Balto. Co. announces new movie theater in downtown Towson

Arts and CultureTowsonRestaurant and Catering IndustryKevin KamenetzTowson CommonsCordish Cos.Hunt Valley

One of the nation's largest movie theater companies will anchor the Towson Circle III development, becoming the first announced tenant of a delayed project officials hope will spur revitalization in the heart of the Baltimore County seat.

Cinemark plans to open the state-of-the-art movie complex in the fall of 2014, featuring 16 wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling screens and 3,200 stadium-style seats, county officials and developers said Friday.

They hope the $85 million Towson Circle III — located on four acres bounded by East Joppa Road and Delaware, Pennsylvania and Virginia avenues — will drive other development in Towson's center. The project, which will also feature five restaurants, goes along with the existing Towson Circle development that houses a Trader Joe's grocery story and a Barnes & Noble bookseller.

"This will be a regional project that will bring people from all over the county into downtown Towson," County Executive Kevin Kamenetz said.

Last spring, the AMC theater at the center of Towson Commons shut down after nearly 20 years. Crowds had declined over that period, drawn away by more up-to-date facilities in Hunt Valley and White Marsh.

The county and state will spend millions on the project. The county will give its Revenue Authority a $6.2 million grant to build an underground public parking garage with more than 860 spaces, scheduled to open in 2013. That money will come from money raised through a 2010 bond referendum approved by county voters. The Maryland Department of Transportation will pump $2 million into infrastructure improvements.

Developers had considered other uses for the property, including residential units and offices. They missed a December 2009 deadline to start construction and struggled to find tenants amid the recession.

But they said Friday they have signed deals not only with the movie theater, but also with restaurants, which also are slated to open in fall 2014.

"This project is a complicated project, but it is a classic example of the public-private partnership that can achieve what one or the other cannot," said Mike Batza, chairman and CEO of Heritage Properties, which is developing the site with The Cordish Cos. "For way too long, there's been a four-acre hole on the east side of Towson."

Cordish Cos. Vice President Blake Cordish called Cinemark "the best of the best" in the movie theater business. The names of the restaurants will be announced soon, he said, adding that some of them are new to the market.

The announcement shows that Towson Circle III is "going to be a reality now," said Nancy Hafford, executive director of the Towson Chamber of Commerce.

Company officials said Friday that the theater could sell 800,000 to 1 million tickets a year. Those visitors will help boost business at locally owned restaurants and bars, Hafford said.

The Towson Commons theater and the planned Cinemark center are "apples and oranges," Kamenetz said.

"It was not a top-tier theater," Kamenetz said of the shuttered theater. "It did not have the latest technology. …This will be a five-star product, and we think the region will respond to that in a positive way."

Cinemark is the nation's third-largest movie theater company. The Towson theater will be its second in Maryland, following the 24-screen Cinemark Egyptian at Arundel Mills, company officials said.

The new complex will offer more screens than the Regal Hunt Valley, which has 12, and AMC Columbia, with 14. The AMC Loews White Marsh has 16.

Features will include self-serve concession stands and one theater called an "XD Extreme Digital" auditorium, which will play regular and RealD 3-D pictures, said Cinemark marketing director Bryan Jeffries. It will offer a diverse selection of movies, including art films.

Towson's large college student population was one factor that contributed to Cinemark's decision to open the theater, he said.

County Councilman David Marks, a Perry Hall Republican who represents Towson, said he is pleased to see economic development downtown during a rough economy.

"Within two years, you will have two major developments open for business in the heart of Towson," said Marks, referring to the redevelopment of the Towson City Center — a $27 million project overlooking Towson Circle that will include corporate headquarters, restaurants and Towson University College of Health Professions centers.

David Kosak, president of the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations, said he hopes the site will be a place where families can enjoy time with their kids.

"We're really excited to see a community plaza, a place for people to go to restaurants, to hang out, to take their families," Kosak said, adding that the project goes well with efforts to make downtown more walkable. "This is exactly what we need, and I believe it is going to be a catalyst for new developments."

alisonk@baltsun.com

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