West Baltimore County is integral to the regional economy. Activity centers like UMBC, Northwest Hospital in the Randallstown area, the Rosewood Technology Park in Owings Mills, and the Rutherford Business Center, Social Security Administration, and Centers for Medicare/Medicaid in Woodlawn power our dynamic economy. Access to public transit via Metro and regional bus, and easy access to the interstates is also a plus. New housing and population growth indicate that many continue to find West Baltimore County an attractive and desirable place to live.
With these strengths in mind, two of our biggest economic development opportunities involve redeveloping, improving, and connecting the Owings Mills and Security Square mall properties as regional hubs. Nationwide, traditional malls are being updated and re-imagined as better-integrated activity centers that serve a wider array of community needs. Successful redevelopment of our mall properties will require understanding community needs, the local market, and national trends driving investment decisions. It means understanding how to leverage existing strengths and focusing on livability, opportunity, and quality of life. Importantly, it takes vision and leadership at all levels of government to achieve success. We should consider options that broaden the spectrum of economic development possibilities by including a focus on wellness, public health, arts, and entertainment. This ensures that each redevelopment project becomes the heart of the community, and in so doing attracts visitors and spending from surrounding areas.
The Owings Mills and Security Square areas together are already bright spots believe it or not — more than 31% of Baltimore County’s population growth between 2010 and 2015 came from these areas. Our businesses and activity centers are part of the larger Baltimore regional economy that is holding its own nationally. Recently, Baltimore was found to be one of only 40% of major metropolitan areas maintaining what economists call economic dynamism. Another report ranked Baltimore 21st for its number of businesses qualifying as advanced industries businesses, that have an outsized impact on economic growth. Because of these strengths, we know that we can realize great things from redevelopment of the mall properties.
In Owings Mills, where new housing, retail, and office space are already coming at Metro Center and Foundry Row, focusing on a community, civic, or cultural anchor for the mall redevelopment could catalyze those existing investments in a powerful way. This kind of anchor could range from a concert venue to a YMCA, or perhaps government offices. An anchor that offers something different and complementary would round out the mix of uses in the greater area around the metro station and catalyze this area as a long-term center of economic growth.
One national best practice is the use of festival-style programming in well-designed common areas to establish a new center as a local destination of choice. The right plan for the mall, in connection with Foundry Row and Metro Center, could also ultimately lead to spill-over development up and down Reisterstown Road, ultimately meshing with Reisterstown’s historic Main Street district.
At Security Square, the properties in the area near the mall are mostly government and commercial office space, as well as industrial or manufacturing properties. A good retail anchor like a Dick’s Sporting Goods or a Kohl’s could work well in this area, integrated as part of a town center model, like Hunt Valley Towne Center or Waugh Chapel in Anne Arundel County. This would create a new mixed-use hub where people can live, work, and play, and one that could continue to become better integrated with the surrounding area going forward.
Update: The Baltimore Sun published this article last month about newly revealed plans for Security Square Mall. I was happy to learn that a town center style development is being considered.
Partnership between community, government, and the private sector is crucial for any economic development to succeed, including redevelopment of existing properties. Public-private partnerships can even be leveraged to harness private capital, like Arlington, VA is doing for Ballston Mall. While many decisions related to local land use are made at the local government level, tax credits and business loan programs, bond bills, and transportation decisions are made at the state level, or come from federal grants.
This brings us back to vision and leadership. Vision and leadership aid communication, set expectations, and overcome obstacles when the going gets tough. It means understanding how to leverage existing strengths and focusing on livability, opportunity, and quality of life. West Baltimore County’s future will be brightest if our elected leaders work with community members and private partners to articulate a strong vision for redevelopment that charts a clear path forward.