The height of the new Towson Commons office-retail center under construction in central Towson has been a philosophical sore point with local residents for months. Now, everyone may judge for themselves.
Motorists approaching the Baltimore County seat from any ZTC direction can easily see the bare structural steel outline of the 190,000-square-foot, 10-story-high office tower portion of the development, along the south side of Pennsylvania Avenue just east of the 400 block of York Road.
Although it casts a distinct profile, towering over buildings immediately next door and across the street, there are several equally tall or even taller buildings within a block, on Washington Avenue across from the old county courthouse.
For Gregory J. Arnold, vice president of LaSalle Partners Ltd., the "topping out" of the office wing, the erection of the steel spine of the circular retail section closer to York Road and the continuing quick pace of the construction is good news, despite the national economic recession.
"We look at the recession as a great window of opportunity," said Arnold, the future general manager of Towson Commons. Because of the slowdown, skilled workers and materials have been easy to come by, cutting construction delays, while delaying any other new projects that could compete with Towson Commons' scheduled April 1992 opening.
"We may be the only major new office building opening in Baltimore County in 1992," he said.
Even the weather has cooperated.
"We had no winter," he said. Workers are already busy pouring the concrete floor of the office tower's eighth floor. Heating exhaust ducts and other utilities are beginning to show on lower levels.
The steel structure of the York Road entrance to the circular retail portion of the project is now almost complete. Next will come work on the third phase, an eight-screen movie complex that will occupy the southern end of the L-shaped tract along Chesapeake Avenue.
The Maryland General Assembly this year granted Towson Commons unusual permission to import three liquor licenses from election districts elsewhere in the county to add to the two licenses to which the development would ordinarily be entitled. Towson area legislators approved the transfer bill, with restrictions, because they felt that Towson Commons is now a reality, and must be given a fair chance to succeed. The extra licenses may operate only until 12:30 a.m., are rooted to that one site and require a restaurant using one to earn 65 percent of its revenues from food sales.
Arnold said the legislature's action is important to the project's ability to attract and hold five restaurants expected to locate within the buildings. Pizzaria Uno and L&N Seafood, both chains, have already agreed to open there, Arnold said.
The 400,000 people a year that LaSalle projects will come to the movies alone should provide vital evening trade for the restaurants, he said. Now, Towson is like a ghost town at night and only one or two restaurants within the central core of town remain open at night. One, the new American Cafe, is directly across Pennsylvania Avenue from the project.
If luck holds, Arnold expects that the pre-cast concrete exterior panels of the $70 million project will be installed perhaps as the recession is ending, helping to get office and retail tenants to occupy the storefronts that will line York Road and Pennsylvania Avenue.
Richard Parsons, president of the West Towson Neighborhood Association and a persistent critic of the project's size, said his opinion hasn't changed now that the structure's steel skeleton is in place.
"It turned out pretty much as I expected," he said recently. "I just hope it works now that we're stuck with it."