4:40 PM EST, February 18, 2013
Be careful what you wish for. Or at least be ready when it comes.
That's our advice to the Baltimore County administration with regard to development trends in downtown Towson, where moribund businesses and buildings are now hot properties.
A number of proposed new projects are on the horizon that would make the county seat's commercial core on York Road a magnet for visitors and shoppers. Prominent among these are the $85 million Towson Square project that will include a 15-screen movie theater, a $27 million renovation at the Towson City Center highrise on the Towson Circle and a proposal to rejuvenate the Towson Commons indoor mall.
All this is welcome news. Towson already wears hats as a government center, a college town and a shopping district. Now, it will be adding an element of glamour as an entertainment hub.
However, an exultant comment by County Executive Kevin Kamenetz gives us pause.
"We are going to make Towson a regional destination, even better than Bethesda, even better than Silver Spring," he said.
Really? Anyone who has visited the downtown areas of those two Montgomery County cities should be worried about any attempt to transplant that to Towson. The building boom in Bethesda and Silver Spring has resulted in parking stacked high in multiple garages, traffic often gridlocked on the streets, restaurants with long waits for a table and popular movies routinely selling out.
Geographically, Towson is limited in scale, hemmed in by government offices on the west, a shopping mall on the north and Towson University on the south. Its capacity to absorb traffic and crowds is sharply circumscribed. But crowds and traffic are what's coming.
Now comes the news that the Recher Theatre in the heart of Towson will switch from a live music venue into a dance club called Torrent. The adjacent bar and grill called the Rec Room will also be part of the nighclub.
Dance clubs pack in the crowds under the spinning lights and those revelers will be out on the streets of Towson after a night of dancing and drinking.
We prefer to think this all adds up to challenge, not a cause for panic. Change is inevitable along York Road between the traffic circle and the university. There is time to get ready.
Traffic and crowd control and security must become planning priorities this year as the cranes and bulldozers begin Towson's transformation.
The spark of growth is a bright spot on the future. But we don't want it to become lightning in a bottle.