Tapping Towson's potential

November 19, 1992

Swiss surfing. Dutch skiing. Both are oxymorons -- phrases i which one element contradicts the other. And don't forget "Towson night life" -- for decades, a classic oxymoron. Downtown Towson was busy enough by day, but it tended toward eerie stillness once all the county government and private business workers went home.

Now, while not quite "the city that doesn't sleep," Towson bustles as it never has.

Much of the credit for this infusion of energy belongs to Towson Commons, the 10-story retail-office-movie complex that opened last May. The success of its eight-screen cinema and four new restaurants has even spilled over to established local businesses. Area restaurants in particular are busier than they've ever been.

What keeps Towson Commons from being a total smash, though, is its lack of day-time business. Someone could fire a cannon in the upstairs Food Hall at mid-day and hardly cause a stir. Activity in the food court should pick up, the complex's managers say, as the office portion of the building exceeds its current 20 percent occupancy level, and the opening next month of a chain book store on the York Road side of the complex will also help to liven the complex during daytime hours.

Most intriguing is what Towson Commons portends for the future of downtown Towson. Even its one-time detractors -- and they were many -- must admit the project has shown that Towson can be more than an array of quaint old shops, taverns and diners out of Eisenhower America. The area's village aura should be maintained to a degree, but public and private leaders should push for more people-magnet projects in the mold of Towson Commons.

Then, with more user-friendly walkways and an imaginative use of the vacated Hutzler's building at York and Joppa Roads, central Towson could be linked with the immensely popular Towson Town Center just to the north. The result could be a more open, more embracing, more lively downtown Towson with great local and regional appeal.

Maybe Sinatra won't ever croon about central Towson. But tapping the area's full potential would give a lot of people -- citizens, business leaders and government officials alike -- something to sing about.

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