Restaurant set to open in old downtown


A franchise Italian restaurant will open by early November in the former Robinson's building, a signal that perhaps the old downtown area is on the rebound.

The Robinson's building has been vacant for more than six years -- in a neighborhood with no shortage of vacancies.

But Jim Coulter, who with his wife, Sylvia, and a Pennsylvania couple owns the local Italian Oven franchise, said the building offers exactly what they are looking for to expand beyond their Severna Park restaurant, which opened in November.

"It's an urban feel, yet it's in the suburbs," said Mr. Coulter, who grew up in the county.

The county's Arundel Center North offices are nearby, as are District Court and other state offices, a movie house, a senior citizens' housing complex and a residential neighborhood. All of these places are filled with people who need to eat, Mr. Coulter said.

His restaurant is part of a 4-year-old 60-restaurant franchise operation based in Latrobe, Pa.

Although venture capital was scarce in the late 1980s and early 1990s, "now there are investors who see there is opportunity," said Mr. Coulter, whose group has an agreement to open four restaurants in Anne Arundel County and on the Eastern Shore.

Civic leaders and merchants hope his optimism is catching and the so-called Superblock, a 5.6-acre county eyesore in the center of Glen Burnie's old downtown, will finally be developed.

"The market is picking up," said Easton lawyer Paul Jones, managing partner in Aspen Joint Ventures, the group that owns the Robinson's building.

"Once the Superblock goes in that whole block will upgrade. It will be nice, and the people will want nice services," he said.

Anne Arundel County planners are evaluating a proposal to build a mixed-use development on the Superblock, filling tracts that were either torn down or burned down to make way for urban renewal. The project went awry when federal money became scarce and then the economy turned soft.

Before the year is out, an advisory committee will make a recommendation to the county executive on whether to accept the plan by developer George Stone, said Patricia Barland, the county project manager for the Glen Burnie revitalization effort.

County Councilman C. Edward Middlebrooks, whose district includes Glen Burnie, said he hopes the tide is turning, that the area he once described as looking like bombed-out Beirut will become an anchor for a revitalized community.

The Superblock is near the intersection of Baltimore-Annapolis Boulevard and Ritchie Highway and, with better than 100,000 vehicles going through it daily, is one of the busiest crossroads in the county.

In recent months, businesses that have either moved into the old downtown or are in the process of doing so include Seaside Seafood restaurant, a hair salon and a business geared to East Asian weddings.

Real estate agent Tom Guckenburg said the Robinson's building has shown briskly lately -- as have others with prominent Ritchie Highway locations, access to the light rail and other nearby conveniences.

Mr. Jones has hopes of having the rest of the old Robinson's building, which once housed a bridal salon, fully leased in a few months.

The restaurant is taking about 6,000 square feet of the approximately 16,000-square-foot first floor.

"I told you one day the market would come back," Mr. Jones said.

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