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New business group hopes to revitalize Arbutus

Catonsville developer Steve Whalen, right, is joined by fellow members of the Arbutus Commercial Revitalization Group, from left, Bobbie Foster, Debbie SeBour, Terry Nolan and Tim McIntre on a walk along East Drive in downtown Arbutus. Whalen plans to develop a nearby property to include a large commercial building and a restaurant.
Catonsville developer Steve Whalen, right, is joined by fellow members of the Arbutus Commercial Revitalization Group, from left, Bobbie Foster, Debbie SeBour, Terry Nolan and Tim McIntre on a walk along East Drive in downtown Arbutus. Whalen plans to develop a nearby property to include a large commercial building and a restaurant. (Photo by Nate Pesce)

The time to invest in Arbutus is now, according to a new group led by real estate broker and area business owner Deborah SeBour.

That is why SeBour recently formed a "Mastermind Group" called Arbutus Commercial Revitalization Group to think of ways to improve the business corridor of Arbutus along East Drive and encourage businesses to invest in the town.

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"We're spending our money here to grow the business and we'd really like to see other people do the same," said SeBour, who said she recently spent $100,000 for an addition to the renovated colonial at 1424 Sulphur Spring Road where her real estate business operates.

SeBour, a member of the board of directors for the Arbutus Business and Professional Association, said the organization discussed encouraging private investment in Arbutus, but didn't have anyone to take the reigns.

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"There just wasn't really anybody to take it and run with it. So this year I just decided it's time," SeBour said.

SeBour organized the group's first meeting on Nov. 10, during which its 12 members created an outline of what they plan to accomplish and assigned tasks to each member, SeBour said. In addition, two members from Baltimore County's Department of Planning have agreed to attend the group's meetings, which are scheduled for once or twice a month.

SeBour said that while the group would like to see a high end sports memorabilia shop or antique shop like Objects Found in Catonsville come to the area, members are open to hearing ideas for the types of businesses the community would like to see.

"There are properties in Arbutus for sale and we're seeing turnover, where properties are now becoming available that have been owned for a long time," SeBour said. "They need new blood, new business and young people with a little bit of money."

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Among those vacant properties is the building that housed Leeds Dry Cleaners at 4505 Leeds Ave. The longtime area business closed last March, SeBour said.

"It was open for years and it's an opportunity because it's a business space," SeBour said. "It's a good opportunity to renovate and bring your business here."

"One of the things that we're trying to do is make our main street walkable. We're looking for businesses where a family can come down and go to the movies, go somewhere to eat, or walk down main street to shop — something that fits in with the small-town feel," SeBour said.

SeBour, who lives in Catonsville with her husband, Bruce SeBour, said she wants East Drive to undergo the revitalization that Catonsville's main street, Frederick Road, has undergone in the past 10 to 15 years.

She pointed to Oak Creek Cafe, a new restaurant opened by Catonsville couple Jim and Sharon Andrews that replaced Leon's Triple L Restaurant at 5309 East Drive and the planned expansion of Sorrento of Arbutus at 5401 East Drive as signs of new growth in the town's commercial district. There is also a 20,000-square-foot commercial building and 7,000-square-foot restaurant planned by Catonsville developer Steve Whalen.

"We're trying to identify businesses to reach out to that might be good for Arbutus and let them know of the opportunity that is here," said SeBour, whose husband grew up in Arbutus.

Businesses located within the commercial revitalization district in Arbutus are eligible for grants, loans and tax credits. There are 17 such districts in the county, each staffed with a planner from the county's Department of Planning who works closely with business and property owners, business associations and the community, according to the county's website.

First District Councilman Tom Quirk said he is considering expanding the commercial revitalization district to include Whalen's project.

"With Steve Whalen's new development — quality office space and a quality dining option — that adds energy and momentum," said Quirk, who attended SeBour's first meeting. "From an investment standpoint, I think private capital usually follows."

Whalen, a member of the Arbutus Commercial Revitalization Group, said he is moving forward with plans for the project, which will be located near the intersection of Sulphur Spring Road and Waelchli Avenue.

"I thought Arbutus was underserved when I bought the property 25, 26 years ago and I still feel that way," said Whalen, who lives in Catonsville.

Whalen said the area has many things going for it, such as proximity to the Halethorpe MARC train station and Baltimore City.

Having enough critical mass is important, and he hopes he can be part of that momentum building the economy in Arbutus, Whalen said.

Quirk said Arbutus needs an economic engine to improve its economy. He pointed to a new $10 million office building that opened on Frederick Road in Catonsville as an example.

"It would be nice to have something that could really pull people into Arbutus," Quirk said.

Terry Nolan, an Arbutus lawyer and property owner, agreed that Arbutus needs to do more to attract foot traffic to businesses.

"If you take lessons from Catonsville, they branded themselves as Music City Maryland," Nolan said. "There are great music stores like Bill's Music to shop at; that makes them different."

Nolan, immediate past president of the ABPA, will serve as liaison between ACR Group and the ABPA.

"We see this as two rails on the same track," Nolan said.

SeBour said one of the greatest challenges the ABPA faces in growing the business district is that members don't take advantage of opportunities to grow their business through advertising.

For example, only five or six businesses took advantage of the opportunity to advertise through the Santa House this year, she said. The house on Stevens Avenue was open for three weekends before Christmas as well as the Monday and Tuesday of Christmas week to allow the area's younger residents to deliver their wish lists to Santa Claus in person.

"We'd love to see the businesses get involved," SeBour said.

"We want to encourage people to come to [our next meeting] and be in touch with us as a group," SeBour said of ACR Group. "We're just brainstorming to see what we can do, with a goal of improving the main street dramatically in five years."

The group will hold its next meeting on Monday, Jan. 12 at 4:30 p.m. at SeBour's office, 1424 Sulphur Spring Road. During the meeting, a representative from the county's Department of Planning will give a presentation on programs available to business owners in commercial revitalization districts.

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