For Boomtown, It's Change or Bust ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY

July 01, 1993

The business owners along Odenton's Boomtown strip would prefer that you not call it that any more. It's "North Odenton," thank you.

The trouble is, virtually nothing besides the name has changed. This stretch of Route 175 remains as gritty and shopworn as ever, a tired-looking conglomeration of fast-food joints, bars, cleaning businesses and convenience stores. Boomtown business owners were hugely insulted when Odenton activist Col. Alfred Shehab joked that the strip should be "bulldozed," but let's be honest: a lot of people truly wish someone would bulldoze it and start from scratch.

The chance of that happening seems slim. Efforts to revitalize the strip have run into business owners opposed to far less radical changes. The merchants don't want a grassy median strip because motorists would then find it awkward to get in and out of their shops. They don't want to plant more trees because they would hide store signs. Fixing up their businesses would cost too much money. They resent the influx of upscale residents to new neighborhoods like Seven Oaks, sensing these aren't the kind of people who will patronize them and fearing their shops will be pushed out.

The Route 175 businesses have every right to survive. But there is no escaping the fact that the Odenton market is changing. New residents will abandon the strip for the new shopping center that inevitably will be built as the Odenton Town Center develops. Fort Meade, whose troops have always been the strip's mainstay, is changing, too. In coming years, it will look less like an Army post and more like a government-business park. Where do you think its employees will head for lunch? To Boomtown? Or the new shopping center?

The businesses on Route 175 can fight change. But, as Norman Myers, president of the Greater Odenton Improvement Association, notes, "If they stay the same, they're going to be left in the dust."

Bulldozing Boomtown isn't necessary to make the strip more attractive. County and state have economic development programs and low-interest loans available to help with upgrades. Sure, the merchants would have to put out some of their own money. But the cost of doing nothing is watching Boomtown or North Odenton -- whatever you call it -- dry up and die.

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