Towson Commons negotiating to develop entertainment center Proposal could boost retail occupancy to 100%

December 18, 1996|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,SUN STAFF

Towson Commons, the retail and office complex built in 1992 to revive the county seat's old business district, is poised to become one of the Baltimore area's major entertainment centers.

LaSalle Partners, which manages the 10-story, block-long complex, is negotiating with a franchisee of Dallas-based QZAR to put a 14,000-square-foot, high-tech entertainment center with laser-tag, virtual-reality and video games in the lower level of the building.

It also is pursuing a billiards parlor and another entertainment-related business to join eight movie theaters and numerous restaurants and shops already at the complex, local business leaders said.

Towson Commons' focus on entertainment comes on the heels of several other projects to bolster the heart of Towson, including a $4.3 million traffic roundabout-streetscape project and plans to turn the long-vacant Hutzler's building into a retail center.

Entertainment increasingly is gaining favor among developers, said Michael Beyard, senior research director at the Washington-based Urban Land Institute.

"It is the beginning of a major, major trend," he said. "In a suburban area, entertainment is a way of re-energizing. We can re-energize a district and create spinoffs to help the area around it. It broadens the trade area for new retail."

Brian Recher, who, with his family, turned the 1929 Towson Theatre on York Road into Rec Room Billiards this year, agrees. zTC "It will help revitalize the hub of Towson," he said.

And he doesn't foresee overwhelming competition.

"I think it will be fine. We've got the hometown thing," he said.

The addition of QZAR -- which is expected to open in March and will include a food concession -- would boost the retail component of the 330,000-square-foot Towson Commons to 90 percent occupancy, said Maurice Walker, a general manager with LaSalle. "We want to form a full-blown entertainment center," he said.

In Towson Commons' 190,000-square-foot office tower, 99 percent of the space is leased, Walker said.

If contract negotiations are successful, the billiards parlor and other entertainment businesses will boost retail occupancy to 100 percent. Those businesses would occupy the third level, where a major food court never materialized.

Only two restaurants -- Mamma Ilardo's and Leilani's Cafe -- remain.

Other Towson Commons restaurants, including Ruby Tuesday and Paolo's, have exterior entrances.

LaSalle also is exploring several options to ease parking in its attached garage. Last week, it met with county officials to request opening part of Chesapeake Avenue to two-way traffic on Friday and Saturday evenings.

LaSalle is considering offering a trolley service from the two nearby colleges and other garages.

Pub Date: 12/18/96

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