Developers, Baltimore County officials say long-stalled Towson Row project is ready for construction

Bolstered by a controversial $43 million public financing package, developers of Towson Row on York Road plan to gather with Baltimore County officials on Thursday to celebrate the revival of the long-delayed project.

First announced in 2013 by Towson-based Caves Valley Partners — and touted by then-County Executive Kevin Kamenetz as a “transformational” development for the county seat — Towson Row stalled after crews demolished buildings in 2015. Today, the 5-acre site is an empty lot of cracked concrete and weeds.

Plans for the $350 million project call for a hotel, shops and restaurants, offices, 250 residential units and 300 student housing units. County Executive Don Mohler, County Council Chairman Julian Jones and Towson University President Kim Schatzel are scheduled to participate in the event, billed as a construction kickoff.

Nancy Hafford, executive director of the Towson Chamber of Commerce, said having an empty site in a prime area has been “very challenging, but we’ve been very optimistic.”

“We knew that it would eventually happen,” she said.

Construction at the site — bounded by York Road, Towsontown Boulevard, and Chesapeake and Washington avenues — was supposed to start in 2015, but never did. Caves Valley officials said they found solid rock under the surface that made a proposed parking garage cost-prohibitive, and they would have to reconfigure their plans.

Owings Mills-based Greenberg Gibbons joined as a partner last year and is now leading the relaunch. Whole Foods was announced as an anchor, but the developers have since said that hasn’t been finalized.

A construction timeline has not been announced. A spokeswoman for Greenberg Gibbons said details would be announced Thursday.

The County Council approved the $42.9 million assistance package in December. It’s to be paid to the developers over five years. The developers are to pay back $26.5 million over the next decade by forgoing lucrative tax credits. The remaining $16.4 million is a grant.

Critics called the deal, proposed by the Kamenetz administration, a “bailout” and “developer welfare,” and said it was rushed through the council. The vote was split along party lines: The council’s four Democrats supported it; the three Republicans opposed it.

Greenberg Gibbons said it needed the aid to secure financing that would re-start the project.

County Councilman David Marks, a Republican who represents Towson, said he doesn’t plan to attend Thursday’s celebration.

“I’m very pleased that the construction seems to be getting underway,” Marks said. “But I disagreed with the taxpayer subsidy, and for that reason I don’t think it’s appropriate that I attend the groundbreaking.”

Hafford said several new restaurants have opened in the area in anticipation of increased foot traffic from Towson Row.

“They couldn’t be happier that this is finally happening,” she said.

She said the project’s hotel component is crucial because the Marriott Conference Hotel, which brought many guests to downtown Towson, is being converted into dorms for Towson University.

University officials support Towson Row. The school launched an effort this year called “Towson Together” to emphasize the university’s connection with the larger community.

Redeveloping Towson was a major part of Kamenetz’s agenda. The Democrat died suddenly last month.

Mohler called Towson Row “the centerpiece of County Executive Kamenetz’s vision for what downtown Towson can be.”

“With more than $1 billion in recent private investment in downtown Towson, more people are living here, more people are visiting here, and more students are learning here,” Mohler said in a statement.

The public financing for Towson Row has been raised in the Democratic primary for county executive. State Sen. Jim Brochin, one of three leading candidates in the race, criticized the financing deal. He said in a radio ad last month that he “stands up to big developers” and “said no” to the $43 million.

Councilwoman Vicki Almond, another candidate for county executive, supported the financing. She said the project was important to Towson’s economy and she trusted Greenberg Gibbons to follow through on the development.

Candidate Johnny Olszewski Jr. opposed the terms of the package, a campaign spokesman said, particularly because it could lead other developers to expect similar financial help.

Republican candidates Del. Patrick L. McDonough and state Insurance Commissioner Al Redmer Jr. also have been critical of the deal.

Baltimore Sun reporter Pamela Wood contributed to this article.

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