Monday, September 15, 2008

Owen Brown Village Center

Owen Brown Village Center is the only Village Center that has never been owned by either Rouse or Kimco. I'm unsure of how it happened but Owen Brown Village Center fell under the ownership of GFS Realty, a subsidiary a Giant Food which by no mistake is the center's one and only anchor tenant.
Opened in 1978 Owen Brown Village Center, believe or not was regarded as the first Village Center with a Big Grocery Store. Those of you who remember the old Owen Brown Giant can easily recall who narrow and cramped the isles were but understand that the only other Grocery Stores in Columbia were the Giants at Oakland Mills and Wilde Lake, the Valu Food at Harpers Choice, and the Safeway at Long Reach. Kings Contrivance, Dorsey's Search, Hickory Ridge, and River Hill wouldn't open for many years let alone the big boxes and Grocery Stores just outside of Columbia. If anyone remembers who laughable the sizes the Grocery Stores were before Owen Brown opened will know that for the time Owen Brown Giant was huge, after all it had a Pharmacy inside the store!
Over the years Owen Brown Village Center has seen many tenants come and go. They include Cover to Cover Books (which had a cafe inside), Simply Soccer, Baskin Robbins, Everett Jewlers, A Sporting Goods Store, News Center of Columbia, Parcel Plus, Viedo Library (later named Owen Brown Video), a Nursing Supply Store, Chevy Chase Bank, Choes Hap Kido (a Karate DoJo), Roy Rogers, Hardees, and a Satellite Office for the Howard County Republican Party. If I left out any please add them in the comments field.

From the mid 1990s until about 2000 Owen Brown struggled with vacant store fronts and a blighted outdated appearance. Plans to redevelop and expand the center were on the drawing board for years but no action had taken place. Meanwhile older Columbia Villages like Owen Brown had experienced a surge in crime further deterring would be shoppers. GFS Realty wanted a full redevelopment of the center but infrastructure issues kept them building what they and most of the community wanted. The finished result is so so there's a lot more that could have been done and I will no doubt tell you what it is because I don't keepy my big mouth shut.

The finished product includes a an expanded Giant which at first housed the center's Chevy Chase Bank but that was taken out in favor of a Starbucks. In order to expand the Giant a row of stores had to be demolishe and located else where. The stores were Owen Brown Wine & Spitirts, Jerrys Subs and Pizza, two vacants, Hair Cuttery, Owen Brown Cleaners, and Dollar Tree. That strip was rebuilt facing Cradlerock way without the two vacants. The old dingy Giant is now a brand new sparkling flagship store. The back of the center didn't fare so well, there was no demolition and the Giant expansion further enfrorced this sense of isolation.

Now what needs to be done. We're going to have to live with the Giant at its current location but that's fine. The Giant, in order to keep up with the increasing size of stores like Wegmans and Harris Teeter can undergo another expansion. The expanded part is shallower than the original part which goes deeper. The expansion would be in the back making the whole building deeper.

The remaining old buildings will be demolished; the islolated back buildings, the professional building near the McDonalds, the Bank of America building, and a half vacant professional building that was all but blocked off by what I'm calling Phase I of Owen Brown Village Center's redevelopment (what I'm proposing will be Phase II.) With the Bank of America building gone there will be room to expand the new strip towards the Interfaith center from the Liquor Store. All of the back building's businesses will go in this expanded strip including the Bank of America. This new part of the strip will be two stories high. The second floor will include the offices that were displaced when their buildings were demolished.

The current lineup of stores located in the back are Vocelli Pizza, Future Nails, Warren's Barbershop, Elegant Twist Hair Salon, A Beauty Supply Shop, A Computer Sales & Service Shop, Chinese Gourmet Carry Out, and Sanomas Bar & Grille. There's an Art Studio that's opening soon. I would change around the line up of retail tenants to create more "draws" and get rid of dead weight. There are too many hair and beauty places that don't bring much to the Village Center and I would replace them stores that residents would patronize. I would get rid of the Beauty Supply Place, The Barber Shop, and the Art Studio. Replacing them would be a Smoothie King, a Fractured Prune, and a Curves. Also added to the roster of tenants would be a UPS store. The McDonalds would undergo a major renovation and expansion to include a "Play Place"

With the new Village Center lay out an excess of parking would be created. An idea that's been tossed around is adding housing to Village Centers. Harpers Choice has always had it, Wilde Lake may get it and I think Owen Brown should as well. These are the only three Village Centers at the moment where housingis a viable option. The new housing would consist of 2 and 3 bedroom condos three to four stories in height and have underground parking.

Think Villas at River Hill. They would be located where the office building, the islolated retail buildings are, and the vast under utilized parking lot is.

That concludes Phase II of Owen Brown Village Center's redevelopment, if it's as successful as Phase I has been Owen Brown Village Center will be as big a hit as the Harris Teeter at Kings Contrivance.