about the Liberty Road corridor a long time. Yes, thanks to the work of people like former Councilman Ken Oliver, we finally got the Randallstown Community Center, Home Depot, Walmart and Ruby Tuesday. How are they doing? Are we supporting them? If so, that’s great. If not, why not?
Has our attention moved from the rest of Liberty Road, which is an eclectic mix of independent eateries, drug stores, and small businesses? What will it take to make Liberty Road successful? Because there is no large, contiguous swath of land, there is little opportunity to do major redevelopment. After all, a guy doesn’t want to build a $1 million house next to the $200,000 home.
What is also missing is a comprehensive plan. Do we just allow Sea Pride to shut down and a fortune teller to replace it or do we encourage thoughtful solutions based on a solid business plan?
We know that Foundry Row exists because of the large amount of land that became available when Solo Cup left. On Liberty Road, we have nothing like that. There are so many individual business owners that would have to all agree at the same time so someone can come and redevelop.
I’m hoping the county will lean on more shopping center owners to improve the look of their businesses. But that doesn’t have anything to do with tenant mix.
Not far from Liberty Road is another shopping area in decline. We should be looking at Security Boulevard NOW! Word is that the Macy’s is leaving, which will be a death knell to Security Square Mall. You can see that Sears is on its last leg. The county touts that we have the Social Security Administration and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in Woodlawn, which employ thousands of people. Why are they not shopping at Security?
I would ask our county and state elected officials who represent Security Square Mall and Security Boulevard to analyze the situation and start communicating with mall and business owners and the community now. We have a new courthouse coming to the area in 2019 and it’s time to pull all the pieces together now to make that area a great place to live, work and play. Who will take up the challenge and show some leadership?