A BIG BUILDING full of mini-mega-stores ordinarily isn't what one would wish for a revitalization project designed to restore charm and individuality to a downtown area. But in Towson, news of the impending conversion of the old Hutzler's department store to a retail center featuring the likes of Circuit City comes as cause for celebration.
The Hutzler's building has sat empty, hulking and gray for more than eight years, as efforts to find a use for it failed time and again. The problem of what to do with it becomes more acute the closer to reality Towson's $4.3 million beautification plan gets. The old store's location -- at Towson's most prominent intersection, soon to be even more prominent once a "roundabout" is built -- guarantees it will ruin the fresh, new ambience if it remains as is.
For the first time, it looks as if that will not happen, thanks to developer David G. Rhodes, president of the non-profit Towson Development Corp. and an activist in other local business organizations. Though retail development is not the speciality of his Heritage Properties, Mr. Rhodes took on the Hutzler's headache a year ago because he realized its importance to the Baltimore County seat.
Earlier this month, he announced a detailed plan. Most important is the involvement of Baltimore's Cordish Co., a nationally recognized retail developer with the influence to attract tenants. Mr. Rhodes has worked out solutions to sticky parking and delivery problems. He sold the top two floors of the four-level building to a storage company and designed a new exterior for the store.
The Hutzler's building currently barricades Towson Town Center from downtown. Community and government leaders hope "Towson Circle," as the Hutzler's project has been named, will link the mall and a quaint shopping district. That is necessary and possible, but won't happen automatically.
Without promotions, the right mix of restaurants and shops downtown, an attractive streetscape, helpful signage and walkways that make life easy for pedestrians, it could be difficult to draw people beyond the intersection, no matter how nice Towson Circle turns out to be.
Pub Date: 12/16/96