New Therapy for Glen Burnie's Heart ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY

August 26, 1993

If urban renewal could be legislated, Glen Burnie's Superblock would be a thriving commercial center today. Alas, it cannot. Thirteen years after the Anne Arundel County Council earmarked the 5.6-acre site near Ritchie Highway and Baltimore-Annapolis Boulevard for commercial development, the parcel remains an eyesore.

Tired of waiting for something to happen, the County Council has now revised the urban renewal plan for the Superblock, authorizing mixed use instead of strict commercial. By giving developers this leeway, the council hopes that offices, shops and apartments can be drawn to the block. Its grandiose nickname is a reflection of all that empty space off one of the busiest stretches of Ritchie Highway. "We've got to do something," explained Councilman George Bachman. "Nothing's going to happen with an empty lot."

Successful urban renewal is tricky under the best of circumstances. Nothing is wrong with the Superblock, save for that the former heart of downtown Glen Burnie is not where the action is today. Major retailing has concentrated along Ritchie Highway's malls and strip centers or in huge warehouse stores off Ordnance Road. Most office users, meanwhile, prefer the corridor nearer the Baltimore-Washington International Airport or spaces near Ritchie Highway malls. The area around the Superblock seems listless.

Things were different just a few decades ago. Crain Highway was lined with thriving shops, including the WB&A lunchroom -- named after the commuter train that stopped nearby -- McMahon's Barbecue restaurant, a car dealership, a toy store. A hardware store near the corner doubled as a branch for Annapolis radio station WANN. There were dress shops, jewelers -- in short, the stretch was alive.

By amending the urban renewal plan, the County Council hopes to return life to the Superblock area -- to turn it into a town center for the North County community. Anne Arundel commercial revitalization officials even talk about creating an amphitheater to be used for social and cultural activities in conjunction with the county government building nearby.

Recession may seem a bad time for talk about reviving Glen Burnie's heart. However, the changed Superblock plan is cause for optimism. It provides the flexibility essential for redevelopment.

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