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Lawrence R. Rachuba, developer who changed the face of Towson with shopping, a hotel and offices

Lawrence R. Rachuba was a developer from Columbia who changed Towson's landscape with hotels, office buildings and a regional shopping center.
Lawrence R. Rachuba was a developer from Columbia who changed Towson's landscape with hotels, office buildings and a regional shopping center. (Baltimore Sun)

Lawrence R. Rachuba, a developer who changed Towson's landscape with hotels, office buildings and a regional shopping center, died of cancer Saturday at his Columbia home. He was 75.

"Larry was a visionary in his own right," said former Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. "When he built Towson Town Center and the hotel, he may have been a little ahead of the market. But in the long run he made Towson a destination center. The mall's recent expansion and upgrades continue to stimulate the economic development of the county seat."

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Born in Baltimore and raised in Riviera Beach, he was the son of Lawrence William Rachuba, a pharmacist, and his wife, Pauline Mary Roman.

He attended St. Jane Frances de Chantal School and was a member of its swimming team. He was a 1958 graduate of Loyola High School at Blakefield and earned a Bachelor of Science degree at the University of Maryland, College Park. He held an executive master's degree from Loyola University Maryland. He once had plans to become a dentist.

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In 1961 he married Diane T. DeChiaro, the daughter of developer Ralph DeChiaro, a prominent builder and philanthropist. He met his future wife while playing trumpet in a band. She was the vocalist.

He worked alongside his father-in-law initially, then in 1977 founded Rachuba Enterprises and, in association with his father-in law, he was a general partner in DeChiaro Limited Partnership.

Mr. Rachuba and members of the DeChiaro family were present in September 1960 when Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kennedy appeared at Mr. DeChiaro's then-named Towson Plaza Shopping Center on Dulaney Valley Road.

In 1986, Mr. Rachuba, in association with another developer, began an extensive expansion of the original strip center. He negotiated with department stores and introduced Nordstrom to the Baltimore area. What he developed is now Towson Town Center mall. In the late 1990s, the DeChiaro family sold their interest in the mall to the old Rouse Co.

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"He was tough and he knew what he was doing," said Arnold Jablon, deputy administrative officer and director of permits and approvals for Baltimore County. "I always found Larry to be fair and bright in his dealings with the county. He was an excellent developer."

Mr. Rachuba purchased more than 26 acres from Goucher College in 1982. He later constructed a complex that includes the Towson Sheraton Hotel, the Towsongate Condominiums and office buildings at Fairmount Avenue and Dulaney Valley Road.

A 1990 article in The Sun called him a "baron of the Beltway."

"Lawrence R. Rachuba was a heavy hitter among local developers -— a man who took over one of metropolitan Baltimore's biggest development companies from his father-in-law, Ralph DeChiaro, and led it to even greater heights," the 1990 Sun article said. "He built Baltimore County's glitziest hotel. And he took Towson Town Center from a dowdy also-ran and brought it into the front ranks of Baltimore-area malls."

The story also detailed his fight back after declaring bankruptcy and the financial failure of the Baltimore Travel Plaza, an East Baltimore property he developed, along with Virginia Travel Plaza near Richmond.

"When the whole real estate industry fell on hard times, a number of companies went out of business, and of course we were unable to avoid this downturn," said his son, Christopher Rachuba, a Woodbine resident. "The unfortunate events that followed were hard on us all. My father did not allow this setback to deter him from moving ahead and creating successful real estate endeavors."

He built the Piney Ridge town homes and apartments in Eldersburg, the Hickory Overlook in Harford County and smaller developments in Howard, Carroll and Baltimore counties, as well as Hagers Crossing in Washington County.

In 1986, he led a group of business leaders who tried to get an expansion National Football League team for Baltimore. He also headed an unsuccessful attempt to bring the New Orleans Saints here.

His son said Mr. Rachuba enjoyed the perks of business — a private jet and a Ferrari.

"But what I remember most was that he was an accomplished giver," Christopher Rachuba said. "He was just a generous person."

He was the 1988 Save-a-Heart Foundation humanitarian honoree. He was the 1978 president of the Home Builders of Maryland.

Mr. Rachuba was active in many charities. Over the years he sat on the boards of the old Catonsville Community College Foundation, Loyola University Maryland, Kennedy Krieger Institute, Notre Dame Preparatory School, St. Vincent's Children Center, National Aquarium of Baltimore, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Goucher College, Neighborhood Housing Services and Associated Catholic Charities Children Fund.

A funeral Mass will be offered at 10 a.m Friday at St. Louis Roman Catholic Church, 12500 Clarksville Pike, where he was a member.

In addition to his son, survivors include his wife of 54 years, another son, L. Ray Rachuba of Woodbine; two daughters, Kimberly Williams, also of Woodbine and Theresa R. Leatherbury of Towson; a sister, Lois Ross of Annapolis; and 11 grandchildren.

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