Thursday, November 21, 2013
Town Center Is Finally Taking Shape
Between 1967 and 2013 a sparse array of Office Buildings and Housing Developments have popped up around the Mall. A lot of these Buildings face Columbia's Lakefront. The Lakefront is one of Columbia's best attributes with free concerts and moving screenings in the summer. These attractions have been great for long time Restaurants that face the lake as well. Although the Lakefront should be a huge draw and meeting place for Columbia Residents, it's decidedly
sparse unless there's an event going on.
To give Downtown Columbia the dense population it needs to thrive (living working and shopping) the Howard Hughes Corporation, a subsidiary of General Growth Properties, the company who purchased the Rouse Company developed a Master Plan for Downtown Columbia that includes 5500 new Housing Units, 1.25 Million Square Feet of Retail, 4.3 Million Square Feet of Office Space, and 640 Hotel Rooms. The planning for this Master Plan began as early as 2005 with community concerns regarding the affordability of Downtown, whether the crime rate will go up, whether the proposed Grocery Store will hurt efforts of luring a new one to Wilde Lake Village etc. Finally some parts of Downtown are taking shape.
There was once a sixth mini department store at the Mall; LL Bean. which has seen been demolished in favor of a Lifestyle Center that will eventually connect Wilde Lake to the Front Doors of the Mall as development continues. There are numerous businesses that have signed leases to be part of the new lifestyle center which opened to pedestrian traffic on November 1st but the first and only store to open as of yet is a bra shop.
The new entrance to the Mall created by this redevelopment is exactly opposite Lord & Taylor. This is a fact that I have kept in the forefront of my mind regarding a 24 hour cut through between the Warfield Neighborhood of Downtown and the Lakefront via another Lifestyle Center. What I would do with Lord & Taylor is up in the air but I think the area near the Merrill Lynch Building is grossly under utilized.
Opposite the new Lifestyle Center, the foundations are going up for what will eventually be "Metropolitan Downtown Columbia", a new community of 800+ ultra upscale Apartments built on two slabs of land into between Broken Land Parkway and Mall Ring Road. The plan is to have Twin Rivers Road cut across Broken Land Parkway to meet Mall Ring Road as an effort to connect Wilde Lake with Downtown and perhaps the Lakefront and perhaps even Oakland Mills.
One question that lingers is whether or not early Office Buildings of Downtown will remain as later phases of Downtown begin to come down the pipeline. Two buildings that come to mind are the American City Building and the Teacher's Building. There was also talk of demolishing the Howard Hughes Building designed by architect Frank Gehry but obviously that will not happen.
The beleaguered Howard Hughes building that once was headquarters to the Rouse Company is being renovated and expanded to accommodate a Whole Foods Market. CA is also building a Gym above the Whole Foods. This shows the truly upscale nature of Downtown Columbia given how expensive a trip to Whole Foods is. This will more than likely set a bench mark for the type of additional Retail that will come Downtown. Lakefront Restaurants like Clyde's, Tomato Palace, and Sushi Sono, should expect to see a spike in sales once Whole Foods is open.