Developers taking Maryland shopping malls ‘up a notch’ -- Gazette.Net



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If they hope to survive, conventional shopping malls will have to reinvent themselves, as multi-use town center projects proliferate in Montgomery County and elsewhere in the state, leading retail executives said Thursday.

“Good malls will survive,” said Jim Agliata, vice president of development at Westfield, which owns malls in Bethesda, Wheaton and Annapolis.

But they will have to retool themselves, adding features such as “lifestyle sections” with megaplex movie theaters and other attractions, he said.

Agliata made the remarks during a panel discussion organized by Bisnow Media at the Montgomery County Conference Center in North Bethesda that attracted several hundred businesspeople.

White Flint Mall in North Bethesda is among those in Maryland slated for transition. Rockville developers Lerner Enterprises and Tower Cos. plan to demolish much of the 850,000-square-foot shopping center and replace it with a mixed-use “town” with new housing units, retail and office buildings.

The new development likely will not be finished for some 20 years or so.

“We are working on sketches, but even those won’t be done for a while,” said Francine Waters, managing director of transportation and smart growth for Lerner Enterprises.

Chevy Chase developer JBG Cos. branched into new territory with the pedestrian-oriented North Bethesda Market tower complex, said Greg Trimmer, principal. The mixed-use development includes the county’s tallest apartment building at 24 stories that was completed about a year ago, as well as a new Whole Foods Market.

“That was a conscious decision to take our vision up a notch,” Trimmer said.

JBG is working on a companion development, North Bethesda Market II, also planned to contain a 24-story residential building next to the first one. The company also is building a new home for about 2,000 employees of the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases on Fishers Lane in the Twinbrook area of Rockville.

More developments in other areas of Maryland are starting to move forward.

The first phase of the $175 million East Campus development at the University of Maryland, College Park is expected to break ground in about a year. The project, turning a 30-acre tract into housing, hotels and retail space, has been on the books since 1999.

“We’ve had to deal with the challenge of the impact of the recession,” said Robert Specter, vice president and CFO of the university. “It slowed down development, but now we’re finding funding and enthusiasm for the project. This is the time to invest again.”

The long-awaited Konterra project, a 22,000-acre mixed-use development outside of Laurel, still is waiting on tenants to make commitments before ground is broken, said Andre Gingles, a development lawyer who is working on that project. That should occur within the next two years, he said.

kshay@gazette.net