Brian Gibbons, CEO, Greenberg Gibbons
In the tumultuous world of commercial development, change is definitely inevitable – tenants come and go, what the public wants fluctuates with trends and lifestyle changes, and local and national economic ebbs and flows all can have a dramatic effect on whether a retail shopping center succeeds or not. However, in order to not only succeed – but also thrive – a developer must be proactive in order for a property to evolve and become an economic generator.
Brian J. Gibbons, chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Greenberg Gibbons, one of the Mid-Atlantic region’s premier developers of mixed-use, town center and retail properties, is a visionary leader who has expertly steered Hunt Valley Towne Centre’s continuous evolution over the past 10-plus years, and he’s not done yet.
“Hunt Valley Towne Centre has become a hub of economic growth in the area. We have strong anchor stores, a very successful movie theater (Regal Hunt Valley Stadium 12), Wegmans, Marshalls, Pier One, Dick’s Sporting Goods, etc. So there are a lot of reasons to come here – popular restaurants, a combination of entertainment with Greetings and Readings’ events and the movies, and unlike a lot of centers, we don’t close down at 6 p.m.,” says Gibbons. Since joining Greenberg Gibbons in 1999, Gibbons has overseen the acquisition, finance, leasing, development and management of over 10,600,000 square feet of award-winning mixed-use and revitalization projects with a value in excess of $1.2 billion. His projects dot the Maryland landscape in Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Prince George’s counties.
Greenberg Gibbons acquired the struggling Hunt Valley Mall in 2003 and redeveloped the space with a pioneering “town center” concept that combines shopping with entertainment, dining and groceries. In 2005, Hunt Valley Towne Centre launched with the uber popular Wegmans, the Rochester, N.Y.-based grocer’s first Maryland location.
And after weathering the economic storm in 2008-2010, Hunt Valley Towne Centre (HVTC) is now poised to take the next big step in its evolution with the addition of a residential component that will deliver a “Live, Work, Play, Shop” experience … live in the upscale apartments onsite, grocery shop at Wegmans, catch the latest blockbuster movie, browse boutique shops and national stores, and work nearby, all within walking distance.
A Vision Realized
The residential component was envisioned early on, and now Greenberg Gibbons, and its partner, AvalonBay Communities Inc., are ready to move forward. So why is now the right time?
“There have been no new apartments in this area in a long time,” Gibbons answers. “AvalonBay, one of the largest apartment builders in the United States, felt there was a dearth of apartments in the market. We thought the time was right, and they thought the time was right to bring a new product into the market. It’s exciting as now we truly will be a ‘town center’ and will continue to evolve over time.”
Gibbons believes that the ability to “live, work, play and shop” will appeal to both Millenials and empty nesters. “If they work at McCormick or one of the countless office buildings in Hunt Valley this is a good option for them. They would have an easy commute to work – bike, walk or a two-minute drive – and all of their shopping needs and amenities are onsite … the combination of urban amenities in a walk able, suburban setting.”
Gibbons notes that in addition to the ability for residents to work within walking distance to the new apartments, there is a Light Rail stop at HVTC as well as easy access to I-83. He adds that many of the desirable areas of Baltimore City – i.e. Harbor East – are not attainable financially for many Millenials.
The residences – called Avalon Hunt Valley with 332 upscale apartments (shown above) – are under construction, and the first units are expected to be delivered in approximately Q2 2016, according to David A. Bookhout, development manager at AvalonBay Communities, Inc. When asked what drew AvalonBay to Hunt Valley Towne Centre, Bookhout replies, “Greenberg Gibbons has transformed the Towne Centre, and it is a bustling destination retail center. The Light Rail, which connects to Baltimore and BWI at the front door, is a great amenity. We are also bullish on the employment growth in this region. For example, McCormick and Co. just announced that they will be consolidating their headquarters right across the street from the shopping center. We believe that the amenities of the shopping center and the employment opportunities around Hunt Valley will draw prospective residents to our upscale community.”
Aarushi Poddar, marketing manager at AvalonBay Communities, adds, “In terms of marketing to our potential residents, we make sure to let prospects know that we carefully choose locations that put everything within reach – so the idea of ‘live, work and play’ can be a reality. We know our residents work hard and are looking to unwind at home, so we make sure to provide state-of-the-art amenities and upgrade finishes so they can live the elevated lifestyle they deserve. We also know that our prospects and residents are looking to have the convenience of everything from restaurants and entertainment to shopping and transportation nearby.”
