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Towson Circle to get 16-screen Cinemark theater

Construction of an $85 million entertainment complex in Towson that includes a 16-screen movie theater and five new restaurants is expected to begin by March, according to Baltimore County officials.

The development is the second phase of the Towson Circle project at York and Joppa roads.

“In this down economy, to have this investment in downtown Towson is a coup for us,” said County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, who munched on a prop of popcorn and signaled a short video on the new movie venture by saying, “Mr. DeMille, Towson is ready for its close-up,” taking a hatchet to a phrase from the film classic “Sunset Boulevard.”

“We absolutely believe that the best of downtown Towson is yet to come,” he added at a news conference Friday.

Kamenetz said a total of $8.2 million in public money has been given to the developers, Heritage Properties and The Cordish Cos., for the expansion, to be called Towson Circle III.

The money comes from the state and county, he said, including a $6.2 million grant to the Baltimore County Revenue Authority for parking construction and $2 million from the Maryland Department of Transportation from a 2010 bond referendum to be used for infrastructure improvements.

The new phase is expected to create 1,530 jobs, including 600 construction jobs and 870 jobs once the theaters and restaurants open, Kamenetz said. County tax revenues are expected to be $1.75 million each year.

Cindy Bledsoe, chair of the Greater Towson Committee Inc., a nonprofit development group that focuses on Towson, said the Towson Circle project will be welcomed.

“This is a dynamic project that can potentially spark a ripple effect in Towson’s core,” Bledsoe said, in a statement. “The project and its developers, Heritage Properties and Cordish, have embraced the magic recipe for downtown development.

Entertainment First’ allows for restaurants to thrive, which in turn provide the necessary street traffic for the local retail boutiques and stores we all love.

“Thanks to this project … and others, Towson is blessed to be in the midst of creating a thriving downtown while other communities still struggle. In no time, Towson will no longer be casually referred to as Uptown Baltimore.”

The site for the new development now holds a vacant Burger King restaurant and a bank building. But by fall 2014, the area will be transformed into an open-air marketplace with a “main street” atmosphere, anchored by the 16-screen Cinemark theater, said Bryan Jeffries, marketing director of the chain that also owns the theater at Arundel Mills.

Jeffries said Cinemark expects to sell 800,000 to 1 million movie tickets annually at the new megaplex.

Five new restaurants, which Kamenetz declined to identify even though leases had been signed, will also open, totaling 45,000 square feet. The development will have an 862-space parking garage that is expected to open in 2013.

Phase I of the development opened years ago and holds a Barnes & Noble, Pier 1 Imports and a Trader Joe’s in and near the former Hutzler’s department store building.

The developers said they believe the new movie complex and restaurants will draw patrons from all over the county and the city.

“Our goal is to create a gathering place for this community,” said Blake Cordish, vice president of Cordish, of the additions. “We want to create a sense of place.”

Jeffries said the movie theaters will hold 3,200 stadium-style seats and feature floor-to-ceiling digital screens, self-serve concession stands and one extra-dimensional theater auditorium.

“We will have all types of movies,” he said. “Art movies, live streaming of the Metropolitan Opera, and we can host movie screenings with stars” in attendance.

The megaplex will be near the site of a failed movie complex at Towson Commons, a large building that once bustled with several retail options that today are vacant. An office space at the Commons is leased.