As area officials and business dignitaries gathered in a white tent in the parking lot of the Laurel Mall on Tuesday for the groundbreaking of the mall’s redevelopment, a motorist on U.S. Route 1 yelled, “It’s about [expletive] time,” as he drove by.
The sentiment was echoed in a more positive tone in the tent, where Laurel Mayor Craig A. Moe spoke of the lengthy process leading up to the groundbreaking.
“I think I was 14 when we first started discussing this,” Moe said with a laugh.
Plans to revitalize the mall — which languished with declining numbers of tenants and visitors for over a decade — were announced in 2007, but failed to get off the ground when the economic recession dried up funding, city officials said. Owings Mill-based developers Greenberg Gibbons Commercial was brought in by owner Somera Capital Management in February 2011, and quickly announced plans to redevelop the mall, but lack of funding and negotiations with tenants stalled the project. Funding became available as the economic freeze thawed, said Karl Brendle, the city’s director of community planning and business services.
Area officials and representatives of Greenberg Gibbons raised shovelfuls of dirt and tore down the Laurel Mall sign to ceremonially begin the demolition process.
The new $130 million project, dubbed Towne Centre at Laurel, will be an open air, mixed-use town center with about 50 slots for retail and restaurants. An apartment complex with more than 450 units is also planned for the property.
Brian Gibbons, CEO of Greenberg Gibbons, said demolition will start in earnest Wednesday, with construction slated to begin in about six months. Gibbons said the company expects to open the town center in the fall of 2014, and will be able to announce most proposed tenants by the end of this year.
Burlington Coat Factory, the remaining tenant in the mall, will remain open through most of the process, but will likely be closed in the spring of 2014 until the fall, said Tom Fitzpatrick, the vice president of Greenberg Gibbons. Regal Cinema has committed to building a 12-screen theatre in the center, and Harris Teeter is another proposed tenants, according to Greenberg Gibbons’ website.
“It’s much better than what was proposed before, when it was going to be just a facelift,” said James McCeney, a longtime Laurel resident. “It’s a very pleasant surprise that it’s happening. It could have languished for many more years.”
For Laurel Board of Trade chairman Matthew Coates, construction could not be finished soon enough, he said.
“I’m sick and tired of my wife going to shop in Columbia, in Annapolis, in Arundel Mills,” Coates said, adding that the revitalization of the mall would lead to increased business in other areas, like the city’s Main Street district. “We want to keep business in Laurel.”