Saving Glen Burnie's superblock

July 21, 1992

The Glen Burnie Superblock is a super-bust. Fifteen years of grandiose planning by Anne Arundel County, and what have we got? An oversized parking lot with weeds sprouting through cracks in the pavement.

The Superblock, a 5.6-acre chunk between Ritchie and Crain highways, is supposed to be the centerpiece of Glen Burnie's urban renewal. But since the idea was first conceived in the late 1970s, the county has found not a single developer willing to build what it wants -- a huge, elaborate office complex occupied by one super-tenant.

Now a group of Glen Burnie businessmen, sick of waiting for the county to take action, has tracked down three developers who are interested in building housing on the site. They see it like this: Houses may not draw as many people into downtown Glen Burnie as an office complex, but houses will bring in far more people than a phantom office complex.

Office vacancy rates stand at 23 percent in northern Anne Arundel County. Whether or not residential development is the answer to the Superblock dilemma, the county needs to relax its grip on the old office extravaganza fantasy.

The fantasy almost came true four years ago, when Westinghouse Electric Corp. talked about building offices on the Superblock. But that deal fell through even before it was a deal, and other glimmers of interest died out, too. Victor Sulin, administrator of the county's Office of Urban Renewal, said 11 firms responded to the original bid, but they all pulled out when the county played it coy, refusing to say how much money it would commit to Superblock development.

In 1990, one local firm submitted conceptual drawings of a project, including stores, restaurants and town houses. It sounded perfect for a revved-up downtown district. But there were no offices in the plan, so former county executive O. James Lighthizer killed it.

Anne Arundel isn't breaking its neck to find a developer right now. The economy's still too poor, Mr. Sulin says, and there's no county money to contribute. It won't hurt to let the Superblock sit for awhile longer.

But Glen Burnie business people have waited long enough to see something other than weeds and concrete on this key piece of land. The county ought to look at other options.

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