Towson: Uncommonly Busy

December 26, 1992

Towson Commons suffers from a Dracula complex: alive at night, dead by day.

That's the consensus view of the 10-story movie-retail-office building at York Road and Pennsylvania Avenue a half-year after its May debut. While it has met some of the pre-opening expectations and fallen short of others, it still poses possibilities of even greater things for central Towson.

On the plus side, "Towson nightlife" is an oxymoron no more. The place bustles after dark as it never has. Credit much of the excitement to Towson Commons, especially its eight-screen cinema and four new restaurants. Not only have these made the structure itself a semi-hot attraction, they've also brought notice to established businesses. In particular, local restaurants are busier than ever. Not that their owners are complaining.

For the minus side, look to Towson Commons' upstairs Food Hall, which is deathly quiet at mid-day. Business is predicted to pick up as the office portion of the building climbs past its current 20 percent occupancy level, and as more of the planned food stalls open. Yet the present line-up of food and retail businesses attract a disappointingly low share of the 17,000 workers within a five-minute walk of Towson Commons. The cavernous Borders book store that just opened on the York Road side of the structure, jammed on recent shopping days, should help matters.

Perhaps the most intriguing thing about Towson Commons is what it bodes for central Towson. The operation's early successes have shown its detractors the downtown area can mean more than quaint old shops. Some of Towson's small-town charm should be preserved. However, a realistic vision of the area's future would accent modern people-magnet projects such as Towson Commons.

Another splashy attraction, Towson Town Center, sits just a Gucci bag's throw to the north. Frustratingly, though, customers of the mall tend not to stray from its confines. But they might if encouraged by more user-friendly walkways linking the mall to the center of town. An imaginative use of the vacated Hutzler's building could also do much to fuse the two areas into a more open, more embracing, more vibrant downtown Towson.

Creative plans by public and private leaders could transform Towson into a place with regional as well as local appeal. In just several months -- and in a recession at that -- Towson Commons has offered a taste of what's possible for an area that has never been tapped to its full potential.

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