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Column: Once-stalled retail projects slowly move forward

Whole Foods in Harbor East - Arianne Teeple
Whole Foods in Harbor East - Arianne Teeple
Take a look around Greater Baltimore and you’ll notice that several retail developments that stalled because of the Great Recession and other challenges are now moving forward once again.
 
Work is progressing on Canton Crossing, located on a former Exxon tank field. Scheduled to open in October, it will have a Target, Harris Teeter and many other national retailers and restaurants. The owner of Samos is opening a quick, casual version of the popular Greektown restaurant.
 
Through the continued development of Harbor East, the city’s urban fabric has been expanded with high-rise residential and street-level restaurants and retail. Under Armour last month opened its first non-outlet retail store. MAC Cosmetics, White House|Black Market, J. Crew and Anthropologie all opened in the last year. Developer Englewood LLC is building a 205-room Hyatt Place hotel at 511 S. Central Ave., with 15,000 square feet of retail.
 
McHenry Row created a new urban destination with a main-street retail, office and residential block that ends at the city’s first Harris Teeter. The Greene Turtle Sports Bar & Grille, Charm City Run and Massage Envy are among the tenants. The redevelopment of the Rotunda is also progressing as the Baltimore City Planning Commission approved the design last month. Developer Hekemian & Co. is planning new apartments and demolishing the interior so that the stores face a public square that will hold events. A similar outdoor event space is planned for Canton Crossing.
 
The 25th Street Station in Remington, featuring a Walmart, Lowe’s and smaller retailers, had been stalled due to legal challenges, but those hurdles seem to have been cleared.
 
What’s driving more urban retail development in Baltimore City and nationally?
 
Retailers are catering to this historically underserved urban market. Urban retailers are changing their designs. The ability to find large footprints for big box tenants, as well as the added cost of land and development has forced retailers to create smaller prototypes for urban locations. City Target and Petco’s Unleashed formats are examples. Their merchandise has changed as well. Products are sometimes packaged in smaller sizes to reflect the needs of urban residents who walk or use public transportation, have smaller kitchen and refrigerators, and less storage and outdoor space.
 
Developers are catering to the new demographic as well. Redevelopment of brownfields or other underused tracks of land are allowing them to assemble parcels large enough for office, retail and residential projects, like the 27-acre Harbor Point. It will include stores, restaurants, a hotel and the headquarters of Exelon Corp.
 
Several other factors are driving new development. Many retailers were filling empty boxes during the recession. Those vacancies are filled for the most part, so retailers looking to expand must venture into new construction. Harris Teeter and Wegmans are expanding in the Baltimore market and a strong anchor such as these grocery stores is often essential to get a project moving. And financing is easing. While the liberal lending terms of a decade ago are a distant past, projects with well established development teams and ample financial reserves to back up their loans, are getting bank financing.
 
And finally, the millennial generation is moving to the city, where they can work and play without owning a car. Due to the lack of job security and the unwillingness to take on the debt of home ownership, the Gen Y lifestyle trend consists of renting small urban apartments, not owning cars and socializing more frequently at bars and restaurants. This new urban population is supplemented by empty nesters that have downsized to residences in the city.
 
Gary Getz is a Principal with Morris & Ritchie Associates Inc. and heads-up the Company’s Architecture Department, which focuses on retail development throughout the mid-Atlantic region.  Gary can be contacted at 410-821-1690 or ggetz@mragta.com
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