Revisiting the retail plan for The Merriweather District - 1 year since the last tenant announcement
One year. It's been one whole year! No, I'm not talking about how long it has been since coronavirus shut down the US. This is The Merriweather Post; not The Washington Post. I'm talking about the amount of time it has been since a new retail tenant has been announced for The Merriweather District. The Charmery was announced on March 10, 2020. Since then, Nothing! Nada! Zilch! What a slow news year.
The Charmery will open this Friday March 12, 2021 (paywall), as reported by the Baltimore Business Journal. The ice cream shop was originally supposed to open last summer, but had some pandemic-related delays, including changing to the design to include a walk-up window. I'll have some more coverage of The Charmery's opening later this week.
In the meantime, let's revisit the retail plans for The Merriweather District.
First, a review of what we know:
So far, we know of 4 retail tenants:
Clove and Cardamom (open now)
The Charmery (opening this Friday, March 12!)
Busboys and Poets (Spring or Summer)
Dok Khao Thai Eatery (opening unknown, though interior fit-in has begun!)
Matchbox Pizza (which was previously announced to be amongst the initial wave of restaurants) is no longer coming following the bankruptcy of of Matchbox Food Group last summer and subsequent purchase by Thompson Hospitality.
Below is the Retail leasing map for Phase 1 from HR Retail, which shows all retail spaces in The Merriweather District. If the image below is too small, here is a direct link to the PDF it came from.
Let's dig into the map.
There are a total of 20 retail spaces in Phase 1 of the Merriweather District (excluding an ATM). The four restaurants announced to date will occupy 18,173 square feet of the 97,541 square feet of rentable space, or just 19% of total leasable retail space. There are still SIXTEEN unannounced spaces. Nearly 80,000 square feet of retail - all unannounced. These spaces are built. They are ready for lease. There just hasn't been any announcements of lease signing yet.
The first thing to note on the map is the color-coding of the tenant spaces. The 4 announced spaces are colored yellow, indicating that they are leased. The 5 orange colored spaces are available. The 5 blue and 6 pink spaces indicate spaces that are either at lease or at a letter of intent phase of the pre-lease process. My understanding is that these terms are used to indicate that a tenant has expressed interest and is in process of negotiating a lease or that a tentative agreement has been reached, but that the lease itself has not yet been signed. However, I've noticed that the colors of these retail maps have not been updated in quite some time, dating back prior to the pandemic. So, it's possible that the pandemic has changed the plans for some prospective tenant, such that they have reassessed their decision to lease or they have delayed signing a lease until things are closer to reopening - and this map has just not been updated. In any regards, from the standpoint of the interested public trying to figure out when retail tenants will be announced, it doesn't really matter much if a space is orange, blue, or pink because a tenants will only be announced after a lease has officially been signed.
The labels on the retail map gives us clues who may occupy these spots. Of the 16 unannounced retail spaces, 10 (TEN!) spaces are earmarked for a restaurant (two of which have more specific descriptors - "Latin Fusion" and "Beer Focused"). Additionally, the not yet constructed standalone small building on the west side of Color Burst Park is labeled "cafe," clearly designed for a coffee house. So, between the 4 known leases, the 10 other places labeled restaurant, and the café, there a FIFTEEN spots in Phase 1 of the Merriweather District designated for a food retailer!
The remaining 5 retail tenants are labeled as followed:
3 spaces are earmarked for "specialty or boutique fitness".
One labeled "nail salon", and
The largest space - up to 20,000 square feet in the top right of the map, simply labeled "retail"
So, when will we find out about the next tenants? Clove and Cardamom is open now and The Charmery is 3 days away. Other economic activity has resumed in the Merriweather District. Construction on Marlow - the next major mixed-use development has started. Plus, there was recent news that five new businesses have leased more than 50,000 square feet of office space. I think the opening of Busboy and Poets could also be a catalyst. So, after the pandemic slowed things down, there is certainly appears to be some renewed momentum.
The 20 retails spaces available now are part of Phase 1 of The Merriweather District. Phase 2 (include includes Marlow) and Phase 3 will collectively double the amount of retail space while adding a public library and more mixed-use residential and commercial buildings, as shown in the map at full build-out.
Now, can we please - pretty please - get some new retail tenant announcements?