Reisterstown Road, from Pikesville up through Reisterstown, is a busy stretch of Baltimore County.
It may seem hard to believe, but the area has the highest percentage of empty retail space of the entire Baltimore metropolitan area. Real estate experts say there's a big, one million square foot explanation.
Dirt is moving all around construction sites on and around Reisterstown Road. From the future home of the Foundry Row shopping center at Painters Mill Road to nearby Metro Center, with its mix of office, retail and apartments built around the Owings Mills metro stop. Once finished, the two developments will have more than 750,000 square feet of retail space between them.
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"The demographics are strong," said Mike Gioioso, a real estate advisor with Mackenzie Commercial Real Estate. "The main arterial road, Reisterstown Road, has phenomenal traffic counts that number between 30- and 40,000 at different intersections."
You would think with all of the construction going on, that there's a need for more retail space in the area. But other numbers tell a different story. Compared to the greater Baltimore area's average retail vacancy rate of 5.2 percent, a whopping 12 percent of retail space in the Reisterstown Road corridor is empty, according to the latest Mackenzie Commercial Real Estate retail report . The corridor includes Pikesville, Owings Mills and Reisterstown along Reisterstown Road.
"If we're talking in terms of retail vacancy, why is there so much of it? I think we have to point at Owings Mills Mall," Gioioso said.
The Owings Mills Mall opened to much fanfare in 1986. Once packed with shoppers, it was the area's premier, upscale shopping destination. Now 28 years later, the mall is a shell of its former self. Outside, its parking lots are empty. Inside, an eerie and alarming sight. Fewer than 30 shops and eateries occupy the more than one million square foot space. Jeff freedman grew up in Owings Mills and has fond memories of the once-vibrant mall.
"When I go in, it's almost like, I'm in a dream," he said. "Like I'm expecting it to be that way again and I turn the corner and it's not. So it really saddens me."
Still anchored by Macy's and J.C. Penney, the mall has struggled to retain tenants for years. With Foundry Row and Metro Center's completion on the horizon, the question of what to do with the largely vacant mall has gotten even more complicated. Gioioso said nationally, the trend has moved away from enclosed shopping malls.
"Just the traditional de-malling that's occurred at Laurel, at Hunt Valley, where you take big box retailers externalize those storefronts and make it sort of a lifestyle street scape plaza," he said.
In 2011, General Growth Properties announced a partnership with Kimco Realty to redevelop the Owings Mills Mall into more of an outdoor shopping center. But that was before the Foundry Row project broke ground just two miles away and secured Wegmans as an anchor. Close to three years after the announcement, the mall remains unchanged. Colleen Brady, president of the Reisterstown Owings Mills Glyndon Chamber of Commerce is optimistic that there is a market for three major retail destinations to be successful.
"I think that's a triangle," she said. "Between once the mall gets rehabilitated, we have the Metro Center and we have Foundry Row. I think that's going to be the hub of this part of the county."
In the face of stiff outdoor shopping center competition, Freedman said keeping the mall mostly indoors would allow it to stand out.
"Staying as an indoor mall, or a combination indoor/outdoor mall might provide something different to the community, with some changes and some upgrades, would allow it to thrive," he said.
Though they're doing most of their shopping elsewhere now, many in Owings Mills and the surrounding communities aren't willing to give up on the mall just yet.
"I think it has a lot of potential," Brady said. "But I think we're still in a wait and see place there."
"I grew up with this mall, and I feel like it's something that should remain here and can really thrive in the community," Freedman said.
ABC2 reached out to General Growth Properties and Kimco Realty to check on the status of the mall's redevelopment. David Bujnicki, vice president of investor relations and communications for Kimco Realty, said the project is not dead. His full statement is below:
"Large scale redevelopment projects, such as Owings Mills, often take place over an extended timeframe and we continue to
evaluate the highest and best use of the property. There has been an on-going dialogue with a number of established and well-known prospective tenants and we remain excited about the long-term value creation opportunities that exist."
We did not hear back from General Growth Properties.
Gioioso said the mall's owners should consider alternative uses. For instance, now that the Affordabale Care Act has expanded access to health insurance, many empty storefronts are being converted into healthcare or medical facilities to meet the growing demand. Another suggestion is converting part of it into apartments.