Adaption Crucial to Success
In the 10 years since HVTC opened, Greenberg Gibbons has been able to weather the storm of the economic crisis that began in 2008. Despite having tenants declare bankruptcy and planned projects fall through, Gibbons and his team has been able to constantly adapt and find innovative solutions to allow HVTC to succeed. When Best Buy closed, Marshall’s and Pier One were brought in. When Walmart closed, the land was renovated to make way for the new apartments. And when Ray Lewis’s bowling lanes project did not come to fruition, Gibbons never panicked.
“We obviously had some tough times in 2008 and 2009, although we were pretty fully leased. We had to work with some tenants at the time, but most of the issues were resolved by 2010. Whenever we have a vacancy we have a list of tenants to fill that space,” says Gibbons. He has also succeeded with some creative solutions. “When we lost Filene’s because they went into bankruptcy, we decided to create office space. We had a demand for office space where people can be onsite with all the amenities at their doorstep.”
Greenberg Gibbons redesigned and repurposed the former Filene’s space into 30,000 square feet of office space, and was able to attract CARCHEX to move its headquarters from Gilroy Road in Hunt Valley to a 10,400-square-foot location at Hunt Valley Towne Centre directly above Designer Shoe Warehouse (DSW). CARCHEX is a provider of direct-to-consumer automotive services including auto warranty, pre-purchase inspections, auto insurance, auto financing and car buying. Greenberg Gibbons was able to utilize the remaining space to land LifeBridge Health, which opened a 10,000-square-foot office suite.
As for the failed MVP Entertainment bowling center, Gibbons says, “Even though we already had an entertainment component, we were excited about it, especially with Ray Lewis’s name attached to it, as we thought it was another way to feed traffic to the restaurants. However, I believe they were a victim of the recession as it was difficult to get any financing during that timeframe.” As always, Gibbons had an alternative plan; the space will house the new retail stores under the apartments.
“Hunt Valley Towne Centre is a strong center – strong sales, strong traffic and has done well since it opened,” says Gibbons. “One of the reasons why we have a grocery component (Wegmans) is that they are recession proof – even during a recession people still have to eat, and frankly during these times people tend to rely more on buying groceries to eat in as opposed to going out to a restaurant. We are always trying to find the most progressive grocery component for the market and obviously Wegmans was a home run for Hunt Valley.”
The array of dining options also fuels the success at HVTC. “We wanted restaurants like California Pizza Kitchen, The Greene Turtle and Sakura to anchor the second level by the movie theater,” Gibbons says. Another exciting new addition is Bar Louie, the first Baltimore-area location for the nightlife-themed national chain restaurant that specializes in martinis, craft beer and seasonal American food.
Greenberg Gibbons was also able to utilize unused parking space to create “pads” for restaurants. Gibbons says that when they acquired and razed the old Hunt Valley Mall, there was an excess of parking space. “We wanted a more vibrant, open aired center, so we created these pads throughout the center,” he says. The pads were able to accommodate popular restaurants along Shawan Road away from the main building, including Chick-fil-A, Joe’s Crab Shack, Carrabba’s and Outback. “Chick-fil-A needed to be in a separate location, as they are a high traffic generator. So now they have enough room and their location does not cause any traffic issues with the center itself. Chick-fil-A is very popular … I have six kids, and they love that chicken,” laughs Gibbons.
Another new addition is Bob’s Discount Furniture, which has 57 showrooms in 11 states in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions. The Hunt Valley Towne Centre location opened May 21. “Bob’s will be a destination within itself. Brandon Home Furnishings had been at HVTC for 10 years, and they had success for a number of years, so we knew that Bob’s would do well,” Gibbons says.
As for the future, Gibbons is excited about further evolution at Hunt Valley Towne Centre, especially with the addition of the residences, which he sees as the future of town centers. “At Annapolis Towne Centre, we have residential, office and commercial, and it’s fully leased. We were able to bring in Restoration Hardware, Arthaus, Whole Foods and Target and now have luxury condominiums and apartments,” he says. “Residents feel like they have an ownership in the town center, and with eyes on the parking lot and center, it’s a safe environment.”
Gibbons envisions the same – if not bigger – success at Hunt Valley. “We have 100 acres here, which is a unique opportunity to have that much land in a great location surrounded by millions of square feet of office spaces and close to I-83. It’s a great daytime destination for office workers and a nighttime destination for the surrounding area. And now with McCormick to open across the street we are excited for our tenants.” I95