A few miles north of Randallstown, the Owings Mills Mall site is marked by plenty of grave markers — chained fences, piles of rubble and dust and construction equipment.
Demolition of the mall was completed last month even as the property’s owner, Kimco Realty Corp., remains mum on future development plans for the once-sprawling shopping destination.
While Kimco has offered few specifics, concerned residents, business owners, county officials and retail experts see the fate of the mall site and Liberty Plaza on Liberty Road in Randallstown — separated by about three miles — intrinsically linked.
“Whatever goes on over in Randallstown and whatever goes on at the mall is going to have some crossover and impact on one another,” said Baltimore County Councilman Julian Jones, a Woodstock Democrat whose 4th District includes the Liberty Plaza and mall site. “I’ve been hearing from a lot of concerned constituents telling me to do this or to do that. I only have so much control.”
Brixmor Property Group Inc., owner of the vibrant 220,000-square-foot Liberty Plaza retail shopping center in Randallstown, is taking an active approach to market its property to prospective buyers while Kimco continues mulling over its options.
A little more than a month ago, Brixmor listed its Walmart Supercenter at 8730 Liberty Road for sale, fueling speculation that a Walmart Supercenter could be coming to the nearby vacant mall site.
Jones said developers he sought advice from told him property owners with a Walmart as an anchor tenant looking to sell should raise a “red flag.”
“What I’ve been told by others, who have a little more knowledge, is that they would be fearful if a Walmart was being put up for sale because properties are worth a lot more with a Walmart than without one,” Jones said. “I don’t put too much stock into that right now, because we just don’t know the plans of Brixmor and Kimco at this point.”
Brixmor, a New York City-based real estate investment trust, has offered few specifics regarding the sale, including the price of the property.
Kristen Moore, a spokeswoman for Brixmor, said, “I can confirm that we are currently marketing Liberty Plaza for sale. However, we don’t share details regarding dispositions.”
According to the sale listing, Walmart is operating under a 20-year single-tenant net-lease term with limited responsibilities and offers six five-year options for the 160,908-square-foot retail space. Oklahoma-based Stan Johnson Company, the largest net-lease team in the commercial real estate industry, is handling the sale and offering full ownership to prospective buyers.
Officials from Walmart and Stan Johnson Company could not be reached for comment.
Jones, a frequent patron of Liberty Plaza, said losing Walmart would be a “major blow to attract businesses” to Randallstown and the immediate surrounding communities he oversees.
“It’s so tough to get things going on Liberty Road that you don’t want to take a step backward,” Jones said. “Losing Walmart would be a major step backward. If [Walmart] were to leave, it would send a bad message. When tenants like Walmart show up, smaller tenants show up.”
Kimco, the nation’s largest owner of open-air retail centers, mailed surveys last month to local residents asking what they want to see built at the Owings Mills Mall site. A rendering of an open-air retail center with ample parking and connected, pedestrian-friendly walkaways was also included.
“Kimco is committed to being an engaged and responsive member of the Owings Mills community, and we’ll use the input as we work through what we plan to be an interactive process with significant community input. As Kimco’s plans and tenancy for Owings Mills become more clear, we will provide an update,” Jennifer Maisch, a spokeswoman for Kimco, said in a prepared statement.
Sidney Snyder, 29, of Owings Mills, said she doesn’t think a Walmart-type store is the answer for Owings Mills, especially with a Walmart Supercenter nearby.
“Putting a Walmart Supercenter at the mall will just create the same problem for Randallstown as we are having here in Owings Mills,” Snyder said. “That sounds pretty counterproductive to me.”
Stephanie Cegielski, spokeswoman at the International Council of Shopping Centers, said it is difficult to ponder with any certainty what the long-term effects on other tenants would be without knowing specific plans for the Liberty Plaza Walmart.
If the property is sold and the lease is broken, she said, the space could serve many purposes. She noted another big-box store, redevelopment for other retail or entertainment, office space or mixed-use development as the most likely and attractive options.
“Foot traffic may or may not drop depending on the types of stores left at the property and what the community needs are,” Cegielski said. “If those other stores meet specific needs of the community, they might not feel the effect of the closure. As for rents, those are negotiated in contracts, so any change would be dependent upon the expiration and renegotiation of the contract.”
Ahn Young 53, of Ellicott City, has owned and operated his dry-cleaning business, Black Tie Cleaners, at Liberty Plaza for the last 14 years and was unaware of the pending Walmart sale.
If Walmart were see to its business dip as a result of the sale or close altogether, he feared Brixmor could raise his rent as high as 40 percent, or roughly $5,000 per month, after his current lease ends.
“I think that might be too steep and too much for me to pay right now,” Young said. “Without Walmart there or another business, I am afraid other, smaller businesses here will have to pick up the bill.”
A manager at Elite Wine & Spirits, who wished to remain anonymous, said many of the liquor store’s customers often carry Walmart bags with them into his store. The manager estimated Elite Winer & Spirits could experience a significant decrease in sales, falling off as much as 50 percent.
“It would really put a big dent into our numbers, because we attract many of the same customers,” the manager said. “I don’t think people will just be coming here to come here. Walmart is usually what brings them here in the first place, then they happen to come over to our store.”