Like many other motorists who had seen the sign on Route 97 near the corner of McKendree Road, dentist Damian Blum was curious when the promised "Inwood Village Center" would become a reality.
The sign used to say, "Coming in the Fall of 1991."
"We had to go up and spray paint it out," J. Thomas Eyre said of the untimely prediction, made at the brink of a recession. Mr. Eyre and his brother, Ronald L. Eyre, own the property and are partners in the Glenelg-based Eyre Bus Service.
Now the Eyres are hoping an improving economy will create interest in the dormant project and expect to break ground next year on the strip shopping center.
Dr. Blum was interested enough to approach Thomas Eyre as he stood next to the sign Tuesday morning with a photographer. A resident of nearby Carrs Mill Road, Dr. Blum told Mr. Eyre that he was interested in moving his Ellicott City dental practice to the center.
The three businesses and three houses on the 2.7-acre property will be razed and replaced by 21,000 square feet of retail and office space if the center is built.
Construction is likely to begin next year, depending on how quickly the center's space is leased, said Angela Elswick, the Eyres' comptroller. Ms. Elswick handles leasing for the project and two other Eyre-owned shopping centers, one next to the company's headquarters on Ten Oaks Road in Glenelg and the other off Interstate 70 in Mount Airy.
Although the Eyres would prefer to have at least half of the Inwood property leased before breaking ground, they probably will obtain building permits before their county-approved site plan expires in March, Ms. Elswick said.
Likely tenants are the site's current businesses, C.J.'s Beef Barn and the Inwood Convenience Store, joined by a video store, a bakery, a Chinese restaurant and a bank.
When the Eyres bought the property in September 1990, they intended to develop it immediately.
"When we saw the economy do a downturn, we held up on it," Ms. Elswick said. "Now things seem to be turning up."
Plans for the shopping center, which were approved by the county Department of Planning and Zoning, would have expired in March 1993. The Eyres obtained a one-year extension, however, giving them until next March 1 to obtain grading and building permits for the center. Those permits would expire after a year if construction had not begun.
The site already had commercial zoning when the Eyres bought it. The project's lack of leasing success was one of the arguments that helped dissuade zoning board members from adding more commercial zoning to Route 97 in last year's western comprehensive rezoning.
The project's fruition would mean the end of the odd collection of structures at the corner, including a Victorian house and the miniature red barn that houses C.J.'s Beef Barn.
The restaurant's proprietor, Cecil R. Jones, said he has some affection for the little red structure but that "the business has grown so good that we just don't have storage space."
Mr. Jones said he wants a sit-down restaurant in the new center to help his business during times when his patrons can't eat on picnic tables or the hoods of cars.
"I think if I had some sit-down, it will pick up some slack during the winter," he said.
Because the sign has been up for three years, having to move would be no surprise, said Nancy L. Burns, a cook for a restaurant near Lisbon who has lived on the site for six years.
"We hate to see it come, but it's not up to us," she said.