Malls once reigned supreme as hermetically sealed bastions of youth culture, retail, and suburban convenience. But over the last 20 years, they have lost their place of primacy, challenged by the immediacy of the Internet and a yearning for experiences that feel personal and authentic. Now, in a supreme act of irony, malls are being supplanted by retail developments designed to ape the very thing malls were supposed to replace—the traditional Main Street.
“Everything old is new again,” says Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, who is keeping tabs on a number of redevelopment projects in the county, including one on the site of the former Owings Mills Mall, which will be demolished soon and replaced with what Kamenetz calls an “open-air town center.” “I think that’s a reflection of how to reach today’s consumers,” he says. “The advantage of a town center is it has a flexible design—you can add new attractions to it.”
Nowhere is this more evident than at The Avenue at White Marsh, where redevelopment of the property will double the size of its central plaza, which will serve as a lawn in the summer and an ice-skating rink in the winter.
“What we’re going to be able to do is extend the activities in that plaza year-round,” says Dave Joss, a development manager with Federal Realty Investment Trust, which owns The Avenue.
Within cities, suburban-type shopping centers are struggling, too. Earlier this year, The Gallery at Harborplace announced it was turning its fourth floor into office space. Then in May, its parent company, General Growth Properties, announced the complex was for sale.
Even the Village of Cross Keys is getting refreshed. “The shopping center is a little bit sleepy right now,” acknowledges Chris McSherry, the first vice president of the Roland Park Civic League, which must approve any renovations to the 51-year-old shopping center. The plans call for a brighter color scheme, a more inviting entrance, new signage, and improved pedestrian accessibility. “[Cross Keys] realizes they’re missing out on a huge opportunity,” she says. “If folks from Roland Park could just walk down there, it would be a lot better.”