Towson mall face lift would boost security


In addition to 16 state-of-the-art movie theaters, Towson Marketplace's proposed face lift will focus on security and powerful video cameras that the developer hopes will deter crime and win community support for the project.

Signs will be posted throughout the shopping center at Goucher Boulevard and East Joppa Road, letting people know that they and their vehicles are being taped by the cameras, which developer James A. Schlesinger said are strong enough to detect a wart on someone's face half a mile away.

But Towson Marketplace is not exactly in a high-crime district. In fact, it falls toward the bottom of the crime list when compared with other Baltimore County malls, according to 1994 police reports.

For instance, in shoplifting arrests -- the most numerous offenses at area malls -- Towson Marketplace had 110 incidents compared with 545 at nearby Towson Town Center. Also, there were 26 vehicle thefts at Towson Marketplace compared with 41 at Golden Ring Mall.

Still, Towson Marketplace is reflecting a national trend, said Mark Schoifet, a spokesman for the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC), a nonprofit trade group based in New York. "Malls are putting more emphasis on security. They have been spending 50 percent more on security since 1991," he said.

"The guy's doing the right thing," said William H. Brill, an Annapolis-based security consultant who testifies as an expert witness for mall-crime victims throughout the country. "Malls are under a legal duty to provide shoppers with security."

And that's just what Mr. Schlesinger plans to do, pending Baltimore County approval of his development plans.

The high-tech cameras are only part of his elaborate plan, which also calls for round-the-clock security coverage, patrol vehicles equipped with additional video cameras and radios, a bike patrol, lighted parking areas for Baltimore County police patrol cars, and security officers monitoring the center as well as the theaters.

It is the proposed 16-screen theater complex with 3,500 seats that has been a sticking point for several neighbors in communities surrounding Towson Marketplace. "It scares . . . the residents," said Mike Sarkin, who lives in Loch Raven Village.

He and others fear that the movies, particularly late-night shows, will increase foot and vehicular traffic in the area. "Mr. Schlesinger's main concern is to maintain security on his property," Mr. Sarkin said. "It does very little to help the community."

He also said that Mr. Schlesinger is using the security plan as a carrot to win community consensus, since he needs a special zoning exception for the theaters. A public hearing is expected to be held this summer before the county zoning commissioner.

Also, the communities that surround the mall -- Towson Estates, Campus Hills, Cromwell Valley, Knettishall, Loch Raven Village and Fellowship Forest -- are still working with the developer on a covenant agreement to make the $20 million renovation more palatable to them.

To ease residents' concerns, the developer also has promised to spend $20,000 a year for roving security patrols through the neighborhoods. "We have put together a security plan to let the criminal . . . know it's not a good place to do business," said Mr. Schlesinger, who observed that "we're not a safe society anymore."

Mr. Schlesinger believes he will be one of the first in Baltimore County to use the sophisticated video-camera technology.

Towson Town Center and Security Square Mall do not use the high-resolution video cameras. Officials at several other malls were reluctant to talk about their security operations.

If the Towson Marketplace plan is implemented, Mr. Schlesinger will be following the lead of such Baltimore City initiatives as the police substation near Lexington Market called a "koban," which is scheduled to install this month video cameras that will scan a six-block area, and a proposal by the Citizens Planning and Housing Association to place video cameras in troubled city neighborhoods.

"Mr. Schlesinger definitely has the community in mind," said Dale Livingston, president of the Towson-Loch Raven Community Association, praising the security plan. "It is impressive. It's workable," she said.

Mr. Schlesinger also has assured residents that the midnight movies would be shown only 20 weekends a year and that there would be no cult movies. All shows would be full price.

American Multi-Cinema would be the exhibitor for the movie complex, to be located in the center of the shopping center.

The refurbished, 38-year-old mall would keep its current anchor stores -- Montgomery Ward, Toys 'R' Us, Best Products, Herman's World of Sporting Goods and Marshall's Department Store -- add upscale shops and eliminate the indoor mall, Mr. Schlesinger said.

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