Marketplace movement and mirages

June 22, 1993

Although one would had to have been sequestered in a cave the past few years to have missed the recession, measures of the economic downturn can still be startling. Take, for instance, the 40,000-square-foot office building for which ground was just broken in Odenton. Consider that it is the first sizable, new office project in Anne Arundel County in two years.

That tells you something about how far the economy has risen from the depths of 1991-1992, when the commercial construction business calcified overnight. It also says something about how far it has fallen: In 1990, Anne Arundel County approved almost 2.3 million square feet of commercial building, more than in 1991 and 1992 combined.

It would be great if this Odenton project were a harbinger of the beginning of the end of the commercial real estate doldrums. Holding one's breath for that eventuality would not be advisable, however. A year ago, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers leased 250,000 square feet of space for the National Security Agency off the Baltimore-Washington Parkway in the region's biggest rental deal, some observers saw it as the first thaw in a frigid marketplace.

But by year's end, business real estate activity, including the NSA deal, seemed mostly a game of musical offices; companies filled new space, but their previous digs remained vacant. The Baltimore-Washington International Airport vicinity continues to have more see-through buildings than any other area in the corridor.

There is, at least, a bright light emanating from the far end of the retail tunnel in Anne Arundel.

Work is progressing on a $70 million remodeling of the Annapolis Mall. With a new Nordstrom, an expanded Hecht's and 50 new shops, it will be one of the more impressive malls around. In Glen Burnie, a J. C. Penney store is being added as the third anchor to Marley Station. And Fresh Fields, the highly praised health food supermarket that has stores in suburban Washington, just filled a big hole at Annapolis Harbour Center in Parole.

Whether shoppers around the region are more comfortable parting with their dollars remains in doubt, though they will have greater enticements to do so. As to whether a new office building in Odenton is a sign of better times in Anne Arundel County, it looks like commercial real estate shoppers will still have the run of the store for the foreseeable future.

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