Renovated Towson Town Center aims at competitors Infusion of $150 million adds space for 130 stores.

Commercial real estate

October 14, 1991|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Evening Sun Staff

The name of the game in the highly competitive shopping mall business is "excitement."

Excitement enough, say, to draw those extra few thousand shoppers who have been haunting the marbled halls of Owings Mills Mall, waving their credit cards at the recession, over to the Towson Town Center, which opens this week in expanded form with decorations and entertainment meant to dazzle.

"Our number-one competitor is Owings Mills Mall. Twenty-five percent of our business will come from outside our primary area," said Christopher Schardt, general manager of Towson Town Center.

For those who may have forgotten, Towson Town Center, on Dulaney Valley Road between Joppa Road and Fairmount Avenue, began in 1959 as just another post-World War II strip center. It was enclosed and remodeled in 1973, and remodeled again in 1981 when the Hecht Co. appeared at the edge of the parking lot.

But an infusion of another $150 million has added space for 130 new stores, and enough exotic decorations to satisfy the most jaded glitz seeker. Seventy-two percent of that new space is already under lease and another 12 percent is "spoken for" but not under written contract, Schardt said. Most of the stores are the chain outlets that can be found at almost any large mall, including The Gap, Sierra Leather, Hess Shoes and Ann Taylor.

The newest section of the mall is a long, wide corridor that forms the second leg of a huge "A" shape running from Hecht's to the apex of the "A," which will be the door of a new Nordstrom's department store, due to open Sept. 11, 1992.

The Hahn Co., of San Diego, Calif., together with Towson developer DeChiaro Properties and Santa Anita Realty, another California company, has gone the extra mile to do more than just decorate the interior.

For example, there are palm trees. Sixteen of them are 2-ton, 40-foot high behemoths. Assistant Marketing Director Robert A. Paulis said they were grown in Texas, then moved to Florida to be specially acclimated to life under glass before they were trucked to Towson last month.

Towson Town's got 113 palms altogether, plus 3,080 other green plants, plus 731 flowering plants. The big palms were placed in specially built, heated wells to keep them healthy.

Above the largest palms is fretted, frosted skylight glass that will vary the light patterns on the 90,000 square feet of terrazzo flooring below as each day gets older.

Not enough?

The center will feature "a recurrent sundial motif" and vine--covered trellises. The advertising literature goes on: "Fanciful animal sculptures, including a winged frog and a snail with antlers, based on 'follies' found in 17th century French gardens, will sit atop 20-foot pedestals. Hand-crafted statues of Pan and Pegasis, Greek mythological symbols for the earth and sky, will extend two stories high from the center's east and west promenades."

Three glass domes containing a total of 1,000 individual panes of glass will adorn the ceiling.

L Paulis called the decorative effect, "understated elegance."

RTKL Associates, Inc. of Baltimore designed the interior.

For the official opening, the developers are staging a $50-a-ticket, black-tie party Tuesday evening, featuring live bands and food, , with profits to go to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

As a separate touch, the plan is to open the new wing with a cutting of one of the vines in the formal garden motif, rather than the traditional ribbon cutting. The ceremony is scheduled for Wednesday, and continuous live entertainment will be featured through Sunday. . Merchants will give away Halloween candy to children starting at 5:30 p.m. on Oct. 31.

The 727,000 square feet of retail space includes the expanded Hecht's department store facing Dulaney Valley Road, now 40,000 square feet larger than before, 200 smaller stores, and another 225,000 square feet that will contain Nordstrom's department store, scheduled to open next fall.

The center will provide 1,600 full- and part-time jobs, the Hahn Co. estimates.

Groundbreaking on this expansion was in February 1990, when Baltimore County officials helped Hahn Co. President John M. Gilchrist Jr. jack-hammer through the existing mall floor to begin construction.

Marketing information shows 500,000 potential customers within a radius of 8.5 miles with an average household income of $44,000. Gilchrist has said he expects to reap $400 per square foot in sales for the new center, compared with $310 per square foot before the renovations. The sales target compares with an industry average of $256 per square foot.

Parking has been greatly expanded with two six-story garages and surface lots that provide 4,360 free parking places.

Gilchrist said Towson Town Center will be the company's flagship project on the East Coast, comparable to the firm's West Coast flagship, Horton Plaza in San Diego. The company owns 50 other malls nationwide.

"The new Towson Town Center will attract visitors from up and down the East Coast. We expect this shopping mecca to impact the region positively on many fronts," he said.

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