"It's the first time in — I can't say how many years — we've finally had something start at Towson Commons," she said. "To have a business come in taking 50,000 square-feet, bringing bodies not just in the daytime between 9 and 5, but early in the morning that can support our breakfast places [and] at nighttime that will support our local eateries, we couldn't be happier."

Other projects have reinforced that sense of optimism.

In August, officials celebrated the opening of the refurbished Towson City Center near the town's roundabout — a 155,000-square-foot redevelopment of an office complex that had been vacant for a decade. The $27 million, 12-story building is now home to Towson University's Institute for Well Being and the campus radio station. This summer, the Bagby Restaurant Group will open a new eatery there.

Recently, a group led by Caves Valley Partners, the same firm behind the Towson City Center renovation, purchased a property south of West Chesapeake Avenue and west of York Road — a block away from Towson Commons. That area is zoned under a category that would allow "major" retail, business and office space growth. While it is unclear how that tract will be developed, Marks said his knowledge of it suggests it could be a "transformational project for Towson."

Another property slated for redevelopment is the site of Towson Fire Station No. 1 on Bosley Avenue. Last month, Kamenetz announced that the county is selling the site and is fielding offers for commercial redevelopment. Bids from developers are due in April.

On Tuesday, county officials said Towson Square alone will create 1,530 jobs, including 660 construction jobs and 870 jobs once the theaters and restaurants open.

Those jobs will generate an estimated $16.4 million annual payroll, and the center itself will produce $1.75 million in county tax revenue each year, officials said, plus an estimated $2.9 million each year in state sales taxes.

Community leaders and county officials say some of that expected windfall should come back to Towson. In addition to traffic, there have been other concerns, particularly over security. This fall, unruly crowds and violence shut down streets outside the Recher Theatre. In December, a man fired five shots into a crowd outside the Charles Village Pub.

Last month, in the wake of the shooting, Marks said the Charles Village Pub incident "points out the need for more police officers in downtown Towson."

"Towson is going to continue to grow," he said, "and we're going to need to have a strong police presence."

Hafford wants people to see Towson not only as a destination center, but also as a home. She hopes residential projects will be part of the growth.

"We need bodies in town. People want to be here — you know they want to be here when you see beautiful apartment complexes like the Palisades, the Promenade, the Lambourne [apartments] and the Berkshire apartments," she said. "And they're all filled; that just shows you people like to live within walking distance of where they can go to the movies, shopping, dining and good grocery stores."

And despite the shared ambition, Hafford said she didn't quite embrace the county executive's goal of Towson being the next Bethesda.

"I think we have things to offer that no one else does. I don't aspire to be a Bethesda, I just want Towson to be the best community that we can be. … We can see it happen right before our very eyes."

alisonk@baltsun.com

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