Are better days ahead for Southwest Baltimore’s Mount Clare Junction shopping center?
That’s the hope of community residents and business leaders after learning the 234,000-square-foot shopping center at W. Pratt and S. Carey streets was recently sold to Carlyle Development Group of Purchase, New York.
With the sale, Mount Clare Junction became the latest of several underperforming shopping centers in the city to get new owners or potential new owners.
Others include Northwood Plaza off Loch Raven Boulevard, which is undergoing a $50 million transformation, and the retail and office portion of The Village of Cross Keys, which Caves Valley Partners is negotiating to acquire from Ashkenazy Acquisition Corp and then upgrade.
Carlyle competed against half a dozen other bidders and paid $20 million to acquire Mount Clare Junction, according to its president, Abdi Mahamedi. The seller was an investment management firm from New York, and the sale closed on January 28.
“It’s great news for Southwest Baltimore and Pigtown,” said Kim Lane, executive director of Pigtown Main Street Inc. a group that works to improve the Pigtown neighborhood east of Mount Clare Junction. “The community is excited about it.”
“Having a new owner who hopefully has an eye to the future is, we feel, an exciting opportunity,” said Michael Seipp, executive director of the Southwest Partnership, an organization that works to revitalize the communities all around Mount Clare Junction.
Mount Clare Junction was planned and built during the tail end of William Donald Schaefer’s mayoral administration in the mid-1980s, on a former industrial site owned by the Koppers Company. It occupies a 15.7-acre parcel just over a mile west of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and just west of the B&O Railroad Museum.
Schaefer’s housing department, then known as the Neighborhood Progress Administration and led by Marion Pines, touted the opening of Mount Clare Junction as a key to the revitalization of nearby communities such as Mount Clare, Franklin Square, Poppleton, Union Square, Hollins Market, Barre Circle and Ridgely’s Delight.
Architect Adam Gross, of Ayers Saint Gross, said the grocery store’s sloping roofline was inspired by the silhouette of Mississauga City Hall in Ontario, Canada. When the center first opened, it had a locomotive in part of the retail space, a tie-in to the nearby railroad museum.
The grocery store was initially a Safeway, which later moved out. Mount Clare Junction also had a gym, a Rite Aid, a Pep Boys auto center and other retailers, plus more than 80,000 square feet of office space along W. Pratt Street.
Now the grocery store is a Price Rite, which was recently renovated and, as its name implies, is known for having affordable prices. There’s also a Family Dollar store, a branch of Capital One Bank, a laundromat, check cashing company, nail salon, barber shop, dentist and several food outlets, including Vizzini’s Pizza. Numerous other retail spaces are vacant.
Founded in 1982, Carlyle is a real estate company that owns two other properties in Baltimore, both downtown office buildings. They are the Redwood Tower at 217 E. Redwood St., and an office tower at 100 S. Charles St. It’s not affiliated with the Carlyle Group, a Washington-based concern that was reportedly working with developer Pat Turner on a $1 billion plan to revitalize Westport.
“Mount Clare Junction is a challenging asset located in a fast-improving neighborhood,” said Carlyle president Mahamedi, in a statement. “We look forward to working with community leaders and stakeholders to participate in and expedite the redevelopment of this great neighborhood, and we believe Mount Clare Junction could play a pivotal role in the area’s revitalization.”
In a phone interview, Mahamedi noted that Mount Clare Junction is his company’s first acquisition in Baltimore outside the downtown business district. He said he became interested in the property after seeing other redevelopment activity in the area, including expansion of the University of Maryland Baltimore’s BioPark and developer Scott Plank’s work around Hollins Market.
Mahamedi said he wants to upgrade the shopping center and is in the process of talking to community leaders to learn more about the area and how to make Mount Clare Junction better.
He envisions two possible phases of redevelopment, a series of short-term changes such as improving security and updating tenant spaces, and then possibly more long-term improvements. He’d like to bring in retailers and services that give area residents a reason to go there more, such as a hardware store, a larger pharmacy, a coffee shop and possibly a gym.
“The first order of the day is to make it a better environment to shop,” he said. “The more we bring to this area, the more it will make people want to come.”
Lane, from Pigtown Main Street, said she’d like to see the new owners make the shopping center more pedestrian-friendly, beautify the property and bring in businesses that offer a wider range of goods and services.
“It has the potential to be better than it is,” she said.
Beth Hawks, a Pigtown resident and advocate who owns the Zelda Zen boutique in Fells Point, said she believes Mount Clare Junction would benefit from better lighting and landscaping.
Hawks noted that retail centers in south Baltimore and Canton have done well in attracting young professionals, and she thinks Mount Clare Junction could do the same. “You have to think outside the box,” she said, noting there was once a proposal to open a Montessori School at the center.
Robert Helsley, a graphic design professor who lives on Carey Street in a dollar house that he restored beginning in the 1970s, said he’s encouraged that Mount Clare Junction has a new owner who wants to make improvements.
Helsley pointed out that the University of Maryland is gradually moving westward from its downtown campus and that is bringing employees who’d be likely to patronize a revitalized Mount Clare Junction.
“It’s so close to downtown,” he said of the shopping center. “It should be completely redeveloped.”