Thursday, November 21, 2013

Town Center Is Finally Taking Shape

It's been 46 and a half years since the dedication of Columbia on June 30, 1967. Since then Columbia has grown leaps and bounds with 10 Villages and a population teetering at 100,000 setting the bench mark for a truly integrated and diverse community. However there's one thing that's lacking in Columbia and that's a proper Downtown. Similar communities such as Silver Spring, Bethesda, Towson, and Rockville, and eventually Owings Mills boast a Downtown dense with Housing, 1st Class Retail, Office Space, and Hotels as well as recreation. Bits and pieces of Columbia's Downtown were built over the past 46 and a half years but today for the first time, all cards are on the table to make Columbia's Downtown as world class and special as the Villages that surround it.

The biggest piece of Downtown to be built came early on which of course was and is the Mall. Opened in 1971 the Mall was just a two story straight line between Woodies (Now JC Penney) and Hoschild Kohn (then Hects now Macys.) After countless Renovations and additions the Mall now boasts a whopping 5 Department Stores (JC Penney, Macys, Sears, Lord & Taylor, and Nordstrom) as well as four exterior Restaurants and a 14 screen Movie Theater. Enclosed Shopping Malls were in style way of shopping back in the 1970s and since then have become more and more obsolete with the advent of Big Box Shopping Centers and finally the return of Main St. style shopping known as "Lifestyle Centers" The Columbia Mall has bucked this trend and has remained a destination despite increasing competition in the Dobbin/Snowden area.
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.
Although these are the only parts of Downtown currently in the construction phase, there are many others in the planning phase. The Multi-Modal Pathway/Roadway connecting Downtown to Oakland Mills is in its early stages, plans the Crescent Neighborhood have been filed with the County as have plans to revamp Symphony Woods and Merriweather Post Pavilion. A new north south road and the extension of Hickory Ridge Road are also on the table. It is unclear whether the Central Branch of the Howard County Library will be demolished as a result. It is also unclear if the Grand Pointe Apartment Complex in Oakland Mills will survive the Multi-Modal Pathway/Roadway. It is unclear if Wincopin St. will still be created. One thing is clear; the focus on the future if Downtown Columbia is bright and front and center.


Anonymous said...

You have a few facts wrong. First, Howard Hughes is not a subsidiary of GGP. GGP does not exist any more. During bankruptcy, GGP became 2 different companies, one of which is Howard Hughes. (Can't remember the other.) Second, the CA Mind/Body Wellness Center will be below Whole Foods, not above.
Also, it's Hecht's and Hochschild Kohn.

Anonymous said...

Really? GGP doesn't exist anymore? Yeah sure ok.

Patrick McCardell said...

GGP does exsist

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