Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Rotunda: Redevelopment at Last

 In Baltimore there are several development and redevelopment projects that are awaiting redevelopment. In a City where funds are limited to help developers move forward as well as current economic climate, it's no surprise that come projects remain in the pipeline. After more than a decade of planning and pitfalls, one redevelopment project is finally coming to fruition; The Rotunda.
During the mass exodus to the suburbs, Baltimore tried very hard to bring some of the suburban amenities to neighborhoods that weren't experiencing the same levels of urban decay as those closer to Downtown. It was decided that the Rotunda (then housing an insurance company) would become one of these suburban style Shopping Centers albeit as an enclosed Mall complete with a Grocery Store, Drug Store, Food Court, and a Movie Theater as well as smaller shops and boutiques with Offices above complete with a full parking lot. Parking (or lack thereof) was a huge hurdle luring quality Retailers into the City and also why at the same time they preferred the up & coming suburbs.
The Rotunda helped keep the Hampden/Roland Park area from decaying as badly as inner city neighborhoods did. Much of that had to do with the insulated location on the outskirts that provided a buffer for them as well so much so that Residents in nearby felt it safe to walk to and from the Rotunda which gave an element of a Community Center as well as a Retail and Office Complex. This safety was that was severely lacking during the 1970s and '80s when the Rotunda was in its heyday.
In the 1990s, Hampden began to experience a rebirth. 36th st. nicknamed "The Avenue" became something of a Main St. and tourist trap with new shops popping up in Retail spaces that had long since been vacant. At Christmas time on 34th St. every house on the street began decorating their homes with over the top lighting displays. This became yet another tourist trap and the once desolate streets of Hampden had become a shopping destination for City dwellers and visitors alike and eventually Residential growth followed.
This new life that was pumped into Hampden was not helpful to the Rotunda. In fact, the opening of the Greenspring Tower Shopping Center just a few blocks west of the Rotunda sent it into a downward spiral. Featuring a modern Super Fresh along with open concept Retail, the dingy old Giant and its enclosed layout really began to show its age. In the early 2000s however, the age and condition of the Rotunda could no longer be ignored.
It was around this time that the owners began consulting developers on how to breathe new life into the aging center. Many question were raised during this time such as; Will Giant stay? Will the Cinema stay? Will the original building stay? Will the entire project be Retail? The list goes on. Finally in around 2007, plans surfaced for a redeveloped Rotunda which included a brand new Giant that's the size of a modern Grocery Store, Multi Screen Cinemas and roughly 1000 Apartments and Condos and a Hotel with additional Retail space in an open concept style. 
These plans could not have been released at a more turbulent time. The economy crashed in 2008 making development and redevelopment projects across the Country some to a grinding halt. The Rotunda was no exception. While many redevelopment plans were ditched completely, the owners and developers of the Rotunda kept insisting that when the market stabilized, they would move forward with redevelopment. Giant also agreed to stay in for the long haul and continue to anchor the shopping center in its brand new store once redeveloped. They even agreed they wouldn't close their old dated store in the mean time. 
Well plans change and so does the Retail scene. Just a few blocks down 40th St., the Super Fresh chain went belly up leaving a 40,000 square foot hole in the Greenspring Tower Shopping Center. Although Fresh & Greens attempted to fill that hole, it was not a hit with Residents and left almost as quickly as it came. It was at this time that Giant had gotten sick of waiting for a new larger store. They left the Rotunda high and dry in 2012 in favor of the vacated space in Greenspring Tower.
Owners and developers of the Rotunda continued to insist that redevelopment will still happen. They scrapped the plan for a full sized Grocer in favor of a Boutique Grocer concept like Trader Joes. That worked out well because MOM, The Fresh Market, and Graul's all put in bids to anchor the redeveloped Shopping Center. MOM won the bid and with it several companies signed on to be part of the redeveloped Rotunda inlcuding Floyds 99 Barbershop and Massage Envy. Rite Aid will continue to stay on but the Cinema has since closed. Luckily that was part of the plan. A new Cinema is being built that caters to the growing trend of "Dinner and a Movie." This new Cinema is called "Cinebistro."
The securing of MOM as the Grocer Anchor of the Rotunda made the developers go back to the drawing board. They realized that some other components were a tad too ambitious and grandiose. They scaled back the number of Residences to 379 (down from close to 1,000) and scraped the Hotel. The Apartments (named the Icon) are now a mid rise versus the high rises that would have been required to fit that many Apartments and Condos on that small a site. 
Once given the green light, the demolition of the old Giant began. By that point, Giant's exodus had taken its toll and hardly anything was left in the beleaguered Center. Tenants like Hair Cuttery, Radio Shack, and Casa Mia Pizza had moved to Greenspring Tower just like Giant did. The original building would retain its character but will be in more of an I shape instead of the square that it had been with exterior entrances to shops. A brand new building building will house a parking garage, the Icon Apartments, the Cinebistro, and more Retail. This new building is currently being constructed on the southern end of the site on what was once a surface level parking lot.
It's been a long and winding road to get the Rotunda to where it is today: A mixed use development currently under construction. It was a road filled with bumps, twists and turns and what many thought were false dead ends. Now everyone can breathe a sigh of relief because the road ahead is on the fast track to redevelopment at last.

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