Tim Young considered moving to Canton.
But then the 27-year-old doctoral student looked at the Dundalk Village Center.
With its park views, restored hardwood floors and stainless-steel appliances, the brick complex impressed Young. And the rent for a one-bedroom apartment - $725 - clinched the deal.
"This was five minutes up the road and half the price," said Young, one of the first tenants of the renovated development off Dundalk Avenue.
Work continues as part of the $4 million development of the shopping, office and apartment complex. But yesterday, Baltimore County officials stopped to congratulate the center owners and developers, JMJ Properties, on the progress.
"Canton can't hold a candle to Dundalk," said County Executive James T. Smith Jr., to a round of applause. "It's really on a roll."
Thirteen of the 67 apartments are complete. About 20 more should be available in the next six weeks, and the remaining 34 units should be done in two to three months, said Michael Kohen, a principal at JMJ Properties.
By the end of the year, most of the renovations, including exterior work, should be complete, he said.
County officials say the Dundalk Village Center stands out at a time when faux main streets and "mixed use" projects - combining residential and retail -have become the darlings of suburban developers.
A "main street" style town center at the Owings Mills Metro stop - with apartments or condominiums, shops, a library, restaurants and offices - is under construction.
In Towson, a developer is building a large retail-residential complex.
And another developer in Catonsville wants to build a complex with a mix of shops, restaurants and a hotel - all styled to look like a small town.
Condos or other housing have also been proposed or built at shopping centers in Hunt Valley, Columbia, Gambrills and Annapolis.
"All of the town centers are really trying to replicate what was built here in 1918," said Fronda J. Cohen, a spokeswoman for the county Department of Economic Development.
The complex is made up of six brick, three-story buildings next to Dundalk's post office, the local newspaper office and several churches. On two sides, it is bordered by parks.
Shops and restaurants, including a used-book store and an independent coffee shop, are in 75,000 square feet of retail space on the first floors.
About 12,000 square feet of office space is available on the second floor of one building. And apartments are on the second and third floors of the other buildings.
In 2005, Pikesville developer Jack S. Jacob of JMJ Properties bought the complex for $3.7 million.
County officials said that because of its central location and historic importance, they decided to help with the renovation, approving a $1 million grant to make some of the upgrades, such as installing an elevator, and providing $2.5 million in loans.
Contractors installed new plumbing, electrical wiring, heating and air conditioning, said County Councilman John Olszewski Sr.
The vinyl tiles and wood paneling were taken out. Walls were painted in champagne hues. New fixtures were installed.
Section 8 tenants and some of the government services that had been at the center moved out, Olszewski said.
"It has more of the retail people want to see," said Olszewski, a Dundalk Democrat. "It really is a big transformation."
The apartments also got a new name: Heritage Commons.
But some longtime Dundalk residents think it will take more than a few fancy fixtures and a Web site to attract young professionals to the area and make it a hot spot on par with city neighborhoods such as Federal Hill, Fells Point and Hampden.
"They're looking for people to move from Canton," said Joe Amann, 58, a Dundalk native who works at Happy Hon Bookstore. "But I don't think Dundalk has the amenities. We don't have a nice grocery store or a movie theater."
'Good egg salad'
Referring to a local lunch spot and ice cream store, he said, "We have Scoops, with pretty good egg salad."
But Young, a 2006 graduate of University of Baltimore Law School who is finishing his doctoral degree in public policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and working as an editor at the Dundalk Eagle, said he is enjoying the area.
"I really like hole-in-the-walls with really good food," said Young. "Dundalk has lots of them."