People who live and work in the western Baltimore County area can’t help but lament the decline of Security Square Mall, and the long-closed, boarded eye sores that were once Bennigan’s and IHOP restaurants.
With the mall’s proximity to the beltway and Social Security Administration and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, many wonder why it is languishing. In addition to suffering the effects of online shopping habits, the mall is also seeing suburban shoppers seeking more upscale and robust offerings, as well as more variety of restaurants and entertainment, head to Columbia Mall and Towson Town Center and Arundel Mills Mall.
Hope for revitalization dissipated when in 2015 the Governor announced that he was cancelling the Red Line transit project, which had a light-rail stop on Security Boulevard in front of the mall.
Help and hope may be on the way.
Howard Brown of David S. Brown Enterprises, which developed Metro Centre in Owings Mills, offered his vision for future redevelopment of the mall at a community meeting held March 15 at the Morning Star Baptist Church Community Outreach and Educational Center in Woodlawn.
Councilman Tom Quirk, whose district includes Catonsville and Woodlawn, and the Woodlawn-Security Business Association, headed by president Marisol Johnson, organized the meeting so community members could learn about the future of the mall site.
Brown declared the mall dead with its two most prominent anchors, Macy’s and Sears, on life support. Macy’s will probably close soon and then Sears will probably follow, he said. “Then the mall is done.”
He offered a plan for a mixed use project that have vibrant activity 24 hours a day, seven days a week. “That’s what you want for this community,” Brown said. Walmart, Sam’s Club and Cosco are options, he said. “But I think the combination of the box stores with small retailers, more restaurants where people will gather, is probably the direction.”
Moving forward with a development plan has been complicated by the fact that the Security Square Mall property has five owners, and litigation involving a shared parking agreement.
“The issue right now is that there was a reciprocal development agreement that allowed people to park on all parcels,” Brown said. “With that agreement you had to build on the same foot print. No one is going to build a Macy’s or a Sears today. That agreement was thought to expire in 2021 but actually expired in 1997. No one wanted to accept that and fought us, and about two months ago they gave up.”
The litigation helped pave the way for him to begin acquiring properties. “It got us to the stage where the final decision about Macy’s and Sears made everyone aware that none of these stores can survive on their own, and that the restrictions and agreement prevented any of these properties from being developed,” Brown explained. “The only way they can be [fixed] is that someone becomes a master developer and acquires these other sites.”
Changes over the years
The 1 million-square-foot opened in 1972 with 120 stores, including Sears and Hecht’s as two of the original anchors. At one time the mall had department stores Hochschild Kohn’s, Hutzler’s, Montgomery Ward, J.C. Penney Co. and even a Woolworth as tenants.
Over the years, because of declining sales, national retail establishments came and left. Independent businesses and kiosks replaced them. Some started with temporary leases and eventually converted to long-term agreements.
The space that previously housed Hochschild’s and Ward department stores now includes a seafood buffet, a furniture rental business, two trade schools. Hecht’s became Macy’s; and the J.C. Penney space was converted to the Seoul Plaza “mall within a mall,” which had a supermarket and other Korean shops. Much of that 160,000-square-foot space, now referred to as Security Mall South, is vacant except for a few business scattered throughout the two-level area, such as a hair braiding shop, church and nail salon.
Last month, Old Navy, an anchor, left for a promising location in the more vibrant Foundry Row in Owings Mills. With Sears announcing in March that it will undergo a “restructuring program” that includes closing 42 stores and marketing its real estate properties, it is believed that the Security Square Mall location will be on that target list this year. The store closed off its upper level last year and moved children’s apparel, mattresses and other merchandise to the first floor. Macy’s has announced that 100 stores nationwide will close.
Impact on mall businesses
Once the anchors leave, will the independent shops and kiosks follow or suffer through the transition?
Donald Smith, owner of SneakerVets, says he signed a one-year lease and opened his store selling retro Jordan tennis shoes in January.
“I’m from the area and people know me,” he says. “I get mixed crowds. I like the atmosphere. Business has been real good. It would be very disruptive to have to find another location and build the clientele.”
The general manager at Tokyo Seafood Buffet Hibachi Grill & Sushi, who gave his first name, John, believes the mall footprint complements his business. “Seventy percent of my customers come from the mall. They want to shop, be entertained and eat,” he said. “When there is a good movie playing, I’m packed.” He believes he lost business when the casino opened at Arundel Mills.
Paula Jones, a Randallstown resident, says she visits the mall about three times a month to shop at Bath and Body and Burlington Coat Factory. “It’s one of the only malls we have left in the area,” she says.
David S. Brown Enterprises has developed Metro Centre at Owings Mills, which includes restaurants, retail, one- and two-bedroom apartments, and the Owings Mills branch of the Baltimore County Public Library and Community College of Baltimore County. Next up is a 235-room hotel.
“A concept of mixed use Class A office space, residential and retail is a concept that works better. The days of the mall are over,” Quirk said. Getting the malls owners on the same vision is like “herding stray cats.”
Redevelopment within the next two to five years would make him happy, said Quirk. Recognizing the little-used and vacant commercial buildings in the area, he predicted that redevelopment of the mall would have a substantial ripple effect in the entire area. “If this is successful, we will see other areas revitalized.”
Morning Star Baptist Church Outreach
After talk of the mall, representatives from Morning Star Baptist Church spoke. The church, under the leadership of Bishop Dwayne Debnam, is constructing a new sanctuary on Woodlawn Drive.
Doris Duren, president of Morning Star’s Community Development Corporation, shared how the church provides outreach to the community. The family life center that is being renovated will house the child care center and a 500-seat banquet and events hall, she said. Additionally, the facility will provide day activities for seniors, workforce development, and enrichment and development activities for youth and young adults.
Marisol Johnson, SWBA president, said she was pleased with the input from business, the developer, community and church. “This is part one. We will continue the conversation.”