Beltway Plaza, a 1963 indoor-out of doors hybrid mall in Greenbelt, Maryland, has interested me ever considering the fact that I checked out its Large supermarket my 1st night soon after transferring down from New Jersey for grad school at College Maryland College Park.
The mall was produced by the late authentic estate developer Sidney J. Brown, and is now managed by Bethesda-based mostly Quantum Firms, which describes itself as having “a emphasis on browsing heart redevelopment and revitalization.” Not coincidentally, Beltway Plaza is the issue of a key redevelopment program.
But does it will need revitalization?
As malls go, Beltway Plaza is flourishing. It is discount-oriented and entire of unbiased corporations, somewhat than mostly chains. It’s pretty nicely managed for a business constructing about 50 decades outdated. And with more than 100 corporations and 850,000 square feet, only 8 storefronts (not counting kiosks) are at this time vacant, according to Quantum’s property data sheet.
It just feels different from the common shopping mall in some approaches it’s an experiment, an instance of what a suburban professional house can evolve into with a tiny localism, entrepreneurship, and flexibility.
I recently visited the mall for the initial time due to the fact mid-2020, and even with several years of looming redevelopment and COVID-19 restrictions, this distinctive house stays idiosyncratic and profitable.
It serves its rapid space effectively, with massive appeal both for close by University of Maryland learners (many of whom stay in going for walks length of the mall) as very well as immigrants, doing work-class folks, and anybody who likes a offer.
The mall’s eclectic selection of firms provide a vast range of people and uses that vendors in new developments frequently fail to. From a West African restaurant, attractiveness emporium, and bubble tea store to a low cost dress clothier and neighborhood arts nonprofit, there is something for everyone.
Other noteworthy institutions consist of an unbiased components shop renowned for its deeply discounted electronic key fobs and a kiosk identified as Reward Outlet that sells very low cost ties and menswear. Are these excellent satisfies or ties? Of system not. But for anyone doing work their initial white-collar or business office work, it could be a lifesaver.
Let’s drill down a little far more. What, specifically, separates Beltway Plaza from the common searching shopping mall?
Initially of all, it is a medium-sized, 1-story indoor mall that is not commonly seasoned now. Compared with with a strip shopping mall, which nevertheless comes in all dimensions, one can get shelter from the weather conditions and have space to hold out or stroll around indoors.
Second, mainly because it has a Large supermarket as properly as a lesser grocery retailer with a butcher counter and fresh develop portion, it’s a 1-quit shopping expertise, type of like a Walmart Supercenter. But in contrast to Walmart, it has what urbanists occasionally refer to as a “fine grain” — a superior density of independent, tiny-scale businesses in a relatively walkable area.
There is also a Target with a standard grocery part (with an exterior entrance only), but the Concentrate on does not outcompete the rest of the mall. There are likely folks who go only for the Target or Big, some who go only for the neighborhood organizations, and others who mix and match.
Essentially, Beltway Plaza could be as near to a community enjoyment middle as several suburbs will ever have. In addition to the grocery store, it options a movie theater, a gym, an ice product parlor, a cobbler, a barber store, a florist, a well known Italian restaurant with long ties in Greenbelt, and a enjoyment center with game titles, perform areas, and indoor bumper automobiles. There’s even a Pentecostal church in the back.
It is a spot wherever a spouse and children without a complete ton of revenue can devote an afternoon and invest in all the things they will need. And simply because of its variety of enterprises that enchantment to immigrant communities, pupils, and genuinely any individual hunting for low cost shopping, it can provide the complete local community.
Like many professional jobs, a proposal for the mall’s redevelopment has been slow and halting. And the plan’s scale, consisting of six phases, will just take about a decade to entire. There has been minimal information in the last 12 months on the job, but the first period, which may perhaps start out quickly, builds new flats on underutilized parking tons in the back again of the property. The strategy eventually calls for the present mall to be demolished and for the assets to be turned into a mixed-use neighborhood.
But not everyone, as you’d anticipate, is on board. Greenbelt residents are divided in excess of the programs many like the shopping mall as it is, or at least hope that some of its positive elements, these as its preponderance of independent and largely immigrant-owned enterprises, can be preserved just after redevelopment.
Whilst Quantum has promised to check out and keep the mom-and-pop tenants, “commercial gentrification” is nonetheless a worry subsequent redevelopment, so their ultimate future stays unsure. In simple fact, the long term of malls, in standard, is unsure. A 2017 report by Credit score Suisse predicted that 1 in 4 malls would close by 2022.
The loss of life of malls is a greatly noticed retail pattern, visible throughout the state and in the DC region. Luxurious malls, like the two in Tysons, Virginia, are undertaking perfectly. But other individuals are the subject of redevelopment proposals, like Fair Oaks Mall in Fairfax, or have by now been demolished, like the White Flint Mall outside the house of Rockville or the Landmark Shopping mall in Alexandria.
But contrary to a lot of procuring facilities, which bear the scars of the pandemic, Beltway Plaza fairly much has as reduced a vacancy charge as it ever has in the six a long time I’ve been purchasing there. According to Quantum’s information sheet, the home has a vacancy charge of less than 10%.
A couple new enterprises, which experienced been in the process of opening in 2020, are now open. A handful of retailers I keep in mind from past several years are gone, and a few storefronts are vacant, but there is a whole lot of life and electrical power. The significant survival amount of Beltway Plaza’s companies implies that they provide their buyer base effectively and instead exactly.
So, what is not to like? Beltway Plaza’s land use, with its hulking parking deck, massive area parking ton, and location together a unsafe multi-lane highway, all depart a thing to be sought after. It is not nice to walk to if you are living close by, even even though loads of individuals reside within just going for walks distance.
These are issues that could be remediated without having truly tearing the mall down and whilst later on levels of the redevelopment prepare do connect with for demolition, they also assure open place, walkable outside areas, and enhancements to Greenbelt Road.
And inspite of the obvious results of the shopping mall, the parking large amount is just about never comprehensive and seldom even near ability. On both equally of my most new visits, in August of 2020 and July of 2021, the parts of the parking whole lot behind and alongside the mall ended up in essence empty. And this is not approximately all of the parking back there. No question, this parking ability was developed with a far more suburban center-class demographic in head, who were being anticipated to drive almost everywhere.
As with the businesses in the nearby local community of Langley Park, a number of miles west on the identical condition highway, a significant percentage of prospects now arrive by transit or strolling, creating all that parking redundant — especially taking into consideration there are apartments guiding the mall and several residences on the other aspect of Greenbelt Highway.
The shopping mall is much less than two miles from the Greenbelt Metro station, and there is a bus halt on the bottom degree of the mall’s parking deck. Some people even get there by taxi, as my grad faculty roommate did. I frequently observed cabs idling in front of the shopping mall. That’s why the redevelopment approach rightly starts by turning some of that dead parking place into properties for men and women.
But even with its bodily sort and environment, the mall does not come to feel typically “suburban.” It is distinguished by its idiosyncratic use of interior room, its “commercial density,” and its adaptability in excess of the many years.
The query, then, is how we can improve the land use of houses like this, and corridors like Greenbelt Road, even though also preserving the essence of ordinary spots that have little by little developed into one thing complex and unique.