Hotel chain targets site in Towson; Developers negotiate for the last space on old Hutzler's property; 'Very interesting takers'; Interest raises hopes for long-range revival of commercial district


Developers are negotiating with potential buyers and tenants -- including a major hotel chain -- for the last remaining space in the old Hutzler's department store property in Towson, raising hopes for a far-reaching revival of the community's business corridor.

"We definitely have a major hotel interested," said David S. Cordish, chairman of the Cordish Co. of Baltimore, which is developing what is now called Towson Circle with Heritage Properties Inc. of Towson.

Cordish would not disclose the leading candidate or another hotel company interested in the property next to Towson Town Center.

The development plan calls for a seven-story hotel on the site, but the developers asked Baltimore County this week to instead approve a five-story structure being sought by a leading buyer for the site.

Cordish said a hotel is the leading prospect, but his company also is talking to retailers and a cinema about moving to the site, above a two-story parking garage under construction.

"It's a hard decision," Cordish said. "We have very interesting takers for it."

For nearly a decade, the Hutzler's building at York and Joppa roads sat vacant, its white walls looming over the business corridor. Cordish and Heritage bought the property in 1997 and began a $20 million renovation.

County business leaders have been working for years to spark the tepid commercial district in downtown Towson, where stores still sit vacant within blocks of the roundabout.

"We're looking for ways to feed off the Towson Circle," said County Councilman Wayne M. Skinner, a Towson Republican.

Several more businesses soon will open in Towson Circle, including a Home Elements furnishings store, Bally's Total Fitness Center and a casual-dining restaurant.

Barnes & Noble, Sprint Corp., Pier One Imports, Storage USA and a fitness supply store lease or own space in the 270,000-square-foot building. Cordish said one space remains uncommitted in the building.

Community leaders said the project is attracting the kind of business Towson needs.

"We are very pleased with the number of retailers they have brought in there," said Susan DiLonardo, director of the Towson Business Association. "The mix is good; they are destination stores."

Betsy Kahl, a member of the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations, said residents are happy with the development. "I think people are very pleased ," Kahl said.

Towson Circle is key to the area's revitalization, Skinner said, because it links Towson Town Center with the business corridor, and because it is a model of success. "It could give us an energy for the whole area," he said.

Skinner said work remains if downtown Towson is to attract businesses that will bring shoppers and diners who might otherwise pass through.

He said many parcels are small and difficult to redevelop. He wants the Baltimore County Department of Economic Development to pursue legislation to allow condemnation so parcels can be combined and redeveloped.

Changes also are needed in traffic flow, Skinner said. He favors more parking on York Road and is exploring a scheme to make York Road, which is under state jurisdiction, a county road to give local government more control.

And more downtown housing is needed, Skinner said.

"We need people to walk around and enjoy Towson," he said. "At this time, Towson is at a point where we have to do some different kind of thinking."

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