Last week the Shank reported on The Giant's purchase of the Fresh & Green's (the former Superfresh) on 41st St. and the store's plan to leave its long held spot at The Rotunda - a beautiful but sorely out-dated office/mall complex (once owned by the Mencken family) a couple blocks up on 41st St.
It's been almost 10 years now since Hekemian bought the Rotunda and promised the neighborhood a new development including a controversial 22-story high rise and big box corporate retail.
At the time, the developers said that they were looking to give Hampden a main street with their new Rotunda, even though Hampden already has a main street, 36th St. AKA The Avenue.
When the residential and business community began to express concerns about the scope of the development, Hekemian warned that theirs was the retail of the future.
Here we are, 8 years into the future, and how does that retail look? The Baltimore Messenger has a pretty interesting view.
Even the positive spin the developers are putting on the loss of an anchor like Giant seems half-hearted and seems unrealistic compared to the more sober views of their remaining current tenants.
Chris Bell, Hekemian's development VP floated grocery buzz name "Trader Joe's" as a potential replacement for Giant. It's a possible "best-case-scenario" for many residents who the Shank has spoken to regarding this issue.
However, Trader Joe's has been approached several times in the past by representatives of Hampden's business community, at the request of businesses and residents, about moving into the neighborhood, and each time the market patiently explained that such a location does not fit into their business model. It's possible that they may change or adapt their business model to take advantage of the Rotunda location, but it doesn't seem likely.
The mention of a supposed "boutique" grocer replacing the Giant sounds hopeful. Possibly a Fresh Market. Or a MOM's Organic Market. Or a Whole Foods (not one of my favorites). But that depends on whether or not the vacating Giant would see these markets as a competitive threat.
But this quote from Hekemian should raise eyebrows:
"Bell said Hekemian and Giant negotiated an agreement last week that allows the supermarket to end its long-term lease, and the developer to bring in a smaller grocer that won't compete with Giant at its new location in the Greenspring Tower Shopping Center."
Even though Giant has left its lease and the Rotunda, it has still managed to block any kind of competitive grocery store from opening in its old location.
A boutique market will, most likely, be unable to service all the needs of local college students who were regularly shuttled to the Rotunda Giant, nor will it likely be able to meet all the needs of the neighboring senior communities that depend on a full-service market with convenient access the the one Giant used to provide.
Hampden, once fortunate to have 2 full-service grocery stores (both of which were highly profitable) has, through the corporate failure of Superfresh, Fresh & Green's and now because of Giant's non-competitive clause, has lost one of those markets and it won't return.
Unless the Rotunda's owners act quickly (something they've been unable to do at this point), without an anchor like Giant, the mall will most likely continue to bleed tenants and customers.
But getting new tenants can be a bit tricky for a project in the situation the Rotunda is in.
A massive development project is promised. So what kind of lease could a business sign? What kind of stability is offered? So how long would a business be able to exist there before the looming development happens? And then, what happens to the businesses in the Rotunda once the redevelopment begins? And what happens to their customers who have to enter a construction zone just to shop? And finally, after the redevelopment is complete, will businesses be able to afford the increased rents that redevelopment guarantees? Will all of the tenants still be offered leases?
For the longest time, the Rotunda was simply stalled. But now, with the loss of the Giant, it seems it could be in quicksand unless developers come up with a plan and, most importantly, act on that plan.
Will the Grand Rotunda rise again? Time will tell.