Baltimore County officials and developers broke ground in Towson Tuesday for Circle East, a mixed-use retail and residential development at the site of the former Hutzler Bros. department store.
The $125 million project will redevelop the department store building while adding parking, retail and a 371-unit apartment building across the street.
“It’s just great real estate,” said Nick Over, vice president and director of development for Retail Properties of America, Inc., which owns the site. “That was the vision and it took a lot of work because you have such a tight site — a hole, a bridge. It’s been quite the challenge, but it’s so rewarding to get to this point where we are today. and I think it’s really going to transform Towson.
Retail Properties of America will develop the retail space while AvalonBay develops the residential space.
As part of the project, the old department store building will be renovated, including a new face, while the “hole” across Joppa Road will be the site of the apartment building. That development will raise the retail to street level along Joppa Road, facing retail in the Hutzler building.
Retail Properties of America also owns the Towson Square property, which includes the Cinemark Movie Theater and several dining options. Combined, the Towson Square and Circle East developments will offer 240,000 square feet of retail.
Previous tenants of the department store building Barnes and Noble and Trader Joe’s left the building over the past year to make way for the redevelopment. That the developers were willing to let tenants like Trader Joe’s walk away says something about the possibilities for the new development, said Nick Over, vice president and director of development at Retail Properties of America.
“That tells you how good the real estate is here,” he said. “It’s the only place where I think you were able to get rid of a Trader Joe’s — like, let them walk away. They’re like the best tenant that you could have.”
The Circle East development could be one of the cornerstones of Towson’s redevelopment from a suburban area, to a suburb with a more urban feel. Leaders at the groundbreaking said they wanted to see a more walkable community where people can live, eat and shop.
“We’re excited about it,” said Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz. “If you notice, the retail sites here are more geared toward casual dining and walkable options, which I think is the right direction.”
All told, with other projects in the works, about $1 billion has been committed in private development to put more than 3,400 residential units, including apartments and townhomes, into downtown Towson in the areas surrounding Towson Square and the Towson Town Center.
The project is currently scheduled for completion in spring, 2019.