Towson's Mercantile Rebirth

October 14, 1991

Everyone has an opinion about Towson, the unincorporated capital of Baltimore County just eight miles north of the city. Many like the proximity of its desirable residential neighborhoods to shopping areas, public services and such recreational gems as the Loch Raven Reservoir. Others argue that the once-sleepy county seat is getting congested because of massive overbuilding.

These conflicting views have been argued forcefully and eloquently in recent months as a residential and commercial revitalization plan has been debated for an area bounded by the city line, Charles Street, Seminary Avenue, the beltway and the Loch Raven Boulevard vicinity. A final plan, detailing height and bulk and other building specifics, is expected to be submitted for County Council approval by Christmas.

Meanwhile, Towson's downtown is changing radically. Towson Town Center, a $150 million extravaganza that will ultimately feature 200 shops, will open Wednesday. One of its eventual department store anchors will be Nordstrom, the West Coast chain famed for its elegance and service. Just a few blocks away, a competing luxury shopping and entertainment mall is rising. Called Towson Commons, it is slated for opening next spring.

This kind of massive addition of commercial space involves high risks, particularly in today's uncertain shopping and economic environment. But such caveats should not detract from the significance of the transformation going on in Towson. While such older town centers as Silver Spring in Montgomery County are still battling with revitalization, the Baltimore County capital has renewed its downtown. And it has done so almost exclusively through private investment.

This is a strong vote of confidence in the economic dynamism of Towson and the surrounding residential communities. It is particularly impressive because it comes at a time when much attention has focused on launching the Owings Mills and White Marsh town centers, whose malls are now going to be Towson's keenest competitors.

Can Baltimore County handle all this mercantile expansion? Only the future will tell whether it can. Time will also tell whether all the conceptual planners and other commercial psychologists have been able to remold the old Towson crossroads at Joppa and York roads into a magnet that can consistently draw patrons from all over the metropolitan area for shopping and entertainment.

With the holiday season approaching, Towson's new shopping facilities are certain to be crowded for a time. The resultant heavier traffic is likely to test some of the basic arguments proponents and opponents of the wider Towson revitalization plan have been advancing.

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