Towson retail proposal weighed

The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore County officials are considering kicking in $18.2 million toward a new parking garage for a private retail development near the heart of the county seat called Towson Circle III.

The project, a joint development by Heritage Properties and the Cordish Co., generated controversy in Towson several years ago when plans included student housing for Towson University, an unpopular proposal among community leaders.

The latest Towson Circle III plan is for a $32 million center with a 14-screen, 2,200-seat, stadium-style movie theater, 21,500 square feet of restaurant space and 11,000 square feet of retail space.

The garage, which would be owned by the Baltimore County Revenue Authority, would include 630 parking spaces above the development.

County officials say the Towson Circle III project is vital to redevelopment in the area.

It is expected to generate more than 500 jobs - 388 of them at the center - and $1.2 million in annual county tax revenue, said David S. Iannucci, executive director of the county's Department of Economic Development.

The developers have options to buy land for the project that expire at the end of October, Heritage Properties Inc. Chief Executive Officer Michael Batza told members of the Baltimore County Revenue Authority board during a presentation yesterday.

If the garage deal isn't approved, the land for the project would revert to the prior owners and there would be little hope of developing the 4-acre area with a large project such as Towson Circle III, said Andrea J. Van Arsdale, commercial revitalization director for the county's Department of Economic Development.

"This is one of the keystone projects for Towson," she said. "If we don't do this, we'll lose the opportunity."

Towson Circle III would be bounded by Joppa Road and Pennsylvania, Delaware and Virginia avenues, adjacent to the Towson Circle I development that is anchored by Barnes & Noble Booksellers, Trader Joe's and Pier 1 Imports, south of Towson Town Center.

As part of the deal, the county would provide $6.2 million to the revenue authority. In exchange, the developer would forgo a 10-year commercial revitalization tax credit valued at $3.2 million. The revenue authority would provide an additional $12 million, and another $2 million would come from a state grant, officials said.

The use of public funds for a private development and the proposed amount for Towson Circle III garage is not unprecedented, said Van Arsdale.

Last month, for example, the County Council approved $4.1 million in subsidies for developers of the site of the razed Kingsley Park Apartments in eastern Baltimore County, for a total public investment of about $21 million for the planned development.

But members of the Baltimore County Revenue Authority questioned county leaders and Batza yesterday about whether the new garage would take away customers from the revenue authority's parking garage next to the Towson Library.

A parking study by a Philadelphia firm concluded that the library garage would not be enough for the Towson Circle III development. And Batza said some employees and Towson Circle III patrons would eventually park in the library garage.

The county revenue authority could vote on the deal as early as Sept. 27. The expense must also be approved by the County Council.

The Towson Circle III plan comes amid a flurry of redevelopment activity in Towson. More than a dozen projects are proposed or in the works, including a proposal to add 328 apartments, offices and retail space at Virginia Towers, a senior-housing complex west of the Towson Circle III site.

And County Executive James T. Smith Jr. is scheduled to announce today that Baltimore County has acquired the site of a former Shell gas station to create public open space in Towson near the York Road traffic circle.

That property was acquired from Motiva Enterprises LLC, a Shell affiliate, on Aug. 22 for $500,000 in county funds, officials said. An additional $175,000 was secured in state bond funding for the design and construction of the park site, which will be cleaned of any environmental contamination by Motiva, said Donald I. Mohler III, a county spokesman.

The company will also retain liability for future environmental issues that may be discovered - a concession that has long been the sticking point in negotiations between the county and the company, Mohler said.

"There's a lot happening," Mohler said. "Five years from now, you won't recognize Towson."

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