Greene Turtle in Towson riding wave of upgrades

From the roof of the Greene Turtle on York Road, co-owners Jill Packo and Jeff Guidera have a great view of the changes coming to downtown Towson.

Just a block away to the east, the framing for the Cinemark movie theater at Towson Square is rising above the building's underground parking structure. Across the intersection of York Road and Chesapeake Avenue, the Towson Row project will replace storefronts and a parking lot with skyscrapers.

But with hundreds of millions of dollars in planned investments in new construction all over the area, the local owners of the Greene Turtle are using private and public loans to improve their restaurant as well.

"I think (the county) considers us the poster child for revitalizing this whole area," Packo said, referring to the existing buildings along the east side of York Road.

The planned improvements to the building, which formerly housed the Finkelstein's clothing store and is still owned by the Finkelstein family, are highlighted by a new front façade and a rooftop deck, with both an outdoor area and enclosed seating area serviced by its bar and kitchen.

Additionally, interior improvements to the existing first-floor area will expand the spacious front area into an all-weather patio area that opens onto York Road.

The tavern's doors have already been replaced. With the old doors, people "walked by and thought we were closed," said Guidera, who lives in Riderwood.

Renovations will also include aesthetic improvements to the back alley with a new entrance leading to both the main restaurant and the rooftop bar. Those changes, the owners said, would allow people to park in the new garage at Towson Square and easily access the restaurant.

Packo, whose husband Bill is also a member of the location's ownership group, has been involved in building the Greene Turtle brand for the last three decades. Bill and Jill Packo, who live in Lutherville, opened the franchise's second location in Fell's Point 26 years ago.

Packo said that despite its well-known name, it has always been a family business —and a local one at that. Packo and Guidera are siblings who grew up in Pinehurst, and she said she bought her first pair of jeans at the Finkelstein's building they plan to renovate.

The staff in both Towson and Fell's Point is full of sons and daughters, nieces and nephews. And though the Towson location was started by the franchise company, her family's acquisition of the location three years ago means the state and county loan assistance is still going to "old Towson," Packo said.

The $240,000 county loan would come from a revolving loan fund from the county's Department of Housing and Community Development's Division of Neighborhood Revitalization, Director of Planning Andrea Van Arsdale said.

Van Arsdale said last week at the County Council work session that the renovation is "part of the downtown resurgence that includes not only new development, but also reinvestment by small businesses and property owners to take advantage of the rising tide that will be lifting many in the downtown core in the next decade."

"This will really change the whole side of York Road, and we hope to capitalize on this location and use so these 500 or so thousand people that will be coming to the new theater will not only go to those restaurants that are part of that project, but will come down the street, see this building and go to the restaurants that are lining York Road," Van Arsdale said.

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