Search Search Google
Volume 16, Issue 47 - November 20 - November 26, 2008
Home \\ This Week's Features \\ Classifieds \\ Dining Guide \\ Home & Garden Guide \\ Editorial \\ Letters to the Editor \\ Archives \\ Distribution Locations

Annapolis Towne Centre at Parole

Does the Parole Plaza saga have a happy ending?

by Sonia Linebaugh

With ye olde English spelling, the grand new Annapolis Towne Centre at Parole wants us to believe we’ve arrived at a fairy tale ending. The celebration is on.

The old 33-acre Parole Plaza — a dying frog of boarded up stores and empty parking lots — has struggled to claim a new image for the last 18 years. After years of drama, political wrangling and jousts with would-be anchor store Wal-Mart, the Greenberg Gibbons Commercial Corporation appeared as the Parole champion in 2004. Four years later, the tale has arrived at the ballroom scene as the transformed Annapolis Towne Centre at Parole is officially open.

Will Prince Parole and Princess Towne Centre find happiness ever after?

Will the mega retail/residential/office center live up to its name for the 14,031 residents of the Parole area? Or will it be the center of an exclusive club for those who can afford to live in what will eventually be 685 apartments and condos (starting at $469,000) towering above the retail shops?

What does the present tell us about a sustainable future?

Is the Towne Centre Fairy-Tale Beautiful?

Brewmaster Jim Sobczak at Gordon Biersch.

Let’s take a drive around the block to check out the exterior views. From Route 2 at Forest Drive, we see a blocky closed fortress with looming towers. As we continue up Route 2, traffic distracts us from more than a glimpse of a grand stairway. To make sure we don’t miss anything, we turn right into the Shoppers Food Warehouse parking lot. Ahh, from here, the new main street across Route 2 looks like a charming mid-rise complex whose surrounding town has not yet arisen. But there are the fountain and gardens, as promised in the architect’s renderings. The grand wishbone stairway beckons. But to reach it, we’d have to jaywalk across six lanes of determined traffic — or walk to a street corner, cross on the signal and make our way back to the middle of the block.

Instead, we drive across Route 2 on Sommerville Road, passing the white-sailed Sun Trust Bank. On this perimeter, the Towne Centre shows the typical tiered walls of a parking garage and what appears to be a sentry house. We continue around to Riva Road and finally reach the Town Centre’s best prospect, an open vista from the street-level parking area (to be built out in future phases). From here the street invites us in.

What’s It Like in the Ballroom?

We leave the car and walk into the scene. From here, the fairy tale seems real. Brew pub Gordon Biersch, which features an in-house brewery, holds the left. Out front, tables wait for warmer weather, but indoors lots of booths and tables accommodate excited first-week patrons.

To the right, Target, a big-box of 170,000 square feet, looks no less inviting than an old-fashioned department store. Inside, its shopping carts have their own escalator to a large parking garage.

Between the two businesses, the wide boulevard is indeed charming and pedestrian-friendly, with trees (the small kind that shopping malls favor), gardens, benches and a little curbside parking.

Along the avenue, some upscale shops are open while most promise opening soon. Shopping opportunities abound, while spas, a gym, three banks and a dry cleaners will help to create a sense of community.

Seven restaurants are promised. At the opposite end from Gordon Biersch, P. F. Chang China Bistro, guarded by giant horses, has opened its doors.

We’d like to see a library and a municipal office or two in office suites. Neither is opening soon — if ever.

How about Happily Ever After?

In 2004, when the Greenberg Corporation had just bought Parole Plaza, knight errant Fred Kent, Project for Public Spaces founder and president, visited the property with a group of community activists to suggest ways to make a “place” out of a commercial plan for a shopping center.

At the forum, Kent pointed out the obvious: the Parole area is a sprawling set of separate entities. In fact, the Parole Growth Management area includes Anne Arundel Medical Park, Westfield Shoppingtown, Jennifer Square Shopping Center, Annapolis Plaza, Forest Plaza, Festival at Riva and Annapolis Harbour Center — in addition to its 14,031 residents and their new neighbors in the Towne Centre. The city of Annapolis is merely its neighbor.

Kent suggested that communities work best with a focal point, perhaps a municipal building or, better still, a landscaped public square that ties into at least 10 other spots in the community.

Chistiana Scarlata on the Annapolis Towne Centre

After a week and a half of training, Christiana Scarlata, 25, is all smiles as she serves beer and generous meals at Gordon Biersch. She’s been at it for all of three days and likes the lively, friendly atmosphere.

She has hopes for the Towne Centre too. “I’m excited for the shops to open, especially Anthropolgie” [“cultivated chic” women’s wear], she says. “It doesn’t seem like a town center yet, but once people are living here and the stores are open, I think it will.”

The graduate of York College in Pennsylvania has marketing and sales experience, but she’s happy to be working in Anne Arundel County, where she grew up. She plans to stay on while she studies for an education degree at Towson.


Thinking place first, said Kent, brings benefits. Intangible results include neighborly pride, friendliness, fun, vitality, celebration, sustainability, safety, walkability, charm, convenience and continuity. Tangible results show up as increased local business ownership, property values and retail sales. More pedestrian activity, better parking and traffic patterns bring increased use by women, children and the elderly. Crime goes down.

Annapolis Towne Centre at Parole earns top grades for its landscaped public square. The Centre has genteel charm if not character, and it’s walkable, with a visible security force, and good parking and traffic patterns. Most shops cater to women, but children will, no doubt, be tolerated. Celebration and vitality are at their peak.

What responsibility does the developer have to the larger community?

The Towne Centre is primarily a self-centered commercial enterprise, but the developer’s responsibilities also flow beyond the property lines. The Mount Olive Life Community Center was built on behalf of nearby Mt. Olive AME Church. The developer has also been responsible for significant road improvements to Riva Road as far as Route 665, as well as to Forest Drive and Sommerville Road. Greenberg Gibbons also installed a $5 million underground storm water management system and manages 14 acres of offsite stormwater.

Will the Neighbors Keep Up?

Shoppers Food Warehouse, whose parking lot looks across Route 2 to the enticing stairway to the Town Centre, has tripled its store size in a three-month renovation project. So far it has not matched the sidewalk on the Towne Centre side with one of its own.

The aging Forest Plaza to the south across Forest Drive now shares a traffic signal with Towne Centre’s cross street, the one used to drive into the Target parking garage. Will the plaza be forced to upgrade and move up in height to match its tall neighbor?

Will Annapolis Towne Centre prove itself a model of sustainability, neighborly pride and friendliness? Only living experience will tell.

Happily ever after? We’ll get back to you on that.

© COPYRIGHT 2008 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.