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Towson U. could lease part of nearly vacant complex

Administrators at Towson University are eyeing the nearly vacant Towson Commons to lease for possible classroom and academic office space, a conversion some say could rejuvenate the center of the community.

James P. Sheehan, vice president for administration and finance and chief financial officer at Towson University, said he plans to continue talks with Capmark Finance Inc., which owns the Commons, about leasing up to 120,000 square feet to house the College of Health Professions. Both sides began exploring a lease this year.

“I think it would work well for Towson University and in the final analysis, would work well for Towson Commons and the Towson community,” Sheehan said Tuesday.

Towson Commons has been a point of controversy for years as tenants have left, rendering the 325,000-square-foot retail and office complex with a multiplex movie theater nearly vacant. The development is located in the 400 block of York Road.

Once a vibrant hub in the county seat near the Baltimore County Courthouse, the Commons held restaurants, craft shops, retail and a huge Border’s book store.

The development, which also has an 880-space parking garage, went into bankruptcy last year and was auctioned on Sept. 21, for $28.5 million, purchased by its lender Capmark from the previous owner, Western Development Corp.

At the time, Baltimore County officials had speculated that new developers could demolish the entire structure and rebuild a new complex.

In the meantime, Towson University, located about a mile from the Towson Commons, had been seeking extra space, Sheehan said.

At present, the health professions classes are scattered throughout the suburban campus, prompting administrators to seek out space to consolidate the academic discipline in one place for at least a decade until a new building can be planned, Sheehan said.

A local broker identified Towson Commons a couple of months ago, he added, and he walked through and approved the concept. But talks with Capmark have not led to a deal yet.

“We were in discussions to lease, but unfortunately have not been able to come to terms as of yet,” Sheehan said. “I have told them how much I can pay, and if they can agree to accept that, we’ll have a deal. If they can’t, we don’t have a deal.”

Sheehan declined to say how much the university had offered for the lease.

Representatives of Capmark, based in Washington, D.C., did not return a call for comment.

Baltimore County Councilman David Marks, who represents Towson, said such a move would be a boon for his district.

“For one thing, Towson University is as close to a bulletproof part of our economy as you get,” he said. “It has grown and prospered during the last recession and is a stabilizing influence on the heart of Towson.”

If the university moved into the Commons space, Marks said, the result would be positive on many levels.

“It [would] generate foot traffic, and once we get foot traffic we get restaurants, parents come in on weekends, and students are employed at those restaurants,” he said. “It’s very important that we start tying the university to the heart of Towson.”