A coffee and doughnut shop will become the newest addition to the once struggling Village Center, replacing a former bank

Oakland Mills center aims to be dining destination

December 08, 2006|By Tyrone Richardson | Tyrone Richardson,Sun reporter

Say goodbye to the weathered "space for lease" sign nailed to a piece of plywood on the former M&T Bank building in the Oakland Mills Village Center.

Village officials said the brick building, which has been vacant since 2002, will soon be a coffee and doughnut shop, the newest addition to the once struggling village center.

The announcement of the new business, which village officials said could open in a few months, follows news this summer that the longtime vacant property of a former Exxon station would be developed into an office complex.

Rahim Tofigh, owner of the former bank building, said no major restructuring will be done for the coffee and doughnut shop.

Metroventures/USA Inc., the Baltimore real estate development firm taking over the former Exxon property, will present its plans to develop the 1.7-acre property at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the village's The Other Barn.

"These [businesses] are going to be extremely positive for the village center and the village," said Karen Gray, vice chairwoman of the Oakland Mills Village Board and chairwoman of the village's revitalization committee. "Having an office building there will help support other businesses in the center and increase overall activity in the center."

Village officials said more improvements are on the way.

Gray said the village's revitalization committee is installing signs on nearby roads to direct people to the hard-to-find village center. The village is looking to build sidewalks leading to the center and information signs about its merchants, she said.

Cedar Shopping Center Inc., a New York-based real estate investment firm and primary owner of the village center, is looking for merchants to take over the remaining vacant properties that are next to the Food Lion, Gray said.

Barbara L. Russell, the Columbia Association board member for the village, said the new businesses will add life to the west end of village center.

"They were a black eye on our village center. They were sitting empty, and that does not look very pretty," Russell said.

"It did not drastically affect the other businesses in the center, but it did not make it look appealing."

Russell said the addition of the coffee and doughnut shop will strengthen the image the center is aiming for: a destination for eating.

Other restaurants in the center feature pizza, Chinese, Thai and American Continental.

The village center, which is anchored by the Food Lion, has had its share of vacant properties and new merchants in recent years.

Food Lion opened in 2004 after the center had been without a supermarket for nearly three years.

Plans to turn the former Exxon property, which has been vacant since 1999, into a senior living complex, failed in 2004 when the oil company declined to sell.

In December 2005, Fire Rock Grill opened where Last Chance Saloon, a 23-year-old neighborhood pub, had closed in 2004.

The former bank building and its property had sparked interest among residents and officials who wanted the building turned into an establishment such as a Blockbuster, Starbucks or Krispy Kreme.

Tofigh said he took those suggestions into account when he accepted the lease last month from the coffee shop owners.

"I know Oakland Mills is very happy to get a coffee shop there, and that is what they have been asking for that building," Tofigh said. "I got a lot of interests for [the building], and I was looking for a Dunkin' Donuts and Baskin Robbins. This coffee shop is close."

tyrone.richardson@baltsun.com

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