In his office at the Laurel Municipal Center, Karl Brendle has a lot of development plans — artist renderings and sketches and proposals that, if all brought to fruition, would dramatically transform the city.
The proposed projects, many of which have been on the table for years, show more transit-oriented housing for the city, more retail opportunities, more restaurants and attractions and people. They portray ambitious streetscapes, and together evoke a grand sense of potential in Laurel.
They also depict phantoms: projects that have yet to be built, that have stalled one after another, largely because of the recent recession, which froze development plans in their tracks — in Laurel and across the country — by shaking the confidence and financial foundations of many developers and upending the market demand for anything new.
But in Laurel, that's all about to change, said Brendle, the city's director of community and business planning.
In short, the city's development freeze is finally beginning to crack, he said.
"My opinion is the thaw is definitely on. It's not a heat wave, by any stretch of the imagination, but the thaw is real," Brendle said.
In a recent interview, Laurel Mayor Craig Moe agreed.
"We're starting to see things move forward," Moe said. "Very, very slowly, but they are moving forward."
For starters, Brendle said he expects the blue office building on Route 1 near Mango's and Irene's to be demolished in the next 30 days, the first step in a process being overseen by Visconsi Cos. that will also clear the two restaurants to make way for a new Walgreens store, which Brendle expects will be open in July or August.
Next, Brendle expects developer Patriot Realty to start the first phase of its Hawthorne Place project, a large-scale row of mixed-use buildings along Staggers Road near Route 1, within 120 days.
"They want to start that first row yesterday," he said.
More news on other projects dotting the city — and specifically within its revitalization overlay areas — will likely become available in coming weeks, he said.
"A lot of stuff that was just stalled is beginning to come back to life. A great many number of things, actually," Brendle said. "This time, we think it's real."
Mall development seen as catalyst
Both Moe and Brendle said that in recent weeks, they've been meeting with more developers interested in building in the city, in part because of its growing population — a 25 percent growth in the last decade — and increasing median income..
Then there is the fact that Greenberg Gibbons Commercial is on the verge of announcing the details behind its redevelopment of the Laurel Mall, known as the Laurel Town Centre, news that developers nationwide are keeping an eye on, Brendle said.
"It's a huge catalyst," Brendle said of the mall project. "Everybody's waiting."
"As they (Greenberg Gibbons) start rolling out their project more, and it's able to become public, I think there are going to be people interested," Moe said. "The development community, they sort of feed off each other, which I think is important."
Brian Gibbons, CEO of Greenberg Gibbons, said he doesn't doubt the company's announcement — which he expects to make in the next 30 days — will help growth.
"Right now, the mall is nothing but blight, and it's been like that for a significant amount of time, and it creates a negative impression for Laurel," he said.