Anxious to see revitalization at the struggling Security Square Mall, community members participated in a design charette process led by Baltimore County staffers and a team of consultants to share their ideas about how the Woodlawn mall and nearly 90 acres should be developed.
The project, called Reimagine Security Square, launched in September and ended in November with a formal presentation at Set the Captives Free’s O.W.E. (outreach, worship and education) Center located in the south end of the mall. At the final meeting, County Executive Johnny Olszewski, Speaker of the House Adrienne Jones, and Karen Bethea, senior pastor of Set the Captives Free and a mall owner, expressed hope that the 51-year-old mall would once again be a vibrant community hub for shopping, dining and entertainment.
Some of the ideas included a regional sports complex, community space for seniors and young people, and an urban park. Consultants made it clear that community voices would not be the only consideration.
For the project to move forward, it will take some work to get the conflicting desires and needs of the mall’s five owners on the same page or at least moving in the same direction. Public feedback must be considered with market and environmental factors, and regulatory constraints. According to the timeline, consultants are to continue meetings with the owners, refine the vision and finalize the plan document in February.
Using economic and market analysis, the consultants presented renovation scenarios based on conservative, mid-level and aggressive approaches to a 10-year demand for office space, residential housing, and retail and restaurants in the Woodlawn area. Those options included what could be done if the mall was left intact and options if there was a complete demolition of the structures.
In the end, said Jennifer Ray, project manager and associate vice president from Johnson, Mirmiran & Thompson consulting firm, the analysis shows that the Woodlawn area “has the ability to provide additional office space, residence and retail and even a hotel.”
It could take “20 to 30 years into the future for the full build out,” Ray told attendees at one of the workshops to their moans and bewilderment.
In the near term, the design team proposes greenspace to loop around the Interstate 70 and 695, a three-lane loop road with bike lanes to serve as both an anchor to the property as well as an amenity that could potentially include playground equipment, recreation fields and an urban garden.
“As the mall comes down, one- to two-story office pavilions and five- to six-story residential housing could go up. Parking garages would also be part of the first 10 years,” Ray said.
The charette process included workshops held in person and via Zoom to help shape the vision for the mall and to review concepts for a major renovation. A survey also captured feedback. Responses from more than 800 stakeholders, most of them residents of Woodlawn and Windsor Mill, provided input such as they currently view the mall and what they wanted to see. A safe, vibrant thriving mall with restaurants, outdoor space and green space topped their wish list. Bringing apartments, fast food eateries and office space were at the bottom.
In between chatting with one community leader, Stephen Lafferty, the county’s director of planning, said he was pleased with the engagement. “The idea of looking at Security Square Mall as a whole really sprung from the community. Now we’re seeing the images come to life from some of the ideas people had and that was the whole intent,” Lafferty said.
Acknowledging that mall owners are looking to protect the property and assets, he added. “How much of this can actually be done, we’ll see. We need the community to be the advocates to work with us to make the changes happen. We’re hopeful that this will give enough information and inspiration to the owners. They’re in the business of making money. It will be a balance.”
One of the attendees was Danielle Singley, a resident of Westview Park and leader in the NAACP Randallstown branch who led a protest last year to bring attention to the mall. “At the end of the day these are recommendations. What the community needs to do is to stay focused and continue to apply the pressure to get what we want for the time frame that we want it,” she said. “We should not have to wait 30 years or so to see incremental changes. Thirty years? No. Three years? Yes.”
Protracted litigation between mall owners about an agreement involving parking, maintenance and certain rights also stalled revitalization efforts. Some owners have been moving forward with their plans in vastly different ways. The county’s Woodlawn Health Center relocated to the O.W.E. Center. However, Helmsman Properties, which is connected to Michael Glick and developer Howard Brown of David S. Brown Enterprises, has plans to build still another storage facility in the area in the space formerly occupied by a seafood buffet restaurant, furniture store and other businesses there. A sign on the door indicates that Chase Brexton Health Care may be a tenant also.
Baltimore County and state officials announced in April 2022 that they were allocating $20 million for capital investments in the mall’s revitalization. Last fall, the County Council approved $10 million to acquire the Sears building, making county government an owner and giving it a seat at the table.
Opened in 1972, Security Square Mall lost anchors Montgomery Ward and JCPenney. Over the years, other national retailers left and shoppers also abandoned the mall in search of better options at the Mall in Columbia, Towson Town Center and even Hunt Valley Towne Centre.
The mall remains in decline. The former 202,000-square-foot Sears building, purchased by the county last year, sits vacant. Unsightly fencing in the back and on the Rolling Road side cordons off parked semitrucks and 18-wheelers that belong to the North American Trade School. Parked vehicles wait for repair at an auto body repair shop. (Reportedly the trucking school is to leave in the summer.)
Macy’s, Burlington’s and other stores appear to attract light traffic. The Chick Fil-A opened in December with generous parking for its drive through, dine-in and carry-out service, where the dilapidated Bennigan’s and House of Pancakes structures used to sit. Talk that a second restaurant would open has gone quiet.