Saturday, May 20, 2017

Mall Master Plan I: The Lord & Taylor Plaza

Back in 2012 I wrote a post suggesting that the Mall should demolish and re-open Lord and Taylor to make a second Lifestyle Plaza directly across from what was then, the soon to be opened outdoor Plaza that replaced LL Bean. I love that idea but I'm afraid it isn't that practical but I still want to create a similar outdoor plaza on the other side of the Mall to bring life to what I consider to be the Mall's Outback.
The Mall parking lot, in the instance of the other four Department Stores, is very accessible to them. With Lord and Taylor, the opposite is true. There are parking decks that lead into the store itself and that side of the Mall but how does one get there from say; the Lakefront? When looking at Lord and Taylor from Little Patuxent Parkway, there are no connecting sidewalks, no pathways, or no exterior connecting roads that welcomes you to Lord and Taylor. Or the Mall in general for that matter. The only way to get there is to walk down Little Patuxent Parkway to find the J.C. Penney entrance or the Macy's entrance. Or you could walk through the grass on the steep hill to Lord and Taylor or the adjacent Mall Entrance and risk injury. 
That other Mall Entrance near Lord and Taylor has been mostly forgotten. While Bun Penney was still open and Lord and Taylor had yet to be built, that was a different story. When looking at the area, you can see why. Although I like trees, the trees at this entrance make it seem unwelcoming and in the way. There's also no real connection to the lone Merrill Lynch building. When comparing this to the newly opened plaza on the other side of Mall, it feels like two completely different places.
So what does this Mall Entrance have going for it? A great line of sight. Well, if you get rid of the trees all over it you will. That line of sight makes a straight shot into Wincopin Circle which of course leads right to the Lakefront. I would also like to point out that Wincopin Circle is in the midst of large scale redevelopment currently. A long vacant plat of land is getting a mixed use high rise, the American City Building will be redeveloped as a similar concept, and most likely there will be redevelopment of the parking deck where the vacant Copeland's was. This will no doubt bring life to Little Patuxent Parkway across from Lord and Taylor. But will it make a connection to the Mall?
This is where the Lord and Taylor Plaza will be built. The redevelopment on Wincopin Circle, the rebirth of the lakefront, and the integration of the Merrill Lynch building and connecting the Mall to all of it shows how crucial it is to all Downtown. The Plaza will extend outdoors from the current Mall Entrance just like the current Plaza does. It will connect to the Merrill Lynch building on one side and it will extend to Little Patuxent Parkway and Wincopin Circle with shops on either side that are a mix of those already in the Mall and newcomers to Columbia.
The side of the Plaza that Lord and Taylor is on will be more difficult to build additional shops. Lord and Taylor impedes on that area so either Lord and Taylor will have to expand towards Macy's to reclaim that square footage, or they would have a smaller first floor. Department Stores (especially Sears lately) have been shrinking the size of their stores lately so Lord and Taylor doing so for the construction of the plaza wouldn't be out of the question.
The Retail spaces in the plaza would be for larger size stores (like Pottery Barn) that can't find space in the mall since the few vacant store fronts in the Mall are very small. Like the existing plaza, it will have large Restaurants at the end welcoming you into the plaza. The Restaurants I would put is California Pizza Kitchen and Phillips Seafood. The plaza walk way would extend to Wincopin Circle where a traffic signal and pedestrian signal will cross Little Patuxent Parkway. That same stretch of Little Patuxent Parkway will gain sidewalks as well.
Although this second plaza is a very large development plan, it is only the first of many in a series of a Master Plan for Columbia Mall to keep it competitive and a regional shopping destination for decades to come. Stay tuned for more.        

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

What About the Pools?

Yes, what about the Pools? One crucial part of the Columbia Experience is its outdoor pools. Not all pools are created equal as newer part of Columbia have newer Pools. Some older pools are showing age and need additional uses to get more visitors. Other Pools need to be modernized in order to make them equal to newer pools while other need to be replaced all together. In this post, I will identify which pools fall into which category and proposed expanded uses when needed.

First lets identify the "new" pools some of these may actually be older ones that have already been modernized. In addition to have the most up to date features, these pools are less likely to have competing pools nearby as well and are well attended. River Hill, Swansfield, Dickinson, Clary's Forest, Hawthorne, Kendall Ridge, Hopewell, and Dorsey Hall. 

Next we have well attended pools that could stand to be modernized to keep their attendance high for generations to come. Pools like this can generally be found on the outer edges of Columbia and have little competition from other pools. To modernize these pools I would add features like mushroom waterfalls, water park features found at newer pools, volleyball courts, wave pool entries, snack bars, and renovated and expanded locker rooms. These pools include Stevens Forest, Thunder Hill, Huntington, MacGills Common, Dasher Green, Phelps Luck, Jeffers Hill, Clemens Crossing, and Longfellow.

