County officials concede that the slow pace of Towson's commercial revival is partly due to perceptions. "People don't want to park far, schlep around and then go in and out of stores unless there is a critical mass of stores to attract them," says Andrea Van Arsdale, county director of commercial revitalization.
`A tough sell'
"A lot of people don't hang around after 5. We have to find other things to bring people back at night. Has that happened in Towson? Not yet. It's a tough sell right now."
While there is much optimism that the rebirth along the circle will spread down York Road, that sense of hope is reminiscent of the expected ripple effect Towson Commons was supposed to have.
That thought has not been lost on the Cordish Co., which redeveloped the Hutzler's building.
"We are approached by cities every day to help redevelop areas, but we're very selective," says Allison Parker, a spokeswoman for Cordish. "So the choice for Towson was a calculated one. We want to make Towson a destination. We also realize we can't survive on our own. You've got to get everyone in the community involved to make it work."
But it takes more than physical improvements to provide the image makeover that will increase business, says George Georgiou, a professor and chairman of the economics department at Towson University.
"You can put a building up, you can build a traffic circle, but can you create an atmosphere?" says Georgiou. "If people are not saying, `Hey, let's go to Towson,' and businesses do not see a vibrant, growing community, that does not bode well for the future."
In many ways, Towson is to Baltimore what Bethesda is to Washington, he says. Both are major, well-to-do suburbs of a bigger city, he says, but the similarities end there.
`Selling the area'
"There is an unbounding amount of activity in Bethesda," says Georgiou, who lives there.
"There are more than 200 restaurants within blocks of each other, new hotels being built and buildings going up. It is booming. Towson is an equally affluent suburb of Baltimore, but it is still on the sleepy side."
That same potential exists in Towson, where 20,000 people work at hospitals, universities and corporations. But county and business officials say revitalization is a slow process.
"It's all about selling the area," says Keith T. Barnett, a commercial real estate broker with KLNB Inc., which has been trying to lease the Finkelstein building for the past two years. "It's about telling people there is more than enough parking down here. It's showing people we're a major retail thoroughfare of Baltimore County."
More is at stake than just a commercial corridor.
"If things are positive in the business district, things will be so in the neighborhoods," says County Councilman Wayne Skinner, a Republican representing the county's 4th District. "If things are negative here, it will be negative there, too. You can't avoid it. There is a direct connection. There is no wall separating the two."
Pub Date: 2/15/99