Another movie theater? Towson's core deserves something more

October 01, 2007|By Ruth Goldstein

The heart of Baltimore County could certainly use a little inspiration. But does it really need another movie theater?

Towson Commons is almost directly across the street from the proposed $32 million Towson Circle III redevelopment project, which calls for public funding and includes a 14-screen movie theater and a private parking garage. It's no secret that Towson Commons, which offers an eight-screen multiplex cinema and 882 parking spaces, has been struggling for years as a retail space - but the movie theater, at least, still appears to be thriving. A competing megaplex across the street would surely be the last nail in the coffin.

Can't the developers come up with something more useful, and more imaginative, for our county seat? And shouldn't the community demand something better? An imaginative and well-designed project could put Towson on the map.

Keep in mind that Towson Commons is slated for a $30 million makeover. Patrons have considered it a popular and convenient movie destination since 1992, and there is no reason that shouldn't continue. It's doubtful, however, that market research would support a need for more than one multiplex cinema in the Towson area.

Nevertheless, the county's Department of Economic Development is rushing to spend $18.2 million on a parking garage to swing a deal that duplicates something that already exists. There are at least seven multiplex cinemas within a 15-mile radius of the Towson area, which makes the Circle III project anything but unique.

Instead of yet another movie theater, how about an interactive entertainment center where people actually go to do things - 21st century-style? How about a roller skating rink (with extreme roller ramps for the young people on the side) that can be converted into a disco late at night, or a ballroom for revenue? How about an all-season, indoor track encircling the rink for runners, walkers and inline skaters? Cap it off with a rooftop, all-season pool and restaurant to squeeze the most recreational entertainment value out of every inch of the real estate. The Cordish Co. and Heritage Properties could start a whole new trend in mutigenerational, active entertainment - and if the developers did it right, I'll bet it would be a roaring success.

A signature design venture of this magnitude would become a prototype for others to follow. As Andrea J. Van Arsdale, commercial revitalization director for the Department of Economic Development, stated, "This is one of the keystone projects for Towson." If that is so, instead of another boring movie stadium-restaurant court-retail chain mall, wouldn't it be marvelous to offer a vision of the future where people of many ages and ethnicities are encouraged to congregate, consume, communicate and recreate - in a retail environment that still provides revenue for investors and tax collectors?

Cynthia W. Bledsoe, executive director of Greater Towson Committee, commenting on the redevelopment of Towson Commons, was quoted as saying, "I think a lot of people consider it the heart of Towson - the core of the core." There, an urban design assistance team came up with some unique approaches, such as creating an open space through Towson Commons to provide a visual and pedestrian link between the government offices and the retail businesses along York Road. That's the kind of creative thinking our community deserves when it comes to such pivotal projects.

These two parcels constitute the hub of Towson and represent its future prosperity. Our society has a disposable mentality that encourages us to glibly dismantle and demolish, instead of focusing on conservation and adaptive reuse.

The County Council should take a giant step backward from the redundancy of the Circle III project before it becomes a juggernaut hurtling through the heart of Towson, and challenge the developers to re-imagine the entertainment portion of their proposal, in order to offer the residents of Baltimore County something so singular that when they finally do build it, we will feel compelled to come.

Ruth Goldstein is a writer and Baltimore County resident. Her e-mail is ruthgoldstein@comcast.net.

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