Stagnant economy is blurring the vision of Odenton Town Center


When developers first envisioned building a Town Center in Odenton, they saw tall glass office buildings, hotels, cinemas, restaurants and high-priced retail outlets.

But with the economy slumping, business loans virtually impossible to get and major department stores declaring bankruptcy, that vision has significantly changed.

If the 218 acres at the corner of Routes 32 and 175 were to be developed, residents would more likely eventually see discount warehouse shopping centers instead of major department stores, two commercial real estate agents said Monday.

"Everybody would like to see a Macy's or a Nordstrom's," said Christopher A. Harlepp, a real estate broker for Cornerstone Realty Inc., based in Falls Church. "Those places are very pleasant to shop in. But I'm here to tell you that is not going to happen."

Mr. Harlepp, who represents the warehouse giant Pace, owned by Kmart, and Bob Levin, a broker with Baltimore-based KLNB that represents Wal-Mart and its Sam's Club warehouse stores, spoke at an Odenton Town Center subcommittee meeting Monday. They offered their views on the commercial real estate market and how the industry sees the community.

The two competitors emphasized that the wave of the future is in discount price clubs that offer bulk food and other items at

bargain-basement prices.

Whether that fits into what the growth management committee, which is trying to design a new Odenton, has in mind is yet to be seen.

The group, made up of residents, business managers and county planners, has been meeting for more than a year to draft guidelines for developers who want to build on the 218-acre town center and its periphery.

What most planners had in mind when the town center concept was born a few years ago was a mixed-use development, where people could live, work and shop without ever getting into a car.

But it was clear from Monday's meeting that has changed. Developers, however, were quick to point out that plans for the town center land are at least half a decade off, and that it's premature to make any firm plans.

"I don't think anyone knows what we are going to do five or 10 years from now," said Stephen N. Fleischman, vice president of The Halle Cos., currently building the massive Seven Oaks development off Route 175 and owners of 130 acres of town center land.

Mr. Fleischman said the original plans for office towers just won't work in today's economy. "Thank God we didn't build that," he said, "because they would be sitting there vacant right now."

Mr. Levin and Mr. Harlepp said that today's shoppers love the price-club concept. But now the Odenton area doesn't have the number of people to make it attractive to retailers, they said.

Mr. Levin said that might change once the Route 32 project is finished. Work is under way to upgrade Route 32 to a major link between Interstate 97 and Columbia. "Route 32 will have a tremendous impact on the area," Mr. Levin said.

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