Next we come to Pools that are very centrally located and as a result are in competition with other pools and in order to up their attendance, other options should be considered. Fortunately, I have evaluated these pools and I have come up with solutions for them.

Faulkner Ridge- This pool is sandwiched in between Bryant Woods and Longfellow and isn't as well attended as others. This area of Columbia also has a lot of Seniors in it. My solution would be to make Faulkner Ridge a "55 or better Pool." This will give Seniors an Outdoor Pool experience that haven't had yet. In addition, Residents of Senior Living Communities like Vantage House and Harmony Hall can be bused to this pool for so that Residents who no longer drive can use it.

Locust Park- There is a pool north, south, and east of this pool (Phelps Luck, Jeffers Hill, and Kendall Ridge respectively.) That alone makes Locust Park a candidate to be altered to up its attendance. That's why on the weekends, I would make Locust Park, Columbia's first "Night Pool." Night Pool is exactly what it sounds like. In an effort to attract more single Millennials to Columbia, I'm proposing having Locust Park Pool be closed during the day on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, but opening it at about 5 or 6 at night on Friday and Saturday nights until about midnight. This will be only for adults 18+ however Alcohol will NOT be served. During the week, Locust Park will be open normal hours for kids and adults of all ages. 

Talbott Springs- Talbott Springs Pool always seemed to be off the beaten path to me. The more centrally located Stevens Forest Pool always appears to be busier and in some cases, could be closer for Talbott Springs Residents. This point has only been made stronger since 2013 when lots of Talbott Springs Residents were redistricted from their titular Elementary School to Stevens Forest. When the new Roger Carter Community Center opened in Ellicott City, it now features a new pool with a retractable roof for year round use. I would build this apparatus at Talbott Springs to allow for year round use and inclement weather use.

Next we come to the Pools that need to be replaced. This has nothing to do with the condition and or attendance levels at these two pools however their adjacent Elementary Schools should eventually be replaced with larger buildings and moving the Pools will up the acreage for the Elementary School Sites. These pools/Elementary Schools are Bryant Woods and Running Brook. This is not surprising since these schools are taking the majority of Downtown Columbia. I would move the Running Brook across the parking as well as the Neighborhood Center adjacent to the telephone building. Due to Resident outcry, I would not build a new 7-11. Bryant Woods Pool I would move in between the Lornwood Daycare Center and Morning Wind Lane. New pools and new Schools will definitely be beneficial to both Bryant Woods and Running Brook.

The only pool I have yet to mention in this post is Hobbit's Glen. Hobbit's Glen is off the beaten path and is considerably smaller than other outdoor pools. I would have it modernized like many other pools in Columbia and I would try to make it a back up Pool for ones that become over-crowded very quickly. Some Residents have wanted a second Pool for River Hill but since Hobbit's Glen is close to River Hill, I would send extra visitors to Hobbit's to up its attendance. I would however bank a site in River Hill's Pheasant Ridge Neighborhood for future use. 

As the title says, What About the Pools? They can be easy to overlook as compared to other amenities of  Columbia but the state of the Pools, like any amenity large or small, can't be overlooked and must evolve and change with the rest of Columbia.    

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The South and West Mall Promenade

