Closing good for business

Merchants root for redevelopment of Towson Commons

December 26, 2006|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,Sun reporter

Another restaurant and another store have closed their doors.

But business leaders seem pleased about the latest vacancies in Towson Commons.

They say it means the owners of the sometimes-troubled York Road complex are getting closer to redeveloping the property.

"I am pretty happy about it all," said Stephen Adams, president of the Towson Retail and Restaurant Association and owner of Furniture Safari near the Towson Commons on York Road. "Having vacancies on York Road isn't a good thing, but redeveloping the property is. You cannot redevelop when you still have stores there."

When Western Development Corp. announced it was buying the 324,440-square-foot center at York Road and West Pennsylvania Avenue in late 2005, company officials said the location would get a $30 million makeover.

But through much of this year, little change has been visible.

Then, Ruby Tuesday at the southeast corner of the shopping complex closed Dec. 11. Sunday was to be the last day of business there for the Fells Point Surf Company, which opened its Towson Commons location a year ago.

"We had a short-term lease," said Alison Schuch, owner of the surf shop. "They are making some changes there. And we really just wanted to test the market."

The Ruby Tuesday had been open at the York Road location since October 1994.

A spokeswoman for the restaurant chain said the business closed because its lease expired. She declined to elaborate.

Fronda J. Cohen, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore County Department of Economic Development, said Ruby Tuesday's closure "was not a reflection on the restaurant's success or popularity in the area but instead is an indication of the new developer's complete rethinking of how to use the space."

Officials with Western Development and the property manager did not return repeated calls seeking comment about the company's plans for Towson Commons.

The Washington-based developer has not filed formal plans for changes with the county, Cohen said.

The center was built in 1992 as a three-story, enclosed mall with some street shops, an 882-space parking garage and a 10-story office tower. With low vacancy rates, the office portion of the complex has historically done better than the stores.

The anchor tenant, Borders Books and Music, left Towson Commons in 2005. Two restaurants remain on the Pennsylvania Avenue side of the complex. And the movie theater is still open.

Paolo's Ristorante on Pennsylvania Avenue has no plans to close, said manager Samantha Catts. "We are here to stay," she said of the popular dining spot that has been open for 12 years in Towson Commons.

In the summer, when the town hosted an urban design assistance team - known as UDAT - there was some talk about creating an open space from the old Court House to York Road, essentially through Towson Commons, to give a visual and pedestrian link between the government offices and the retail along York Road.

Cynthia W. Bledsoe, executive director of Greater Towson Committee Inc., said businesses were looking forward to the redevelopment of Towson Commons.

"I think a lot of people consider it the heart of Towson - the core of the core, if you will," Bledsoe said. "It is already one of the more walkable areas in Towson. Once it is redeveloped, I think it will be a catalyst for others."

Sun reporter Gina Davis contributed to this article.

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