Monday, October 26, 2009

The Recession: The Time to Take Stock of Town Center

My focus has always been that of the Villages, not Town Center, Why? because I actually agree with the Town Center Master Plan. Yes, a 25 year Howard County resident 19 of those in Columbia agrees with the Town Center Master Plan. If you read books published about the creation of Columbia, you will see that Town Center would be built in stages and when the Villages were complete, Town Center will be built out.
Our economic recession has for now, thrown a monkey wrench into the Town Center Master Plan. If there's one thing FDR's new deal has taught us, it's that we can be creative to keep things afloat during tough times. My "creative solution" for Town Center is to consolidate Office Space, Demolish dated and obsolete Buildings to assemble parcels for future redevelopment, dig underground parking garages, demolish above ground garages, reconfigure the south entrance to the Mall to allow for better pedestrian access, create promenades between Lord & Taylor and Wincopin Circle and Symphony Woods and the Mall, create "Wincopin Street", and extend Twin Rivers Road from Broken Land Parkway to "Ring Road." Sounds like a lot huh? This is just "prep work" for the 3000-5000 new homes, and additional retail and office space both of which numbers in the millions of square footage.
I'm sure the Merill Lynch Building can absorb Office Space from Buildings that need to be demolished. The current parking garage that serves the Merill Lynch Building will be demolished to make way for an underground parking garage. The land that the current parking garage sits on would be used for future development.The American City Building, believe it or not encompasses a good example of what the redeveloped Town Center should be. It's easily accessible, and has good ground floor retail. However, its facade is extremely dated and uses adjacent surface lots. Well it's time to start digging a new underground garage and update the exterior facade.GGP's headquarters (formerly that of the Rouse Company) is not one of my favorite buildings for a variety of reasons; one its location on the waterfront makes it difficult if not impossible for underground parking, two it's dated and ugly, three preservationists are obsessed with saving it despite Architect Frank Gehry's blessing to have it demolished. Despite all that, it can stay. I don't feel like blasting those who want to preserve it. I'm already dodging people who live in the Lauaraville area of Baltimore. I gave an honest critique of their neighborhood and they want my head. I don't need more people who want my blood, at least not now. Don't worry my next post will be very controversial I haven't lost it or sold out.

It's parking garages like these on the south side of the Columbia Mall Office Buildings that keep this area from being Pedestrian oriented. Shown here would be the north end of a pedestrian promenade that would extend from Symphony Woods across Little Patuxent Parkway in between the existing buildings. The Parking Garages can serve as footprints for new construction. The southern Mall Road can be reconfigured to reflect this and allow for a better Pedestrian connection between the Mall and the Buildings south of it.Here is yet another example of how parking garages can obstruct Pedestrian access.
The south portion of the Mall Ring Road has room to be extended to Broken Land Parkway connecting the Ryland Homes building both via car and on foot to the mall.

On the other side is a vacant parcel of land that will surely be developed when the time is right.The extended "south ring road" will let here, at the entrance to the Gramercy Apartment Complex and will most likely warrant a traffic signal.
Shown here is an example of how a parking garage can act act as a foot print for future development. This is also where the Mall Ring Road bends and the southern connector to Broken Land Parkway will begin shown at a different angle.The One Mall North Building is located in exactly the wrong place. Its parcel is huge yet its location smack dab in the middle doesn't allow for future development on the parcel. The One Mall North Building may have to hit the wrecking ball in favor of a higher density mixed use residential/retial/office complex. Despite the high density, where the current building sits is the perfect place for a courtyard. Another goal in the Town Center Master Plan would be to create "Wincopin Street." It would be comprised of what is now a part of Wincopin Circle (shown above), a Courtyard next to the American City Building, and surface parking lots for existing buildings. The finished product will be a two lane pedestrian oriented urban boulevard that runs parallel to Little Patuxent Parkway from the Southern Mall Entrance to Sterrett Place. Wincopin Street will begin at the far end of this photo and make a sharp left (not shown here) and begin its run parallel to Little Patuxent Parkway roughly at the GGP building. This surface lot in the foreground will be sealed off for future development.Shown here is another stretch of Wincopin Street. The parking lot here will be separated by curbs and the street, instead of making that mandatory left turn towards Little Patuxent Parkway will continue straight into the current courtyard. Here is that courtyard that Wincopin Street will run through. It currently features three of Columbia's most well known Statues. First off there's "The Hug" a young girl receiving, you guessed it a hug. Then there's a Mother Bear feeding her Cubs. Lastly there's a Statue of the man himself; Jim Rouse. The Statue is just his head but roughly 10 years ago it was subject to constant vandalism. This brought tears to my eyes when I read about it, in fact it still does. Jim Rouse was always a personal hero of mine.Finally Wincopin Street will end at Sterrett Place near the original Cross Keys Inn. Again the surface lots will have to be reconfigured and separated by curbs to create a true street. The surface lots, once again will be sealed off for future development. The intersection of Wincopin Street and Sterrett Place will be a roundabout.Now it's time to focus on development along Wincopin Street. This dated parking garage is a waste of space that is a pivotal part of the redevelopment of the Wincopin Street part of Town Center. The Columbia Sheraton and the Office Building that replaced the old Rusty Scupper will have to park elsewhere, perhaps under the building that will replace this garage, a shared underground garage if you will.
The old Welcome Center has seen better days i.e. having a first floor tenant. The restaurants below can find a new home in the new mid rise building on the old grounds of the Columbia Cinema.There is space for ground floor retail here that is unfilled and putting Sushi Sono and Jesse Wong's Asian Grille here will create the ground floor retail feel needed for Wincopin Street.This is where the controversial 22 story high rise will go. Our economy and "Concerned Citizens" trying to uphold "Jim Rouse's dream" have thwarted these plans in the mean time. Those of you who have read Mr. Rouse's biography will know that he planned for buildings 30-50 storys high where if you look out the south window you can see DC and look at the north window you will see Baltimore. This building will only be a mere 22 storys, all you "Concerned Citizens" should read a book and stop warping Jim Rouse's vision to fit your own agenda.These three buildings located on Sterrett Place or Little Patuxent Parkway are either vacant or outdated in design. The two office buildings should have Little Patuxent Parkway frontage when redeveloped into mixed use buildings and the vacant Gas Station site should be raised so new development won't slope down for better visibility from the road. Their current parking lots on Sterrett Place will be used for additional development on Wincopin Street.These two buildings, coupled with the site of the 22 story condo building will make a great redevelopment site when put together. If the 22 story building were built without redeveloping its neighbors would make all the buildings look out of place.Now we come to the Lord and Taylor promenade. As seen from Wincopin Circle it looks like a "no man's land." This intersection warrants a traffic signal with countdown pedestrian signals. The land itself should be leveled and a pathway from Wincopin Circle to Lord and Taylor should be created complete with a brick walkway, elegant lighting, landsacping, and furniture. The promenade should branch off to the Merril Lynch Building as well. The pedestrian bridge currently in this area should be demolished as it creates a barrier between the two rather than a connection.
Last but not least we have the Twin Rivers Road connection. Even as a three way intersection like it is now it warrants a traffic signal. Obviously of Twin Rivers Road is extended to meet the Mall's "Ring Road" it will become a four way intersection making the need for traffic signal that much clearer. Well that's it, we've completely prepped Town Center for its redevelopment. Lets get to work so when the market turns around the 3,000-5,000 new residences and the millions of square feet of Office and Retail space can be added right away.

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