New Life For Hutzler Building

August 09, 1994|By Jay Hancock | Jay Hancock,Sun Staff Writer

For five years the former Hutzler Bros. department store has stood vacant in downtown Towson, immune to the retail resurgence all around it.

Now its owners are trying again to fill it. They're showing potential tenants a multimillion-dollar renovation plan that would divide the building into four medium-sized stores and put a parking lot underneath.

No leases have been signed, and the owners won't begin construction until stores are on board. But retail sources said several merchants are seriously looking at the site, including Sears Homelife, the furniture offshoot of Sears, Roebuck & Co., and Bed Bath and Beyond, a housewares superstore.

John Visconsi, director of leasing for the land development division of the Hahn Co., a partner in the property, declined to identify tenant prospects. But he said Hahn hopes to start construction on the project next March and have stores open in time for Christmas 1995.

"We've had a lot of interest in the last few months" from retailers, he said. "It could be fashion. It could be hard goods. It's very difficult to say at this point."

Hahn is the San Diego-based general partner of the firm that owns the Hutzler building and Towson Town Center, the upscale mall across the street.

This isn't the first time Hahn has marketed the building at the southeast corner of York and Joppa roads. A plan four years ago to turn the structure into an upscale home-furnishing mall fell through.

The building has two main problems: It is decades old, and it is on the opposite side of Joppa from the expanded and revitalized Towson Town Center.

"There have been dozens and dozens of retailers and developers that have looked at that site and walked away," said David H. Nevins, a retail consultant based in Owings Mills.

But the success of Towson Town Center since its 1991 renovation and 1992 addition of a Nordstrom department store has turned the area into a retail hot spot where stores might rent space they would ignore somewhere else, industry professionals said. The development of Towson Commons has helped boost retail traffic on the south side of Joppa Road, where the Hutzler building is.

Developers have successfully subdivided former department stores in other cities, especially on the West Coast, Mr. Visconsi said.

The Hutzler building contains 200,000 square feet of space on four floors, one of them below ground. Hahn's plan would put parking on the first level and two 25,000-square-foot stores each on the second and third. The top floor would be used for storage at first but might become retail space later, Mr. Visconsi said.

He declined to estimate the renovation's total cost, saying it would depend on which tenants are signed. But he said it would be less than $10 million. The project would improve fire exits, install elevators, add windows, replace heating and cooling systems and expand the loading docks.

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