Renewal planned for Hutzler's Developer seeks to use vacant Towson building for warehouse stores

January 25, 1996|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,SUN STAFF

In a move that could solidify Towson's role as a retailing powerhouse -- and eliminate a white elephant in the business district -- a developer plans to transform the long-vacant Hutzler's building into warehouse-style stores.

Local government officials and community leaders yesterday endorsed developer David G. Rhodes' Towson Circle, a $25 million project that would link the aging business district to the thriving Towson Town Center mall.

"Towson Circle has the potential to become one of Towson's greatest assets," said County Councilman Douglas B. Riley, a Republican whose district includes the Hutzler's building -- often called the "wall" because it divides the old and new retail districts.

Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III also praised the project at York and Joppa roads. He vowed to "take responsibility for making sure that the appropriate county agencies work together as efficiently as possible in reviewing and approving this project."

For Mr. Rhodes, president of Towson-based Heritage Properties, Towson Circle is the culmination of 14 months of planning.

"It will create a wonderful new sense of place here," said Mr. Rhodes, who also is president of Towson Development Corp., a nonprofit community improvement organization. "The Hutzler's store had been a real negative."

Plans call for gutting the interior of the four-level building to house ware house-style stores and at least one restaurant. Each 50,000-square-foot floor could be divided in a variety of ways, with one tenant on each floor or as many as three or four stores sharing a floor, Mr. Rhodes said.

Mr. Rhodes recently signed a contract with San Diego-based Hahn Corp., owner of the Hutzler's site and Towson Town Center. Two other partners in the Hutzler's deal are Santa Anita Realty Corp. and DeChiaro Associates. Mr. Rhodes has yet to sign a tenant.

"We're looking for power center kinds of retailers," he said. "It is important for us to establish a retail mix."

Heritage Properties, which has developed two Baltimore-area BJ's Wholesale Club stores and several office buildings, has approached California Pizza Kitchen as a possible restaurant tenant. The restaurant chain wanted to locate in Towson two years ago, but was unable to obtain a liquor license.

A restaurant and small retailers would occupy the York Road level of the Hutzler's building, which will have its own street entrance, Mr. Rhodes said. The 1952 building inherits a liquor license from Hutzler's former tea room, a once-popular gathering place remembered for its huge murals depicting fox hunting and the Maryland State Fair.

The old restaurant and the Art Deco elevators will be eliminated because of their decrepit condition, Mr. Rhodes said, describing a dreary, leaking interior containing out-of-date electrical systems and dead pigeons. The building has been vacant for eight years.

The project also includes development of a two-acre parcel on the north side of Joppa Road for more retailers or restaurants, and a five-level garage with free parking for shoppers. The garage will be southeast of the Hutzler's site and would have a walkway entering a multistory glass atrium.

"I am very optimistic about the project," said Justin King, president of the Greater Towson Community Council. But he said the council would carefully examine the traffic impact and the effect of the garage on the neighborhood.

"We want to make sure the residents of East Towson area have a good feeling about it," he said.

A number of projects have previously been proposed for the Hutzler's building but all have fallen through.

The project is the second power center announced in the Towson area in recent months. About 1 1/2 miles away, developer James A. Schlesinger is seeking similar stores as he tries to revive the Towson Marketplace.

Mr. Rhodes doesn't foresee problems: "Towson is the No. 1 retail location in the region. Hopefully, we'll be complementary."

Mr. Rhodes said he has targeted the summer of 1997 for the opening of Towson Circle, to coincide with completion of the town's $1 million traffic roundabout and a $1.2 million "streetscape" renovation of the sidewalks.

"It'll be easier movement for people from a traffic standpoint, and the streetscape will solidify the commitment to the area," he said.

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