Town center plans widen with progress

Chain drugstore, hotel complex are proposed

September 12, 1999|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

As key components in the final phase of the long-planned Glen Burnie Town Center near completion, some additional ambitious plans for the center are beginning to take shape.

The 56,000-square-foot shopping center at the heart of the 5.5-acre town center site is nearly fully leased, with a grand opening set in February and a Food Lion grocery store as the anchor. The 54-unit adjacent apartment complex is under construction, and the county plans to break ground on a skating rink this week.

Meanwhile, the committee overseeing Glen Burnie's downtown revitalization is studying two other major projects: a proposed national drugstore chain with a drive-through pharmacy, construction of an upscale hotel conference center at the LaFontaine Bleu banquet hall site and expansion of the town center boundaries.

Developers plan to build a Walgreen's drugstore at Crain Highway and Baltimore-Annapolis Boulevard. And LaFontaine Bleu owner Thomas E. Stuehler is completing a financing proposal for his $17 million hotel project.

"I think there's been a considerable effort by the state, county and community to dress up and develop Glen Burnie," said Stuehler. "I think Glen Burnie is a great little community that's taken a bad rap. We have to create enough attractions to make that downtown center a strong enough draw."

The vision for Glen Burnie's downtown revival has been evolving since 1980, when planners drafted the first "urban renewal plan" to spark reinvestment in a once-thriving shopping area that had deteriorated, mainly because of competition from suburban malls.

The original plan called for 200,000 square feet of mostly office space with a small retail element. However, the blueprint has been revised because of changing economic conditions and other factors. Glen Burnie's town center now exists as a mix of government offices and residential buildings, as well as retail and commercial uses.

"It's been a long time coming," said Gene E. Floyd, a former urban renewal administrator with the county. "I'm very excited about the Walgreen's. It will fill out that one eyesore we had left there."

Developers presented plans for the drugstore at the southwest corner of Crain Highway and Baltimore and Annapolis Boulevard at a Town Center Committee meeting last week. Some of the businesses at the site, which will be torn down for the project, had been damaged in a fire in December.

Mike G. Gordon of Village Properties, the Rockville firm that is developing the Walgreen's, said he is close to reaching agreements with existing businesses at the planned drugstore site. Developers are planning a July 2000 opening, he said.

Some committee members criticized the placement of a large parking lot in front of the proposed building. They also expressed concerns about the drugstore proposal because Rite Aid is planning to build a store nearby. Two drugstores can't survive in the town center, committee members said.

"What we've been trying to create here is a Main Street, a very pedestrian community," said committee member Kathy DeGrange.

J. Lawrence Mekulski, one of the developers of the Food Lion shopping center and a partner with KLNB Inc., the center's leasing agent, backed the Walgreen's proposal.

"Only a retailer like Walgreen's with their financial strength could afford the land," he said. "It's important to have strong lead tenants that won't fail and cast a pall on the redevelopment."

Stuehler said the planned hotel and conference center on his banquet hall site is another project that would enhance the town center. The centerpiece of the proposal is an eight-story, 870-room Radisson Hotel and Conference Center intended to draw travelers from Baltimore-Washington International Airport. Other project components are a health club, restaurants and a 460-vehicle garage that would be built between LaFontaine Bleu and the Anne Arundel County District Court building.

"I think the name of a Radisson hotel will bring in people from the business community with money in their pockets," Stuehler said.

He said the county and state have pledged $1 million toward construction of the garage. The businessman said he is hoping for approval for the rest of the financing by the end of next month. Pending loan approval, Stuehler said he is projecting an opening by June 2001.

"All the numbers are looking good, and I'm very optimistic about getting the loan package through," Stuehler said.

The project also hinges on expanding the boundaries of the town center to include LaFontaine Bleu down to Fifth Avenue to the Baltimore and Annapolis Trail. Stuehler said that inclusion in the district would make it possible to obtain below-market loans for smaller components of the project, such as buying fitness center equipment.

Patricia A. Barland, the county administrator who oversees the town center project, said she is notifying property owners that could be affected by the boundary changes. She said the proposed changes probably will go before the County Council either next month or in November.

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