Towson's Greene Turtle restaurant on Thursday unveiled its new rooftop "Turtle Shell" bar, an $890,000 addition, which caused a stir when proposed six months ago because of the public loans approved to help fund the project.
"We're hoping not only to attract local business, but also the tourism that comes to Towson as well," Jill Packo, who co-owns the restaurant with her husband, Bill, and brother, Jeff Guidera, said during a ceremony Thursday. "We feel the Turtle Shell timing is perfect with all of the construction coming to Towson."
On Thursday, as snow fell outside, the restaurant's owners invited friends, family and area elected officials to get a unique perspective of downtown Towson from the new rooftop area.
The renovation project added an enclosed rooftop bar with retractable doors, plus an open rooftop area facing York Road. It also included ground-floor improvements that gave the restaurant a more open entrance onto the Towson thoroughfare.
Packo said the family worked through the night on Thanksgiving eve in order to open the rooftop bar for breakfast before the Loyola-Calvert Hall Turkey Bowl football game on Thanksgiving. The new Turtle Shell bar opened permanently the following month. She said reservations for private parties and events are already being booked.
But the addition was surrounded with controversy when it came to light that it would be funded in part by taxpayer dollars.
While Baltimore County officials supported the reinvestment by area businesses to improve their properties to complement major developments proposed for downtown Towson, others such as Comptroller Peter Franchot and Sen. Jim Brochin, who represents Towson, questioned the use of public funds.
In addition to private funding and financing from the owners and the Finkelstein family, which owns the building, the renovation was paid for in part by county and state loans.
The state loan, which totaled $240,000 from the Neighborhood Business Program, was held up in the Board of Public Works while some members questioned whether a chain restaurant in Towson qualified for a loan that was meant to help businesses in struggling neighborhoods. That loan was ultimately passed in August.
Baltimore County also provided a $265,000 loan, a portion of which could be forgiven on the condition of adding jobs in Towson and staying in business for five years.
County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, who spoke at Thursday's event, said beforehand that despite the controversy over the loans, those loans were "always a no-brainer for me."
"This is a million-dollar investment in downtown Towson by a small business owner," the county executive said. "I think it really shows the strength of the rebirth of Towson."
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During his remarks, Kamenetz poked fun at the controversy, asking whether any comptrollers or state senators were in attendance. But from the podium atop the Greene Turtle, Kamenetz also pointed out at the development occurring all around the restaurant.
Behind the Greene Turtle, construction is underway on Towson Square, an entertainment complex including a 15-screen Cinemark movie theater and eight restaurants.
Across York Road, the renovations of Towson Commons that includes LA Fitness and will eventually include shops and restaurants are underway. One block south, Caves Valley Partners has purchased five acres between York Road, Chesapeake Avenue, and Washington Avenue for its mixed-use project, Towson Row.
In addition to a Baltimore County citation from Kamenetz, the restaurant received a governor's citation presented by First Lady Katie O'Malley, who grew up with the Guidera family, as well as a County Council citation from Councilman David Marks.
In his remarks, Marks thanked Del. Steve Lafferty and other state officials for their assistance in assuring the loan went through.
"Here in Baltimore County and the state of Maryland, (we) recognize that a partnership is needed so we don't just have economic development on one side of York Road or north of here," Marks, who represents Towson, said.
Baltimore Sun reporter Michael Dresser contributed to this story.