Applause was given frequently during the groundbreaking ceremony for the Towne Centre at Laurel Tuesday morning, but the cheers were loudest when Mayor Craig Moe presented developer Brian Gibbons with a demolition permit for the now-closed Laurel Mall.
"I have looked forward to this day for a very long time," Moe said. "Revitalizing this property signalizes a major rebirth of Laurel city's center."
The mall redevelopment, he added, is expected to "jump start" other revitalization projects in the area.
For the crowd of close to 200 officials and long-time Laurel residents in attendance, the groundbreaking ceremony is a sign that the long-overdue redevelopment of the mall is finally here.
"It's the culmination of something I never thought would happen," said Don Henyon, former chairman of Citizens National Bank, now PNC Bank, on Main Street..
Observing the crowd, Henyon noted: "The city of Laurel is here, right in one spot."
Joseph Tredway, a member of the board of directors of the Laurel Board of Trade, recalls when the mall was first built.
"The mall is what put Laurel on the map. ... But it's had its time," he said.
Like many others, Tredway said the redevelopment has been "a long time coming." However, he noted: "I'm still having a hard time visualizing how it's supposed to end up."
Gibbons, chairman and CEO of Greenberg Gibbons Commercial, the Owings Mills-based developer for the Town Centre at Laurel project, spoke more about the officials who helped get the project to this point than the details of what they plan to do.
However, he did talk about mixing the tenants to ensure they "feed off each other" and creating an open community space where concerts and other weekly gatherings can be held.
"What we're going to try to do here is create the true community focal point of the city of Laurel," Gibbons told the crowd.
The company also had a few design renderings and development plans on display and brought in an official from Regal Entertainment, one of the planned tenants for Towne Centre at Laurel.
"When we looked at Laurel, it had everything that we were looking for ... all the ingredients," Rob Green, of Regal Entertainment, said. Regal is planning a 12-screen, state-of-the-art theater with 2,400 seats at the new town center.
Cynthia Wood, a Laurel resident since 1987, said it will be "so exciting to have upscale tenants" at the mall, which she noted "hasn't been very nice for the last number of years."
However, Wood doesn't want the new complex to be the only focal point in Laurel.
"What I would like to see is somehow this mall tying into and promoting Main Street ... instead of replacing it," she said.
Walter Townsend, president and CEO of the Baltimore Washington Corridor Chamber, a regional business group based in Laurel, recalls how unique the mall was when it was built in the late 1970s. But design concepts have changed, he noted, with many areas moving from enclosed malls to open town centers.
"This is going to be exciting," said Townsend, who used to work for Berman Enterprises, a former managing partner for the mall.
The concerts and gatherings Gibbons talked about at the groundbreaking, he added, "is the thing that brings families together."