Enchanted Forest's magic runs out Trust has no plans to reopen park after expected purchase

April 08, 1997|By Shanon D. Murray | Shanon D. Murray,SUN STAFF

The Enchanted Forest amusement park in Ellicott City will not reopen any time soon -- if ever -- say officials of a real estate trust that plans to buy the children's park and its adjoining shopping center this summer.

Merchants in the 5-year-old shopping center had once hoped to use its namesake childrens' park to distinguish itself amid U.S. 40's crowded shopping landscape. But that concept was short-lived.

Since it opened in 1954 with its bigger-than-life figures taken from well-known Mother Goose stories, Enchanted Forest has been a magnet for area children. It has been closed since 1986, except for a brief reopening in May 1994.

The shopping center opened in 1992.

"There's been no determination on what we'll do with it," said F. Patrick Hughes, president and chief executive of Mid-Atlantic Realty Trust (MART) in Linthicum, which is buying the center from the Pechter family of Towson in an 11-property deal.

"We have no immediate plans to reopen it," Hughes said.

"But we do want to reflect community needs. My daughter loved the Enchanted Forest when she was a child."

County planning and parks officials say they have no interest in the park site.

MART's purchase is scheduled to be completed before June 30. MART bought the property from the Pechters, who purchased the park and its surrounding 32 acres in 1988 for more than $4.5 million.

After purchasing the property, the Pechter family told nearby residents that the park would be an integral part of the planned shopping center, merchants and residents said.

Many of the shopping center's merchants -- who say they do not know anything about the pending sale to MART -- now have given up any hope of the theme park's reopening.

The park's castle-like entrance now serves as something of a hTC historical landmark -- and as a way for passers-by to easily spot the shopping center from U.S. 40.

The only life at the longtime children's attraction last week were flags blowing in the wind atop the bright red turrets of the entrance castle. Two big "NO TRESPASSING" signs made it quite evident the park is closed.

"I don't think it's going to open. It's a shame," said Al Lichaa, owner of Enchanted Cleaners in the shopping center.

"It was an attraction for many, many years. People knew exactly where it is. Many of them probably went there when they were children."

Even without the theme park, however, the shopping center is active. Of the roughly two dozen stores, only two storefronts are empty: A book store and liquor store both closed a few months ago.

Merchants credited the shopping center's health to its location at the western end of Howard County's U.S. 40 business strip, near a lot of residential growth.

Merchants said they are getting used to the idea that the Safeway grocery store, not the theme park, is the center's official anchor -- even though many of the stores retain a reference to "enchanted" in their names.

But some area residents are still longing for the old days when the park was open.

Said Jane Walker, of Ellicott City, who was shopping at the center last week:

"My children often often ask why they've never been to the amusement park when we drive by.

"I don't know what to tell them except it hasn't reopened."

Pub Date: 4/08/97

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