3 projects promised for Towson lag Hutzler's renovation, Funscape are among stalled proposals

'It's frustrating'

Towson Marketplace face-lift also moving slowly

September 06, 1996|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,SUN STAFF

Almost a year after promises of high-profile change and new beginnings, Towson's retail landscape still looks much the same.

The empty Hutzler's building looms over York Road like an abandoned bunker. Nearby Towson Marketplace shows no signs a planned face-lift. And the proposed Funscape entertainment-movie theater complex in the heart of town has yet to materialize.

County officials and developers remain optimistic that the projects, which could pump tens of millions of dollars into Towson, will proceed. But the snail's pace -- and missed deadlines -- have raised questions about whether the shopping and entertainment centers will be built as promised.

The project that has drawn the most attention recently is the proposed $25 million redevelopment of the long-vacant Hutzler's department store.

"Every time someone comes up with something [for Hutzler's], everybody gets carried away and then the deal falls through," said Bernyce Brothers, owner of the nearby Once Again Boutique on York Road. "It's frustrating. We're being fed all this stuff, and nothing is happening."

After a flurry of announcements and community meetings in January, David G. Rhodes, president of Towson-based Heritage Properties, retreated to privacy to assemble tenants for a center of discount stores to be called Towson Circle.

Rhodes has released no specifics on the project except to say he is proceeding with his plan. "We should have something within 45 to 60 days," he said this week.

But an August deadline for purchasing the Hutzler's property and an additional two acres on the north side of Joppa Road passed. Santa Anita Realty Corp., DeChiaro Associates and San Diego-based Hahn Corp., owner of the Hutzler's site and Towson Town Center, control the property.

"We have an agreement," said Rhodes, adding that he expects to close the land deal soon. "We have recently met with them, and they have been supportive."

He said several movie theater companies are interested in building on the small parcel known as "the pit," on Joppa Road across from the Hutzler's building. His plans also call for a five-level, 800-car garage at Shealey and Delaware avenues.

But a tiny family cemetery next to the proposed parking site has stalled plans until an archaeological dig can determine whether there are human remains behind the iron fence that surrounds the cemetery.

The long-neglected graveyard is a resting place for the Towsons, Schmucks and Shealeys who pioneered the town.

"Once that gets resolved, we'll feel a lot more comfortable," Rhodes said.

An archaeological dig proposed for July was postponed.

County Councilman Douglas B. Riley, a Towson Republican, said he isn't worried about the delays.

"To my knowledge, there's no problem. Mr. Rhodes has been meeting with all sorts of people and groups," Riley said. "The fact that there's been no public action doesn't mean there's been no behind-the-scenes action."

But shop owner Brothers said, "I don't understand why they're playing cat-and-mouse games."

When plans for Funscape were revealed in May 1995, the project at Washington Avenue and York Road was described as a five-story center with restaurants, high-tech games for adults and children, and 10 movie screens.

Rick Albertson, a spokesman for Tennessee-based Regal Cinemas, which would build Funscape, said plans for the complex are still alive.

"It's not a dead issue. It is not on indefinite hold. It still takes some time," he said this week. He offered no timetable for development.

About 1 1/2 miles to the east, Towson Marketplace sits quietly too, awaiting its developer's next step.

James A. Schlesinger of Florida-based Talisman-Towson Partnership, who had hoped to break ground in July, plans to turn the failing shopping mall into a $20 million center with warehouse-style stores. To proceed, he needs zoning approval for changes he has made in his proposal, including larger loading docks near Toys R Us and a curved entrance off Joppa Road.

Wayne Skinner, a past president of the Towson-Loch Raven Community Council who has been following the center's progress, doesn't foresee any problems at the zoning hearing Sept. 27.

"I don't see it not being approved," he said of the revised Towson Marketplace plan . "I think for the most part it makes [for] a better project."

Schlesinger said he hasn't been idle in recent months. "We are really solidifying tenants," he said.

Bed, Bath and Beyond, Sports Authority and Michael's Arts and Crafts have agreed to join current anchors Montgomery Ward, Toys R Us, Best Products and Marshall's.

Schlesinger said at least 10 national restaurant chains are vying for three restaurant spots on the property and that a yet-to-be-announced grocery store has been added to the list of stores.

The biggest store, with 134,000 square feet, will be Target, an upscale discount store, he said.

Target officials won't confirm that. "We are certainly interested in the project, but we are still in the process of negotiations," said Carolyn Bookter, a spokeswoman for the Minneapolis-based company.

Schlesinger said he hopes to begin demolition of a large part of Towson Marketplace, which is to be called Towson Place in its Georgian re-creation, next month if all goes well at the zoning hearing.

Pub Date: 9/06/96

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