Merritt Park Shopping Center plans come into focus
Wednesday, 28 September 2011 11:49
by Joseph M. Giordano

    The 50 people who crammed in the conference room at North Point Police Precinct 12  on Monday night for the monthly meeting of the Norwood Holabird Community Association, sat through neighborhood updates and rat reports before getting to the real news of the evening — the facelift of one of the area’s oldest shopping centers, Merritt Park.
“No one had a bad thing to say about the proposed project,” said association president John Ayres after the meeting. “I think it’s going to be a much-needed breath of fresh air for the local retail market.”
    Presented by Peter Grose, vice president of Regional Management, the company that recently took over management of the property, the plan is slated to take up to 18 months to complete, with work having begun on the barrel-roofed former Penn Fruit building at the Eastfield end of the center.
    “That’s just a wonderful, unique space,’ Grose said. “We’re looking for a unique tenant to fill that spot.”
    Right now, Regional is hoping to sign a major supermarket to anchor the 20-acre, 135,000-square-foot space.
    “That’s the ideal tenant,” Grose said. “If that happens, other upscale stores would follow.”
    The plan calls for the demolition of the shopping center complex from the Century 21 office to the Rite Aid store and the so-called “parasite” buildings including the former Citgo Station, the bank kiosk, the former Shell service station and the car wash, according to Grose.
    The new owners of the property, MP63 LLC,  took over on Sept. 1 and have already begun renovations to the 50-year-old shopping center.
    Merritt Park, due to its location at a crossroads of the area’s two main thoroughfares, was always a commerce center, until it fell into disrepair in recent years.
    “It’s the geographic center of Dundalk’s commerce,” said Ayres. “It’s right in the middle of everything.”
    The shopping center opened in 1961 with stores like Read’s Pharmacy, Filletti’s Subs and the H.L. Green department store.
    The North Point Library is also one of the oldest tenants on the plot.
    “Baltimore County paid like $50 for that spot back in the ‘60s,” Ayres said. “And you could get a sit-down dinner at H.L. Green’s and Read’s. They both had soda fountains too.”
    Since the Merritt House, which opened in 1963,  has decided not to renew its lease, the management company wants to attract a full-service restaurant again.
    “Once businesses see that we’ve got an anchor supermarket,” Grose said. “they’ll want to come aboard. We’re hoping for a restaurant as well.”     
    Since the company took over a few weeks ago, renovations have already begun on the jewel of the center, the former Penn Fruit building, according to Grose.
    “We’ve replaced the windows,” he said, “and started renovating the facade. It’s a spectacular space. It would be perfect for a tenant like a gym or a sub-big-box store.”
    Ayres is shooting higher for the landmark space that has housed everything from a fruit distribution company to a Goodwill outlet and, more recently, a Halloween supply store..
    “We would love if a Best Buy would take over that space,” Ayres said. “If they expanded it a little on both sides, they could install electronics in commercial vehicles. None of the Baltimore Best Buy stores do that.”
    If that were to happen, according to Ayres, the jobs would follow.
    “If you installed electronics like GPS systems in commercial vehicles, you could create a number of highly specialized jobs,” Ayres said. “And that’s something we really need right now.”
    More recent plans call for some cosmetic landscaping and a full overhaul of the huge parking lot.
    “That’s all going to be renovated with trees and islands like a modern parking lot,” said Grose.
    Ayres and the neighborhood residents who attended the meeting are optimistic about the future of the shopping center and compared it to Martin’s Plaza in Middle River.
    “If you looked at Martin’s Plaza a decade or so ago,” Ayers said. “It would look like Merritt Park does today. But now, there’s a Target, and its an anchor for the community. It’s a place people want to go to shop. That’s what we’re hoping will happen with Merritt.”