New stakeholder plans modernization for Shops at Kenilworth

Local developer Greenberg Gibbons Commercial plans a “major refurbishment’ of The Shops at Kenilworth after purchasing a stake in the Towson mall last month, the firm’s CEO said.


With its location just off the Interstate 695 Beltway between Charles Street and York Road, extensive free parking and an upscale clientele for its some 30 stores, Brian Gibbons, CEO and chairman of the board at Greenberg Gibbons, calls the mall a “hidden gem.”


“I look at Kenilworth as a specialty center as opposed to a mall. We can make it really special. It’s got a lot of history,” Gibbons said. “Towson is a challenge with traffic and parking. We want this to be a treasure with great parking that’s an easy in-and-out.”


Over the next six to eight months, plans will be developed to improve Kenilworth, Gibbons said.


The mall will not be demolished, Gibbons said, but, instead, undergo a modernization, “a really major refurbishment.” There might be a slight expansion, perhaps to the parking lot, “but nothing major.”


Gibbons expects to fill the mall’s four vacancies, aiming “to get it a little more upscale.” To that end, he said he aims for tenants to be “a mix of Baltimore and national names.”


Mall merchants appeared to welcome the move by the Owings Mills-headquartered, mid-Atlantic focused developer.


“Their track record is wonderful,” said Ken Knight, manager of Stebbins Anderson, a tenant at the mall since it opened in 1979, referring to two well-known Greenberg Gibbons’ Baltimore projects, Hunt Valley Towne Centre and the future Foundry Row, in Owings Mills.


Bill Gillis, store manager of Jos. A Bank, men’s clothier and another longtime tenant, agreed. “Greenberg Gibbons has a great reputation,” he said. “I saw what happened when they opened Annapolis Towne Centre. It was a very big deal.”


Mid-morning on a recent Friday, the two-level, nearly 142,000-square-foot mall was quiet and customers were scarce.


The main activity was concentrated next to the lower-level fountain, where a group of about 25 women chatted at tables while knitting caps for infants — a group called Tiny Toppers — to be donated to local hospitals. The fountain gurgled quietly in the background. For the Christmas season, the mall hosts an elaborate 60-foot long train garden that merchants say is popular with the public.


Gibbons said in a recent interview that the mall is worth about $25 million with a mortgage of $16 to $17 million, the equity value being the difference between the two.


According to Gibbons, the developer purchased a “significant” interest in the mall from owner Kenilworth Limited Partnership, an entity related to Towne Properties of Cincinnati. Gibbons declined to specify the percent or the price.


Robert Latshaw Jr., past president of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors and chairman of the Greater Baltimore Economic Forum, called Greenberg Gibbon’s acquisition a plus for the mall and the Towson business community.


“It’s generally good for an income-producing property to have new ownership because there is often an influx of new capital that presents the property with opportunities for major improvements and marketing capabilities,” said Latshaw, principal in Latshaw Commercial Real Estate.


“It’s not on a major thoroughfare like York Road. It doesn’t have 45,000 to 55,000 cars per day,” Latshaw said of Kenilworth mall. “But the location is ideal for the demographics, between Towson and Ruxton.”


Then, there’s the Greenberg Gibbons factor. “They’re a very capable and proven retail developer in the Maryland market,” Latshaw said.


Gibbons, a native of Roland Park and graduate of Loyola Blakefield, said he has a sentimental attachment to the mall. He visited it regularly in his youth and still remembers the spectacular holiday train garden for which it is known. Gibbons said he intends to build on what he called an upscale clientele base.


“He is willing to put money into the mall. I suspect that whatever they bring in, folks will want it,” said Knight, of Stebbins Anderson, a Baltimore company since 1867, who hopes Greenberg Gibbons will retain the local ownership atmosphere of the mall.


“Most of the stores are locally owned. It’s the glue of the mall,” Knight said.


Gillis, of Jos. A Bank, would welcome a mall makeover. “It could use a facelift,” he said, and he wouldn’t mindgreater visibility for the mall as well.


“Our store location is well known in the neighborhood. But I get calls from people wandering around Towson Town Center mall asking, ‘Where are you?'” Gillis said.


Last May, Ashley’s Sweet Beginnings opened, a bakery and café that Michael Sandaal and his daughter, Ashley Krauk, co-own.


Located opposite the fountain, the café has a long glass display case filled with pastries, tablecloth-covered tables and chairs and, tucked in a corner inside the store, an elaborate train garden that is changed seasonally. This time of year, the train loops around haunted houses and ghosts, pumpkins and a skeleton-filled cemetery.


Krauk, a Towson resident and Towson High School Class of 2010 graduate, earned a bachelor’s degree in baking/pastry from The Culinary Institute of America, in Hyde Park, N.Y. She had plenty of job offers but she chose to open her own business and at The Shops of Kenilworth specifically because of its local appeal.


“There was a vacancy. As soon we saw the space, we knew it was right,” said Krauk, who also does catering and custom cake-baking, including wedding cakes for events as distant as Lancaster, Pa.


Like the other merchants, Krauk and Sandaal are in favor of Greenberg Gibbons’ participation in the mall. Sandaal hopes the result is an increase in patronage.


“The mall has a family atmosphere,” he said. “But we’d like it to be a bigger family.”


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