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Towson core businesses eye county revitalization assistance

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Several downtown Towson businesses recently expressed interest in Baltimore County's Commercial Revitalization services, a program county officials say will help businesses keep up with a changing Towson landscape.

"They know that things are changing, so they want to take advantage of the change so that all boats will rise with this tide of change," Andrea Van Arsdale, director of the Department of Planning for Baltimore County, said.

At a recent meeting of the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations, Laurie Hay, central sector coordinator for the Department of Planning, said three downtown Towson businesses were in various stages of participation in the county's building improvement programs: The Melting Pot, Plaza Art Supply and the building that holds 7-Eleven and the former Miller's Deli space.

County officials said the Department of Planning annually sends mailers out to all businesses inside the eligible commercial revitalization districts, including downtown Towson. The most recent mailer went out in November, officials said. Baltimore County has 16 commercial revitalization districts, which it says are the "front doors" to its communities.

Eligible businesses can take advantage of 10 free hours of professional design services as part of the "architect-on-call" program, interest-free loans of up to $30,000 for exterior improvements, or five- or 10-year commercial revitalization tax credits.

In Towson, the commercial revitalization district comprises the downtown core, plus the York Road corridor up to the Beltway.

"I think that program can be a tremendous resource," Councilman David Marks, who represents Towson, said.

Jeff Nichols, co-owner of The Melting Pot in Towson, said his business already took advantage of the architecture services, and he is preparing his loan applications. Because The Melting Pot takes up two storefront addresses, each is eligible for a loan. The rest of the project, which Nichols said would cost "well over $100,000," will be privately financed.

Nichols said the improvements would update the building from a "western town look" with an outdated awning to a new, flatstone front with a colorful pitch roof. He said the improvements aren't to keep up with the area's renaissance but instead to be a part of it.

"Me making my little investment (before) wouldn't have changed the landscape of the town," Nichols said. "When you see major investment, now I'm going to put my dollar forward. It's hard to chase after something that seems to be declining, but I feel like it's made a turn. It's definitely on the climb now."

Cindy Brohawn, manager of Plaza Art Supplies on York Road, said management had met with the architect and is in the preliminary design stages of their project, which aims to update the front of the store.

The owner of the 7-Eleven building could not be reached for comment.

Both the county and state loan programs came under scrutiny this summer when The Greene Turtle in Towson used funds from each of the programs to build a rooftop deck and expand its street entrance.

Like the other recent downtown Towson participants in the program, The Greene Turtle's owners said they committed to improving their buildings to keep up with the swell of development in Towson.

A 15-screen Cinemark movie theater will anchor Towson Square, an $85 million development which will feature eight restaurants located just east of the Towson roundabout. Caves Valley Partners announced last year that the $300 million Towson Row project off York Road will include retail and residential. Towson Commons, which Nichols said he has long referred to as "the big white elephant across the street," will include an LA Fitness gym and several new street-level restaurants as part of its renovation.

Nancy Hafford, executive director of the Towson Chamber of Commerce, said improvements would be especially important to businesses on the east side of York Road, given the work being done to bring Towosn Commons back to prominence.

Van Arsdale said the county assistance programs are complimenting private investment on both a large and small scale in Towson.

In addition to the pending improvements and The Greene Turtle's renovation, Van Arsdale pointed to other businesses that are improving their storefronts on their own dimes.

The Subway at the corner of East Chesapeake Avenue and York Road recently upgraded its exterior, and the vacant storefront at Pennsylvania Avenue and York Road is under construction for a new Wells Fargo bank. The former Recher Theatre space will open this month as Torrent Lounge, boasting a fresh facade.

"I think this has added a sense of excitement," Van Arsdale said.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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