Community and political leaders were quick to call last weekend's violence outside the Recher Theatre an isolated event. But as new development draws more people into Baltimore County's largest downtown area, many want to see more police and other resources directed toward the county seat.
More crowds are expected in the fall of 2014, when a 3,200-seat, 16-screen movie theater complex is set to open as part of the Towson Square project. The number of restaurants licensed to serve alcohol in Towson is expected to rise by 20 percent within five years. About 1,200 luxury apartments have opened over the past three years, and Towson University's student body is growing.
"Everybody, I think, wants Towson to grow," said G.T. Keplinger, president of the Burkleigh Square Community Association, which represents a neighborhood that borders downtown. "But at what cost?"
About 45 restaurants and bars now are licensed in Towson, said Mike Mohler, chief administrator of the liquor board. Over the next four to five years, up to nine more restaurants are set to open, he said, giving Towson the largest concentration of new restaurants in the county.
"It just really will set Towson up as an entertainment destination even more than it is," Mohler said.
The county needs to think hard about issues such as traffic flow, security and public transportation, said Councilman David Marks, a Perry Hall Republican whose district includes Towson.
"Towson is like a little city," he said. "Nowhere in Baltimore County do you have such a focal point of hospitals, universities, governmental institutions and entertainment destinations."
Traffic is one of the most common complaints Marks hears from Towson residents, and he says public transportation improvements will be essential over the next decade. He envisions a neighborhood shuttle similar to the Charm City Circulator in Baltimore.
The redeveloped Towson City Center opened this summer, featuring offices for companies and Towson University, as well as other tenants. New residential developments have included Towson Green, a community of 121 townhouses, and the Palisades, a luxury apartment building.
In fall 2014, Towson Square (formerly called Towson Circle III) is set to open with the movie theater complex and five restaurants. County officials expect the theater to draw people from around the region.
Movie theaters have been a source of complaint in Towson before. Residents groused about loud groups of youngsters who would congregate outside the Towson Commons complex on York Road. That theater closed last year.
Keplinger said his neighborhood, near Towson University, has dealt for years with issues such as rowdy parties and crowded rental homes. But residents also are eager for new entertainment options that will draw people to the area, especially family-oriented activities and restaurants, he said.
David Kosak, president of the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations, called last weekend's violence "a fluke that got out of hand." Hundreds of people descended on Towson — many for an overflow event at the Recher Theatre — creating a disturbance in which seven people were charged with crimes, police officers were injured and one person was shot.
Still, Kosak said, police need to ensure there are adequate patrols in the area. "As Towson grows and holds a larger proportion of the Baltimore County population, more resources need to be directed to Towson."
Marks wants to explore the possibility of creating a business improvement district, where merchants would contribute dues to help pay for services such as extra security, marketing and landscaping.
"The police are doing a very good job with limited resources right now, but I think [security] has got to be beefed up over the coming years," he said.
Businesses are concerned about the cost, Marks said. So he wants to work with the Towson Chamber of Commerce to develop the idea "without hurting some of these small, struggling businesses."
Nancy Hafford, executive director of the chamber, said business owners haven't seen any specifics on what an improvement district would entail, so they have many questions about it. Now is a time "to sit down, put our heads together and find out what our needs are," she said.
"As more people move into the area, we're hoping that we might be able to get some additional police officers," she added.
Police spokeswoman Elise Armacost said the county wants downtown Towson to have a vibrant nightlife, and called last weekend's events "extremely unusual."
"We are of course taking a close look at what happened so that we can reduce the chances of such a thing happening again," she said, adding that police still are determining what long-term changes may be in order for downtown.
When the Towson precinct's new captain was assigned there last year, Armacost said, he worked to develop relationships with bar and restaurant owners, the liquor board and Towson University.
The department gets grant money from the university for extra patrols on fall weekends and for events such as homecoming and Tigerfest, Armacost said. Police are prepared to use auxiliary officers and also are working to be more informed about events that are coming to town, she said.
Baltimore Sun reporter Jessica Anderson contributed to this article.
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