Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz announced Friday, Jan. 27 that the centerpiece of the Towson Circle III development will be a 16-screen, 3,200-seat cinema run by Cinemark Theatres, the world's largest theater chain.
"In this down economy, to have this investment in downtown Towson by some of the premier players in the country, is a coup for us," Kamenetz said. "We're very excited about it, and we're going to work hard to make this the success that we know it can be."
According to Kamenetz, Towson Circle III developers — Cordish Companies and Heritage Properties — are investing $85 million into the project, to go along with $6.2 million in county funds earmarked for the parking garage, and $2 million of infrastructure improvements made by the state Department of Transportation.
The development — which spans 4.2 acres between East Joppa Road, Pennsylvania Avenue and Virginia Avenue — will also feature five restaurants and an 862-space underground parking garage that will be operated by the Baltimore County Revenue Authority.
The project will also bring an estimated total of 1,530 jobs to the area — 660 on the construction side and 870 others to staff the theater and restaurants.
Four of the restaurants will flank a one-way entrance off East Joppa Road that leads to a European-style fountain, while another will be attached to Cinemark, which will border Pennsylvania Avenue on the back end.
Mike Batza, a Towson resident who is chairman and CEO of Heritage Properties, called the project a "classic example of the public-private partnership that can achieve what one or the other cannot."
"The county, the revenue authority, the state and the developers … are coming together in order to revitalize Baltimore County's seat in Towson," Batza said.
Cordish Companies is a developer of entertainment-oriented districts throughout the country, and developed the PowerPlant complex in downtown Baltimore.
"We know the movie industry extremely well," Blake Cordish, vice president of Cordish Companies, said. "What I can say unequivocally is that Cinemark is the best in class. There is no one in the industry that's any better."
Bryan Jeffries, marketing director for Cinemark, said the company gets many requests to join developments each year, but few have the existing base — in terms of homes, other businesses and nearby universities — to make the project feasible.
"This is a fantastic opportunity for us, and we're excited to get into this project, enough so that we moved it right into our calendar ahead of other projects," Jeffries said.
Jeffries said that the new theaters will have wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling screens. One is designated as an "XD" theater, which is like a digital IMAX theater. There will also be self-serve concession stands and Starbucks available.
These state-of-the-art features, and Cinemark's high standard, are seen as the difference between the incoming theater and the theater facility at Towson Commons, which closed last year.
"(The old theater) was not a top-tier theater," Kamenetz said. "It did not have the latest technology, and in fact, the physical confines of the theater were not conducive to strong performance. It's really apples and oranges, in terms of the product that's being presented here."
Cordish cited the PowerPlant as a prime example of a project handled by his company in which an improvement was made to an already existing site.
"It wasn't that there was something wrong with PowerPlant," Cordish said. "It was the execution that was wrong with it.
"Not only is Cinemark the best, we're going to have … the best in class in terms of restaurants and overall ambiance, and that's ultimately what people" want "to go for an experience that's broader than just in and out."
Slated to open in late 2014
Councilman David Marks, who represents Towson, remembers when Towson Commons opened in the 1990s and what excitement it produced in the community. Marks said a first-class community like Towson will now greatly benefit from a complex and theater like the one planned for Towson Circle III.
Towson Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Nancy Hafford has been supporting the project every step of the way, and said she "couldn't be happier" about the announcement.
"I've been waiting for this to happen for so long, and I know this movie theater will be successful," Hafford said. "I know this company. They're going to hit it out of the ballpark."
According to Kamenetz, Hafford and the Towson community won't have to wait much longer to see progress.
Work is scheduled to begin this quarter, with the parking garage scheduled to open in 2013 and the theater and restaurants slated to open in fall 2014.
"We're looking forward to activity occurring rapidly," Kamenetz said. "This isn't just an announcement, we're moving ahead in a very timely manner."