Last weekend, downtown Towson was rocked by a disturbance that was extraordinary in the history of our county seat. Those responsible should be held accountable, and we need to take steps to ensure it never happens again. But I believe the incident is a momentary pause as downtown Towson continues its economic transformation.
Towson is a center of law, medicine, higher education and government. This area includes some of the most appealing neighborhoods in Baltimore County — places like Anneslie, Rodgers Forge and Stoneleigh that are filling up with young families. Unfortunately, the downtown core — which more or less stretches from Towson University to Towson Town Center — has not quite lived up to its potential. There was a sense of energy in the 1990s when Towson Commons opened up, but that proved short-lived as the movie theaters and restaurants faced competition from other shopping areas.
Today, though, there is a new sense of momentum in downtown Towson. Even in a challenging economy, small businesses are sprouting up throughout the core, and larger developments like Towson City Center and Towson Square are transforming the downtown skyline. I believe three factors are driving this economic transformation.
First, there is a stronger relationship among Towson University, Goucher College, the neighborhoods and Baltimore County government. Higher education is important to the downtown area in many ways. Towson University and Goucher College are more resistant to the recession than traditional businesses, and sprinkling offices, administrative functions and other services throughout downtown Towson will stabilize this area in a difficult economy. Towson University is leasing 47,000 square feet of space at the new Towson City Center, which anchors the northern end of the downtown core.
Both Towson University and Goucher College have taken steps to address neighborhood concerns, such as meeting regularly with the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations and providing funds to Baltimore County's Police Department to beef up security. There are still issues, but I believe President Maravene Loeschke of Towson University and President Sanford Unger of Goucher have set a tone of working with the community to minimize problem behavior.
Second, downtown Towson needs a mass of residential activity to thrive, and this is starting to happen. Towson Green is a 121-unit development at Burke Avenue and York Road. Collaboratively designed with nearby community associations, and adjacent to the Brightview senior living project, Towson Green is an example of the type of project that can bring families and professionals into the downtown core at night and on the weekends.
Third, there is a spirit of collaboration between downtown Towson's stakeholder groups and county government. The Towson Chamber of Commerce brings hundreds of people into the core every Friday night for its "Feet on the Street" concerts. The Chamber also sponsors Towson's spring festival and other civic activities. The Greater Towson Committee, which represents many of the property owners, has hosted workshops that look at public policy issues, such as whether we need a business improvement district in downtown Towson. And the county government, from County Executive Kevin Kamenetz to the local police commander, have been problem-solvers as we work through the challenging issues of a dense urban setting.
No one should minimize the seriousness of last weekend's incident. It was wrong and should never happen again. I also believe we need a discussion about how to deal with security, traffic and other issues that will become more acute as downtown Towson grows over the next decade. But there are also some positive developments that show real momentum, and we should celebrate the long-awaited transformation of this community. As the color that is common to the seals of Goucher College, Towson University and county government suggests, I believe downtown Towson's golden days are still to come.
David Marks represents Towson on the Baltimore County Council. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.