Experiential Retail Emerges as Significant Driver in Baltimore Metro Area

by John Nelson

Not so many years ago, the typical consumer thought of visiting the nearby regional mall or neighborhood center to go shopping — possibly for a new pair of jeans or some shoes. Like everything else in this world, the internet has significantly altered this exercise and, today, people tend to think of retail centers as places to “experience” something that cannot be easily acquired or replicated by simply tapping on a keyboard to request it.

Developers and retailers alike have adapted to this behavioral change by introducing new concepts that emphasize the delivery of this experience, including new restaurants, entertainment-style concepts and health care services. This trend remains in full swing in the Baltimore metropolitan region, coupled with game-changing projects planned or rising throughout the Charm City region.

Food, Medical, Entertainment
The continued popularity of fast-casual restaurants is driven in large part by time-depraved families with dual-income households that seek eating options offering both quality and quickness. The “burger war” includes recent entries such as Bobby’s Burger Palace, Clark Burger and Shake Shack. Wahlburgers, operated by actor Mark Wahlberg and his brothers, might soon follow.

Bill Holzman, St. John Properties Inc.

Bill Holzman, St. John Properties Inc.

Pizza remains a crowded, yet vibrant, category with new arrivals &pizza, Blake Pizza, MOD Pizza and Pie 360, joining Bagby Pizza Co. and Pie Five Pizza, which started opening locations in the region a couple of years ago. Healthy eating is also in vogue with Honeycrow and UFood Grill looking to make inroads around the area.

Urgent care facilities continue to dot the landscape as consumers seek to avoid the long wait time of emergency rooms, as well as the difficulty in seeing their primary care physician at short notice. ExpressCare and Rightime Medical Care are quickly gobbling up sites around the Baltimore area.

The fitness center category remains strong, with continued activity by the larger format concepts such as Planet Fitness, LA Fitness and locally owned Brick Bodies, along with growing activity from some new smaller format boutique concepts such as Orangetheory Fitness and Studio B and Barre.

Entertainment-style uses provide the greatest opportunity for creativity and, in the theater category, iPic Theaters, which is half movie theater and half restaurant, is flexing its muscles locally. TopGolf, which provides an interactive, golf-based entertainment experience is searching for locations in Baltimore. iFly, an indoor skydiving venue, is set to open in the White Marsh area, and Urban Air Trampoline Park intends to open its first Maryland location in Baltimore County this summer.

Omni-Channel Marketing
Having just returned from the national RECon show, I received an education from experts who discussed the convergence of brick-and-mortar physical locations with internet shopping. In the most recent holiday shopping season, more than one-third of all consumers engaged in a click-and-collect experience. That means, they purchased an item online, but visited a local store to pick up the item. Once there, they purchased another product.

Retailers still need physical locations, even if they act as product “showrooms” where consumers browse items before returning to their computer to purchase. Retailers are racing to master the art of omni-channel marketing, which challenges stores to utilize all options to reach and persuade consumers to purchase products using different experiences.

Projects in the Pipeline
All eyes are on the Owings Mills region that boasts three retail or mixed-use projects, all separated by less than two miles. Greenberg Gibbons Commercial is set to open the long-awaited Foundry Row this fall. The 400,000-square-foot center is anchored by Wegmans Food Markets. A short drive away is Metro Centre at Owings Mills, the area’s first transit-oriented development that continues to reel in new fast-casual restaurants. A stone’s throw away is Owings Mill Mall, which is set to face the wrecking ball this year, as Kimco Realty makes plan to convert the project into a big-box dominated outdoor retail venue.

Towson boasts equally impressive new projects. Caves Valley Partners is moving forward with a mixed-use project combining student housing, office space, a hotel and the area’s first Whole Foods Market to Towson Row.

The $25 million makeover of The Shops at Kenilworth is nearing completion and will feature a marketplace feel, aided by the addition of Trader Joe’s which relocated from nearby Towson Circle (which itself is being remade and will include an adjacent 400-unit apartment building).

A short drive north from Towson to White Marsh will find Baltimore County’s answer to new urbanism with St. John Properties’ recent groundbreaking of Greenleigh at Crossroads. This mixed-use pedestrian-friendly community will soon add more than 1,500 residential units starting next year, in addition to more office space that will increase a growing daytime population that already exceeds 3,000 people (combining apartment residents and employees).

Developers are scurrying to build massive high-rise apartment projects in downtown Baltimore before the bubble bursts. Where you have new residents, retail must surely follow. Harbor East remains the sparkling jewel of Baltimore City, sporting high-end apparel stores and restaurants including lululemon athletica and the Under Armour Brand House, while the city awaits the second phase of Canton Crossing, which revitalized an entire section of downtown highlighted by attracting Harris Teeter. Harbor Point, the nearly 700,000-square-foot mixed-use project overlooking Baltimore’s waterfront, and the new home of Exelon Corp., is set to open this year. Retail is following slowly with the announcement of several restaurants.

And then, there is Port Covington, the $5.5 billion brainchild of Kevin Plank, founder of Under Armour, which consists of an “edge city,” combining approximately 14,000 residential units with office space, restaurants, parks and shopping along the waterfront area.

— By Bill Holzman, Vice President – Retail Leasing, St. John Properties Inc. This article originally appeared in the July 2016 issue of Southeast Real Estate Business.

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