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No longer mall things to all people

Yesterday’s mall is today’s “lifestyle center.”

Anchored by Whole Foods and Target and including upscale retailers Brooks Brothers and Restoration Hardware, Annapolis Towne Centre is an example of the new type of successful shopping center.

So says a panel of commercial real estate experts who gathered in Annapolis Tuesday for a forum on the future of mall developments, a staple of suburban life three decades ago.

The event, sponsored by the state chapter of the International Council of Shopping Centers, spotlighted a nagging issue for developers: What to do with multi-level retail and restaurant havens that years ago were seen as hubs and now are largely outdated and vacant?

“Today is not about mall extinction,” said David A. Katz, a commercial real estate attorney based in Washington for the firm Mulrenin & Associates. “Today is about mall evolution.”

That includes the newer-concept “lifestyle centers” such as the Annapolis Towne Centre, the Hunt Valley Towne Centre and the Avenue at White Marsh.

Such developments center on food and entertainment, the panelists said.

“If you don’t have that, you won’t make it,” said Walt Petrie, chairman of Petrie-Ross Ventures, which took down the Golden Ring Mall about 10 years ago and replaced it with a series of big-box stores as anchors filled in with smaller strips of retail in eastern Baltimore County.

Also essential in attracting shoppers is a grocery store as an anchor, he said.

“Malls got built to a point where there were not new opportunities and no new retailers,” he added. “The lifestyle centers have a grocery store. Everybody wants a grocery store. It’s a traffic generator, and everybody goes to the grocery at least one time a week, with some people going four or five times a week. You’re going to start seeing more in the mall areas.”

The three-member panel denounced any idea of future development of malls in Anne Arundel County, and Petrie said it is a matter of time until 26-year-old Marley Station in Glen Burnie is wiped out by the wrecking ball in favor of, perhaps, rental units.

“That mall is doomed,” Petrie said. “It will be torn down at some point.”

Likewise, he said, for the Westfield Annapolis mall, which Petrie described as an “800-pound gorilla” in the state’s capital.

“Everything is going to be de-malled,” Petrie said. “I just don’t see another mall being built in Anne Arundel County.”

Panelist Debra Mastin, vice president of leasing for Westfield, an international retail developer that owns the Westfield Annapolis mall, said the property is constantly seeking to upgrade and renew its features to attract shoppers to its 229 stores and eateries that include Nordstrom, Abercrombie & Fitch and Macy’s.

“We are adding a boutique food court,” she said of a new feature at the mall designed to attract young families.

Nearby, the newer “lifestyle center” Annapolis Towne Centre attracts large crowds each weekend, said Clarke B. Aburn, senior vice president for leasing with Greenberg Gibbons, the developer of the mixed-use center that includes office space, a residential tower and upscale retailers Brooks Brothers and Restoration Hardware. The 650,000 square feet of retail is anchored by a Whole Foods and Target.

“These lifestyle centers have attracted new tenants,” Aburn said of smaller retail stores in a non-mall setting.

At the Annapolis Towne Centre, two round-abouts keep traffic flowing around the two-level strips of retail and restaurants. In the summer months, Aburn said, Greenberg Gibbons sponsors a summer concert series as a marketing tool each Friday.

“Marketing money is tight,” he said. “But this has helped people feel like the Annapolis Towne Centre is their place, and it’s helping us to make a connection with a certain customer.”