County planners nicknamed it the "Superblock," but to many Glen Burnie residents, a better name might be the "Nothingblock."
Twelve years after the county adopted an ambitious plan for urban renewal in downtown Glen Burnie, the 5.6 acres adjacent to the Arundel Center North remain undeveloped -- a vast, rundown parking lot. On the Ritchie Highway side, a green tent from which plants are sold is the only commercial venture on the parcel.
But a newly formed committee of Glen Burnie businessmen and community leaders plans to change that.
The nine-member Glen Burnie Town Center committee hopes to jump start the languishing Superblock by luring a developer to finish the project and convincing state and county officials to bring light rail into the center.
Gene Floyd, a committee member, downtown property owner and former director of the county's Office of Urban Renewal, said bringing light rail into Glen Burnie -- an extension of a line planned to terminate on Dorsey Road -- might be the added edge needed to attract a developer.
"I'm not saying light rail is the be-all and end-all, but it's one more thing to make it better," he said. "Right now, I can't imagine even if (thecounty) gave away the land and did half the work, they'd find a developer."
Glenn Mathiasen, assistant administrator for the Office ofUrban Renewal, agreed light rail would help attract developers to Superblock.
"That would be a big plus," he said. "Public transportation is a real key in development."
Finding a developer for Superblock is the county's responsibility, and any proposal must be approvedby the county's Office of Planning and Zoning, Mathiasen said. But, he added, the Office of Urban Renewal -- which now comes under the planning office -- will take any help it can get.
"More power to them if they can find someone," he said. "We'll take 'em."
Plans for Superblock, developed in the late 1970s and adopted in 1980, originally called for 200,000 square feet of office and retail space and a five-floor parking garage.
Four years ago, the urban renewal office commissioned an updated market survey, Mathiasen said, which recommended downsizing the project slightly. The county, which owns the property, now hopes to sell it to a developer who will construct 150,000 square feet of office space, 20,000 square feet of retail space, and the parking garage.
But not everyone agrees with the plans. County Councilman Edward Middlebrooks, a Severn Democrat who represents GlenBurnie, said he thinks the plan should be thrown out altogether and planners should go back to the drawing board.
"That sounds like a horrendous plan. The last thing Glen Burnie needs is another office building," he said.
Middlebrooks, who is working with another committee to create a temporary-use plan for the site, said he's read numerous studies indicating that additional office space won't be needed in the area for another 10 years.
"We're trying to work on something more exciting for that area than another office building or Taco Bell," he said.
A pavilion committee, put to gether by Middlebrooksand Urban Renewal a month ago, will report next Thursday on its planto landscape the area and build a temporary outdoor structure for concerts, plays and other arts events.
Middlebrooks said the entire project, which would enhance the area, would cost the county about $150,000. He expects the pavilion could remain on the site for about five years while county planners come up with a better long-term plan for the block.
Alfred J. Lipin, Town Center committee chairman and a former state senator, said the best thing the county could do for Superblock is to stop coming up with its own plans and open it up to developers' imaginations.
"Let's get a half-dozen developers together and say, 'You, Mr. Developer, come up with a plan that's feasible,' " he said. "Instead of saying, 'We have a plan, come and do it,' itshould be worked in the reverse."
In the meantime, Floyd said Town Center committee members will meet with representatives from the county Office of Economic Development to seek help in putting together a marketing package for the site.
The committee already has met with a county traffic engineer and plans to meet with the state's Mass Transit Administration to push their plan for light rail.
Formed under the North Anne Arundel County Chamber of Commerce, the committeehas met every two to three weeks since January to develop its strategy.
Floyd believes the county's urban renewal plan has done a lot of good for downtown Glen Burnie, which "had deteriorated badly." Butthe Superblock is a gaping hole in downtown's re-development, and committee members thought Urban Renewal was not aggressive enough in pushing the project.
Since the urban renewal plan was put in place, Mathiasen said, more than $12 million of private development capital and $24 million of governmental money has been pumped into downtown Glen Burnie.