Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Dream of James W. Rouse Is Alive and Well

Ah, this may be my favorite post to date. Columbia will not have come to fruition if it weren't for the vision, leadership, and business sense of James W. Rouse, Frazier Wilde, and the Work Group. All of these men are my personal heroes and all once and future Columbia residents owe them a debt of gratitude for the community they live in. If I could travel back in time I would go to the weekly work group sessions of the mid 1960s in the then Saratoga Street headquarters of the Rouse Company not to put in my two cents but just to listen and watch history being made.
In 2007 many are questioning the longevity of Rouse's vision. Sprinkled throughout Columbia's history have been periods of violent crime, the redevelopment of Town Center has everyone on both sides of the issue claiming to know the dream of Rouse better than their opponent, Older village centers have lost anchor supermarket tenants due to increased competition from big box centers, CA facilities struggle with debt as national super gyms with deep pockets show up next door and the ever present question of incorporation. What follows are answers to some of the issues and how Rouse may deal with them and I took the camera Downtown to capture some long standing values of Rouse.
As I mentioned in the previous post Columbia has had crime in its past. This is not surprising considering that Columbia was and is meant to be a mixed income community and when the poor and downtrodden are brought into the equation the probability of crime becomes more likely. I don't however think that Columbia should get rid of its section 8 housing complexes and other rental complexes that accept section 8 vouchers, this is just a pill that Columbians have to and for the most part have swallowed. I think that these communities need a lot of attention so they can continue to offer the full Columbia Experience even if they can't afford it.
The Town Center issue seems to be what's dominating the local headlines lately. Every tom dick and harry seems to know Rouse's answer to the question of Town Center. Fact of the matter is no one's gotten it 100%. The building progress has been much slower than originally anticipated but outside market forces have rendered the 1980 110,000 population estimate impossible. Once the villages have reached build out Town Center was supposed to be redeveloped at that point. We are at that point today and one would think that the old Columbia pioneers would be happy that the crown and jewel of Mr. Rouse's dream is being fulfilled. Of course that's not the case they're as whiny and self righteous as always thinking that the way Town Center was before 1997 was how it was supposed to be. Rouse envisioned a vibrant pedestrian oriented downtown with sky scrapers 30 to 50 stories high where one could see Baltimore and DC on a clear day. Any book about the planning of Columbia will support this including the biography of Jim Rouse. The tallest building proposed as of right now is only 22 stories high.
The Village Centers now face more competition than ever with big box shopping centers now throwing grocery stores in the mix. When the first big box shopping centers came they coexisted nicely with the village centers but now look out. Trader Joes, Costco, Wegmans, have either committed or are making proposals to come to Columbia. King's Contrivance is fighting back with the areas first Harris Teeter. Oakland Mills appears to be a cat with multiple lives. It has lost many grocery anchors but the community hasn't given up on it. Despite not being near major intersections Kimco was able to lure in a Food Lion after the closed metro was vacant for 3 and a half years. I do fear for the future of Food Lion because there are many residents who still shop at Dorsey's Search or Owen Brown Giant instead of the Food Lion. The other merchants, God Bless 'em they've held on through thick and thin. Wilde Lake Village Center also has lost its grocery anchor. After nearly 40 years and just one modest expansion Giant closed its doors for good. Whether anyone knows it or not Wilde Lake has been without an anchor for many years now. Giant lost its drawing power when larger stores in Dorsey's Search, Hickory Ridge, and River Hill and the opening of the Safeway in Harpers Choice. David's Natural Market and Produce Galore are now the center's anchors with county wide drawing power. I'm confident that Kimco will find a new full service grocery anchor for Wilde Lake and redevelop the center as a whole.
Another question is Columbia Association (CA). CA has amassed tens of millions in debt and a complete pay off of it doesn't seem feasible. Increased competition for mega gyms, non profitable properties, and aging properties have put CA in a bind. Instead of facing these issues head on they have reduced to petty squabbles on relatively small issues. Only recently has CA started to look at the bigger picture but I still think they should do more. Off of Robert Fulton Drive a mega Gym called "Life Time Fitness" has been built a mere half mile away from the Supreme Sports Club and the Hopewell Pool. CA did fight back with a renovation of both the Supreme Sports Club and the Hopewell Pool. Although not near Life Time Fitness CA just finished renovating the Athletic Club in Harpers Choice which has always been a money maker for CA. Not all CA facilities are as lucky as the Athletic Club as far as bringing home the bacon. The two in question are the CA Horse Center and the Fairway Hills Golf Club. i think both should be closed down and doing so can help wipe out CA's debt, I'll save the details for future posts. As far as renovating older facilities CA should continue what its doing in renovating them but investing more and making them more like newer ones.For the record I don't think that Columbia should be incorporated as a City. I think it will distance itself from Howard County and I think CA and Howard County should be partners in Columbia's Future and incorporation might put that in Jeopardy.
Despite all the problems and challenges I've mentioned I still think the dream of Rouse is alive and well. I think he would be proud of Ken Ulman and all he's done and will continue to do for Columbia and Howard County. I think he will encourage redevelopment when needed and will turn CA into a money maker. Just look at all the pictures of I've taken and you will see the evidence of the dream.


Mary Kate said...

To clarify, Kimco no longer owns either Oakland Mills VC or Longreach VC. Cedar Properties does. I wish Kimco still did own OMVC...

Mary Kate said...
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Spence said...

I'm aware that Kimco doesn't own those two Village Centers but they were owned by Rouse at the time Rouse sold the Village Centers to Kimco. Kimco was able to attract Food Lion to Oakland Mills in the short time they owned it. Long Reach before being sold to Cedar Properties was owned by Perrine and Wheeler for a about a year in between Kimco and Cedar.

berto said...
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