By Bryan P. Sears
But the project relies on "a combination of hard work and maybe a little magic," according to David Iannucci, executive director of Baltimore County's Department of Economic Development.
As the General Assembly session in Annapolis winds down, legislators and county officials are scurrying to secure a $2 million state grant for the proposed development.
County Executive James Smith is hoping to see the grant added to Gov. Robert Ehrlich's supplemental budget - expected to make its way to legislators before the session closes April 12.
Towson Circle III is planned for nearly 4 acres in downtown Towson bordered by Joppa Road and Virginia, Pennsylvania and Delaware avenues.
According to preliminary plans delivered to the county delegation to the General Assembly March 22, Towson Circle III would include:
* 110 apartments for upperclassmen, graduate students and professors from Towson University. Iannucci said talks are ongoing with the university to secure its participation.
Four more buildings, housing an additional 245 units, could be added later.
Iannucci said the idea is to put more "feet on the street" in downtown Towson.
* 15,000 square feet of retail space. That could be expanded by an additional 30,000 square feet and include entertainment space, but an expansion might go on the site of the Towson Burger King - which is not currently controlled by developers of the Towson Circle III project.
* Possibly, a 56,000-square-foot, multilevel family entertainment center and restaurant.
While a presentation to state legislators mentions Dallas-based Dave & Buster's Family Entertainment as a possible anchor, Iannucci said the company's participation is tentative.
"We envision the project to have some type of major family entertainment to draw families from outside the area," Iannucci said. "(Dave and Buster's) is one example."
Building on investment
Smith is hoping that the Towson Circle III proposal can capitalize on $39 million in investments already made by developers on and near the Towson Circle.
Those include the rebirth of the 52-year-old Hutzler's building as a retail center and the recent addition of the Bahama Breeze restaurant.
The cost of the Towson Circle III project is estimated at $55 million - $42 million of that from The Cordish Co. and Heritage Properties Inc.
County officials said they would expect Heritage to act as developer for the project. Cordish would provide money for the project and serve as the leasing agent.
The county would expect to contribute $2.7 million in tax incentives. The county Revenue Authority would contribute about $7 million to construct a garage for 500 to 700 vehicles.
Iannucci said the garage would provide a steady revenue stream from parking fees and possibly from ground rents associated with apartments that could be built above.
The state grant would be used to improve infrastructure needed for the project, including increased sewer system capacity and wider roads.
Del. Susan Aumann, a Republican representing the 42nd District including Towson, said she is "hopeful" the county will receive the money.
Step by step
However, county officials said the project won't rise or fall based on state participation.
Other options for the county include grants from the state Department of Business and Economic Development and the Department of Housing and Community Development.
Iannucci said the project may be a good fit for some programs through the Department of Housing and Community Development, but those grants are capped at $500,000.
Even if the money comes this year, the project would still take a while to come together. County officials said the project still involves many unanswered questions.
Iannucci said one possible time-line has the contracts signed in 18 months with completion of the project 30 months later.
Councilman Vince Gardina, a Democrat who represents the 5th District including Towson, said the project was still on "step one."
"This is a multimillion-dollar project that will change the face of Towson,' Gardina said. "This will be the spark to ignite the revitalization of downtown Towson."