The long-planned Metro Centre in Owings Mills is set to finally stir to life this week with the opening of Baltimore County's largest library.
Officials envision the library branch, to open in a building called the County Campus next to the Owings Mills subway station, as the anchor of a cluster of shops, restaurants and apartments that they have long hoped would form a new center in the northwestern suburb.
Also planned for the County Campus are dozens of classrooms and offices for the Community College of Baltimore County. The first retail spaces and apartments at the Metro Centre are set to be finished at the end of May.
"We've been waiting and waiting," said George Harman, president of the Reisterstown-Owings Mills-Glyndon Coordinating Council. "I think this is going be the beginning of what was envisioned probably as much as 25, 30 years ago."
The Metro Centre is one of several projects intended to remake Owings Mills. Proposed 15 years ago, it's Baltimore County's first transit-oriented development.
The county and state have poured $58 million into the project, paying for the campus building, parking garages and infrastructure.
County officials have envisioned a town center for Owings Mills — with White Marsh, one of the county's two designated growth areas — for decades.
The project has been beset over the years by disputes over construction, funding and other issues. The financial crisis of 2008 and the sluggish economic recovery since also took a toll.
"It has been a lengthy struggle to finally reach the point where we are now," said County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, who's been involved in the project since the late 1990s, when he was a first-term county councilman.
The Democrat said reviving the project was a priority for his administration when he became executive in 2010.
"It really will create a unique identity in Owings Mills that does not exist anywhere else in the region," he said.
Plans call for 1.2 million square feet of office space, 300,000 square feet of shops and restaurants, 1,700 units of housing and a 250-room hotel.
Developer Howard Brown plans to announce the first retail tenants within the next month or so — mainly restaurants, he said, "from casual to white tablecloth."
Brown, of David S. Brown Enterprises, is now marketing the office space to corporate employers, touting what he says will be a walkable, dense development near mass transit for workers. About 5,000 people use the Metro station each weekday, he said.
"People today are not as interested in suburbia," Brown said. "The idea of a transit-oriented development is to lower the dependency on cars."
Grand Central Boulevard, the main road running through the development near the intersection of Interstate 795 and Painters Mill Road, opened recently to traffic. Construction is nearly complete on 116 apartments and ground-level retail space; another 116 units and more retail space is due to be finished by the end of June.
The library is set for a "soft opening" on Thursday, with a grand opening scheduled for March 28. The collection will feature 142,000 items, 70 public computers, meeting and study rooms, and a magazine lounge.
Councilman Kenneth Oliver called the library "long overdue." The Democrat, who represents Owings Mills, said his constituents travel to Pikesville or Randallstown to check out books and use other library services.
"Owings Mills does not have a library, so I expect to see more and more traffic at the center," Oliver said.
Colleen Brady, president of the Reisterstown-Owings Mills-Glyndon Chamber of Commerce, said the library and community college center would be the "crown jewel" of the Metro Centre.
"It's going to grow and create a really stellar workforce," Brady said.
Development in Owings Mills was one of the most controversial topics when the County Council reviewed zoning last year.
County leaders had hoped the project could go hand-in-hand with the revamping of the Owings Mills Mall, the long-struggling complex next door.
A $65 million redevelopment of the mall was announced in late 2011, when Kimco Realty and General Growth Properties announced they had formed a partnership to turn it around.
Since then, the mall's status is unclear. A Kimco executive said a Wegmans grocery store announced for the Foundry Row shopping center planned by Greenberg Gibbons at the former Solo Cup site would hurt the mall's chances of a successful comeback.
Companies tied to Brown and other developers funded a referendum effort that would have overturned retail zoning for Foundry Row, among other properties. The local elections board rejected the petitions, but referendum supporters have appealed to Circuit Court.
Kamenetz said the mall is "at a standstill," but he hopes the Metro Centre's debut sparks progress at the mall.
"The momentum for the Metro Centre will clearly reverberate to the mall, and hopefully sooner rather later," he said.
The mall's owners declined to comment on the status of the plans.
Harman said he hopes all three projects — the mall, Metro Centre and Foundry Row — will benefit residents.
"Our community organization believes that all three can be viable hubs of commercial activity," he said. "It'll help the area grow. It's just unfortunate that there has been some discord between the [developers]."