An Italian Oven restaurant should have been serving customers from a renovated Robinson's department store building on Baltimore-Annapolis Boulevard by last November.
But the discovery of sawdust and rotted plant roots about nine feet under the building, which caused the floorboards to sag, has pushed the planned opening of the project back almost a year and has left a vacant, rundown building in the heart of Glen Burnie's urban renewal district.
"That center of Glen Burnie is going to be a real boon, and we'd like to be one of the first restaurants there," said James B. Coulter, Jr., who, with his wife, Sylvia, and another couple, owns the franchise.
But Mr. Coulter, who owns an Italian Oven in Severna Park, said he wanted the unsettled floor repaired first. He said the landlord was supposed to send him plans for the floor repair last week but that the plans had not arrived yesterday. "There's been a series of delays by the landlord, and we're trying to remedy those delays," he said.
The building is owned by the North Star Group.
Neither Paul Jones, an Easton lawyer, nor his brother, William Jones, his partner in the group, returned phone calls yesterday.
Italian Oven is a chain of family restaurants based in Latrobe, Pa. It has 60 outlets nationwide.
Mr. Coulter said the Glen Burnie restaurant is part of a plan to open two others in the county and maybe another on the Eastern Shore within three years.
The partners conducted a demographic study of Glen Burnie before deciding it would be a good spot for their sit-down restaurant. They were attracted by the mix of homes and businesses and the prospect that the old Superblock, a 5.6-acre XTC vacant lot, would be developed with retail and residential uses.
Nearby are the Arundel Center North offices, the District Court, other state offices, a movie house, a senior citizens housing complex and residential neighborhoods.
The Robinson's building has been vacant for nearly six years. It was built in the early 1950s on a lot where the J. F. Johnson Lumber Co. once stored stacks of lumber, said Robert W. Johnson, son of the company's founder. The company, founded in 1921, also had offices on the opposite side of Baltimore-Annapolis Boulevard, where the court, movie theater and parking garage stand.
It moved to Millersville in 1974, after the county bought the land as part of the urban renewal project.
Scott Stangle, a civil engineer hired by North Star to oversee work at the 44-year-old Robinson's building, said he could stabilize the floor by laying a heavy concrete slab over the compacted soil. The sawdust and other organic material will not be removed because that would cost more, said Mr. Stangle, owner of Home Engineers in Arnold.
He said workers have installed plumbing and electrical wiring and are putting in a concrete slab on the first floor of the building. There is still other work to be done, such as repairing a crack in the front wall, but Mr. Stangle said the space should be ready for its tenant soon.
Mr. Coulter said the restaurant could open by September if all goes well. It takes about 12 weeks to build an Italian Oven, he said.
The restaurant is taking about 6,000 square feet of the approximately 16,000-square feet on the first floor. The rest is to be partitioned for other businesses.