Residents near the flagging Security Square Mall, along with property owners, community groups and Baltimore County government, are coalescing around a plan that would reimagine and redevelop the enormous commercial space at the juncture of the Baltimore Beltway and Interstate 70.
Broad agreement is emerging on a path forward for the 88-acre mall site after a planning process convened by the county, which has become one of the largest landowners in the area as part of a major economic development effort.
The likely first steps would include demolition of the now-county-owned Sears department store building to create an initial street network with an improved streetscape, pad sites for future development and areas for future parks and open space.
Those steps would align with a newly created vision statement developed this year after a series of community meetings: “To provide a safe, vibrant and walkable community giving opportunities to shop, dine, live, and enjoy recreation and entertainment for all ages.”
Jack Friedler, president of Cityview Commercial Management, the largest mall property owner, said his firm invested in the Woodlawn mall 13 years ago, and remains committed to revitalization efforts.
“Our acquisition of Security Square Mall in 2010 was driven by the goal of improving the property,” Friedler said in an email to Fishbowl. “Now, with the county’s recent acquisitions of the adjacent properties, we are thrilled about the opportunity to enhance the property. This exciting venture will not only revitalize the community but also boost sales for our existing tenants.”
Baltimore County is spearheading the renovation plan, which appears to be generating synergy among the major property partners.
“That’s the part of it I’ve been most pleasantly surprised by,” said Sameer Sidh, deputy chief administrative officer for Baltimore County, “I think when you go into something like this, and you see other property owners on the site, you expect some adversarial nature to pop up.”
But, Sidh said, since the county has led the planning with a vision that incorporates the needs of various property owners, the owners have been receptive.
“They’ve been good partners throughout,” he said.
The 88-acre site is divided among six owners. Cityview Commercial owns 30.22 acres, or 34 percent; Baltimore County owns 18 acres or 21 percent; Helmsman Properties owns 16.02 acres or 18 percent; Macy’s owns 11.97 acres or 14 percent; Set the Captives Free owns 9.97 acres or 11 percent; and Blue Ocean 2.03 acres or 2 percent.
Baltimore County has plans to add to its holdings, and is set to acquire 12 acres of land owned by Helmsman that had served as surface parking for the former Montgomery Ward building.
When Security Square Mall was built in 1972, it was a “crown jewel” of the area, Sidh said, but it has declined significantly in recent decades. Twenty percent of the mall is now vacant. But the site is prized for its location between main highway arteries, diverse nearby neighborhoods and large employment centers.
There has been consideration for a new Red Line station at the redeveloped site, an idea that gained momentum last week after Gov. Wes Moore announced the restart of the transit project which had been killed by former Gov. Larry Hogan.
According to the Maryland Department of Commerce, the U.S. Social Security Administration headquarters in Woodlawn employs 12,751 people. And the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, also in Woodlawn, employ 3,224.
Supplementing its property purchases, Baltimore County launched a planning process last year, retaining the engineer and architectural firm Johnson, Mirmiran & Thompson Inc. and design and space analyst firm Ayers Saint Gross to lead the effort, which is being called “Reimagine Security Square.”
Baltimore County and the State of Maryland have already provided over $30 million for redevelopment.
Security Square Mall was built out to almost one million square feet, and about 210,000 square feet are currently vacant. The planners called the wide expanses of parking lot at the mall “overabundant,” and wrote it creates scattered drainage issues as well as a landscape that is “stark,” in their final report.
The Reimagine Security Square process reached out to surrounding community on what residents wanted to see at the site.
A survey of 868 community residents found that their top desire of redeveloping the land (38.52 percent) was for parks and greenspace. That was followed by after-school programs (25.47 percent), better lighting (23.19), and new sidewalks (18.77 percent.) In a one-word descriptive response in the survey, residents described Woodlawn currently as “quiet,” but “declining,” “outdated,” and “neglected.”
“We would certainly look at (an) outdoor amphitheater, trails–things of that nurture–to add green elements to a site right now that is 100 percent impervious surface,” Sidh said. “The park that we have a mile or so away is more suited, we think, as dedicated green space for active recreation. (We) focused on more passive recreational opportunities in our final (report) that allowed folks to enjoy the outdoors, but we’re not going to see five to ten soccer fields.”
The project is one that is expected to evolve over the next two decades. Where once American public retail architecture was all about enclosed mall space, mixed-use space is now much more popular. Planners and residents are looking at active ground floors, entertainment areas and greenways as part of the evolving plan. How trends will change in the next twenty years is open to speculation, but the current mixed-use plan has strong support from both state and county politicians.
Current Maryland House Speaker Adrienne Jones strongly supports the new vision, and so do Baltimore County Council members.
“I’ve been involved since it’s very close to my area,” said Baltimore County Councilman Julian E. Jones Jr. “The bottom line is the area has tremendous potential, and redeveloping it is very important to the community and residents in that area. They’ve been basically feeling left out for quite some time. Malls all across the country and North America are being repurposed.”