Primed for takeoff BWI area: Theaters, hotels, stores abuilding as developers reconsider once sleepy zone.

March 13, 1998

HAD DEVELOPERS proposed a 14-screen multiplex cinema in the business district near Baltimore-Washington International Airport in Linthicum a decade ago, they might have been laughed out of the room. Nearby office parks were wastelands at night. The few residents whose homes predated BWI were being moved out because of noxious jet noise. Build a theater there? Who could hear the soundtrack?

How times have changed. No one is laughing at Hoyts Cinema Corp., the Australian chain that opens its $8.5 million West Nursery theater complex today. This project and the prospect of more hotels and restaurants mark the transformation of the BWI business district.

Fifteen years ago, the offices and businesses ringing the airport were predominantly defense-oriented. With cutbacks in military spending, the number of workers in the area nose-dived, leaving what one official called "see-through office buildings." About the same time, BWI started attracting new carriers and cargo business. The empty offices, with their low rents and proximity to the growing airport, began attracting tenants whose businesses were not exclusively government-related.

What had been a one-dimensional office community, vibrant only by day, began to diversify. Developers started to plan hotels and restaurants. In the past five years, a residential population, albeit some of it transient and living in hotels, has emerged.

People living in extended-stay hotels have the same needs as permanent residents. They eat, get clothes cleaned and cash checks. They also need diversions; the new theater complex is ** aimed at serving them, and travelers on layovers, as well as area residents.

Northern Anne Arundel County will likely only get hotter. A large outlet mall on the order of tourist-magnet Potomac Mills in Virginia is being planned in Harmans. With Southwest Airlines basing pilots at BWI, it wouldn't be surprising if someone proposes building apartments near the airport, too.

The maturation of this airport-centered community is not complete. Just as the port of Baltimore generated development around it for decades, as we enter the 21st century, BWI's TC economic engine may just be reaching cruising speed.

Pub Date: 3/13/98

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