Not much space has been leased in retail-office complex


September 20, 1991|By Timothy J. Mullaney

Another article said that Dulaney Plaza in Towson was in receivership. Actually, it is the nearby Dulaney Center that is in receivership. Dulaney Plaza, a strip shopping center, is 100 percent leased and has no debt, its owner said.

Towson Commons once sounded almost as good as a license print money: a development of movie theaters, retail shops, restaurants and office space in one package that would be downtown Towson's biggest development in years.

The movie theaters would bring in customers at night, and the office building would lure customers during the day. The money would just flow in naturally.


But that was in 1989. In 1991, as Towson Commons and developers led by LaSalle Partners of Chicago prepare for a scheduled April opening, things are looking tougher.

Only 7 percent of the 190,000 square feet of office space has been leased. Three of the five restaurant spaces are unspoken for, though LaSalle says another deal is near. And the developers haven't announced any retail tenants.

And competition in the area could be increasing.

Less than a month before it opens the first phase of a $150 million expansion of the Towson Town Center shopping center, a group headed by the Hahn Co. received county approval yesterday to enlarge the project by adding a $50 million office and garage complex.

The Baltimore County Review Group approved plans by Hahn and its partners to build an addition to the mall that would include 200,000 square feet of office space, 16,000 square feet of retail space and up to 1,440 parking spaces.

The addition would be constructed in phases at the northeast corner of Joppa and Dulaney Valley roads and would be linked by an overhead pedestrian bridge to the former Hutzler's store on Joppa Road, which the Hahn group also owns.

The approval came after developers agreed to scale down a plan that called for a 13-story, 275,000-square-foot office tower and parking for 1,760 cars. As a result, the office tower will rise 10 stories above Joppa Road, with two levels of parking underground, and the garage will rise eight levels above Joppa Road, with two levels underground. RTKL Associates Inc. is the architect.

Wayne Finley, vice president in charge of development for Hahn, said that the addition will be constructed starting with the parking space, which will serve the eventual tenants of the Hutzler's building. Hahn is seeking to begin construction by mid-1992 and complete that phase about a year later, he said.

Work on the office tower will move ahead when the real estate market improves and a lead tenant emerges, Mr. Finley said. In the meantime, the land will be used for parking, he added.

The development team also includes Santa Anita Realty and DeChiaro Enterprises. The same team has set Oct. 16 for the grand opening for the first phase of the renovated Towson Town Center, which includes about 200 shops and a large, new, dome-covered center court. The Baltimore area's first branch of Nordstrom's is under construction and scheduled to open in the fall of 1992.

During the hearing yesterday, the county planners read staff reports that said the office tower would cause the intersection of Dulaney Valley Road and Fairmount Avenue and the intersection of Fairmount Avenue and Joppa Road to become so congested that they would receive "F" ratings under the county's standards. But that will not prevent approval of the project because new development in Towson is currently exempted from having to comply with basic-services legislation.

Anyone who objects to the county's action has 30 days to appeal the decision, planners said.

For Towson Commons, the good news is that it can still be a nice place for shopping and entertainment even if it's not full on opening day, the developers and others say. The bad news is that it will lose money at first, and LaSalle and its partners will continue to battle depressed retailing and office space markets.

"I think we're meeting expectations, especially in light of what's happening to the economy," said Gregory J. Arnold, vice president of LaSalle and general manager of the project. "I don't know if very many people break even the first day."

Mr. Arnold is quick to stress that a slow start doesn't mean disaster.

"You can't look at each of the pieces, you have to look at the whole thing," he said. Even competing developers said they think Towson Commons will add spark to the downtown district, in which merchants have said evening sales are very weak.

"It really does offer Towson something that Towson doesn't have," said Michael Kaiser, senior vice president at MacKenzie & Associates Inc., a Lutherville developer that is a major player in the Towson market. But, Mr. Kaiser adds, "It's going to take a while."

He said that LaSalle would have to get virtually every lease in downtown Towson for two years to fill the building.

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