One great decision was made when the Metropolitan at Columbia Town Center was built; there's a wide promenade that's landscaped along the Mall side of the property. Although the developers of this new Apartment building may not have intended to do this, they started what could be an entire promenade trail along the entire exterior "ring" road surrounding the Mall. Here's how.
First, I'm only going to focus on the southern and western portions of the Mall Ring Road because that's where the current development and redevelopment are occurring. Since the two new buildings of the Metropolitan currently under construction are part of the same development, I'm going to assume that the promenade will continue along the Mall side of those buildings. If this is true which I hope it is, the Promenade will extend from Broken Land Parkway to Gramercy Place crossing Town Center Boulevard and the soon to be extended Twin Rivers Road.
The main focus will for this post will be on the south side of the Mall Ring Road known as "Corporate Row" These Office Buildings have been built sporadically throughout Columbia's history with small parking decks in their vicinity. They appear distant from the Mall and the new Metropolitan Apartments. In an effort to unify generate foot traffic other than office tenants, the owners of Corporate Row have begun designating the ground floor(s) of these buildings as Retail. Since these buildings appear at the far southern end of the Mall parking lot, they need to feel more connected to the rest of the Mall Ring Road and therefore, Town Center as a whole.
So how do we do that? We expand the Promenade in front of the new Metropolitan Apartments southward into the Corporate Row area to create a flow and connection between all of the buildings. First, a better crossing between Gramercy Place and Mall Ring Road is required. I'm thinking either a three way stop or a traffic signal would be in order with clearly marked crosswalks. The area directly south of Gramercy Place is a surface parking lot with a parking deck behind it. Within that surface lot is a drive thru pad for the Columbia Bank.
My plan is to remove the drive thru and turn the surface lot into an extension of the Promenade. To create a more welcoming environment, the parking deck that acts as a backdrop for this extension of the promenade will be a painted mural with landscaping around it to offset the drab concrete that currently flanks the parking garage.
The next structure is the high rise known as 60 Corporate Row. This building juts out onto Mall Ring Road more than its neighboring building but I believe the Promenade can be extended without relocating any roads. However, I would relocate the front doors of the building to Mall Ring Road so that any planned ground floor Retail can be easily accessed from the Promenade. There are plans for additional ground floor Retail in the back of this building but I don't think it will be accessible enough.
I would next extend the Promenade to 40 Corporate Row. Here the Office Building has better setback than 60 Corporate Row. There is Ground Floor Retail being proposed for both the front side of the building that faces Mall Ring Road and the backside which doesn't have very good frontage. There is also some space in between 40 and 60 Corporate Row that I would turn into a pocket park. The way this land is set up now has lots of concrete and stairs. I would flatten the land to get rid of the stairs and plant more greenery and landscaping with better lighting and seating.
Behind 40 and 60 Corporate Row is 50 Corporate Road. there is Ground Floor Retail for lease here but this space isn't visible enough from Mall Ring Road. 50 Corporate Center foes however have Little Patuxent Parkway frontage, so it may be a better idea to reconfigure that building so that Ground Floor Retail is available on that side.
Although the long term goal for this Promenade is to circle the entirety of Mall Ring Road, there are many other parts of the Road that will probably be subject to redevelopment (such as 1 Mall North, near Lord & Taylor, and the buildings just north of South Entrance Road. That is why this post is focused solely on the South and West Mall Promenade.        

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Long Reach Village Center of Nostalgia II: The Master Plan

Now that I've shared my plan of bringing back Columbia Staples such as Produce Galore and Bun Penney to Long Reach Village Center, I think it's time I showed you a physical plan of how I intend to do so. Although I'm basing the redeveloped Long Reach Village Center on the nostalgia of the Columbia of yesteryear, I'm going to demolish the entire Village Center. The Village Center as it stands now is not laid out correctly to be a sustainable Center for the future. Although the County owns the majority of the Center, they will have to acquire three more parcels to make a truly comprehensive redevelopment plan; the Exxon, Delitown, and Richburn Liquors.

First and foremost, the Safeway building and any and all second floor offices will be torn down. The entrance road coming in from Cloudleap Court that currently makes a sharp left turn at the eastern end of the Safeway building will be extended straight to Foreland Garth. On the left side of this new road will be a Retail strip that will contain current Village Center merchants such as Angel Nails, Community Cutz, Subway, Long Reach Beauty Supply, Richburn Liquors, the Police Satellite Office, and Nappstar Hair Salon. The remainder of the site that the old Safeway building sits on will contain the Rite Aid and Produce Galore. These two businesses will be on the ground floor of a building that has 5 floors with the second floor containing the Howard County Center for the Arts. The upper three floors will contain Artists lofts that are live/work spaces. A parking garage will be in the back of the building facing Foreland Garth.

There is only one section of the Village Center that will remain as is; Stonehouse. Stonehouse contains the Villages Offices and the Columbia Center for the Arts. One thing that will change however is the exterior courtyard surrounding the front of it. The way it is now, Stonehouse appears hard to access with the way it is now. Granted, with the demolition of the rest of the Village Center, that may change. However, I want there to be a level, well lit, easily accessible pedestrian pathway from the parking lot to Stonehouse. In addition, the area around said Pathway will be a Village Green with level landscaping that will be the focal point for the Village Center as a whole.

Next we come to the Pad Sites. As of right now, the pad sites are not owned by the County. Since they will be a pivotal part of redeveloping Long Reach Village Center, they County will have to acquire them. First there's the Exxon. I would move it to the swath of land between Foreland Garth and Old Dobbin Lane. This will allow direct access to it from Tamar Drive. Where the Exxon currently sits is where I would build a Bank. Banks are crucial for a Village Center to survive not only for the sake of the Residents, but the other merchants have to make several trips to the Bank every day. Currently, the Liquor Store, though attached to the former Safeway building is also not owned by the County. As noted above, I have relocated it to a new strip of Retail along the extension to Foreland Garth.

Next there's the Delitown parcel which is also not owned by the County. In its place I would build Columbia's first Sonic. Since there are very few Sonics in the Central Maryland area none of which are in Columbia, I think building a Sonic here will be a major draw to Long Reach from all over the region. At the entrance to the Center from Cloudleap Court is where I would put the Bun Penney pad site.

Finally, we come to the bulk of the County owned Retail. Like the rest of the Center, I would have all of this demolished. In keeping with the Mixed Use theme of Long Reach, I would have ground floor Retail with 4 four floors of market rate Apartments above. The Apartments will use a built in parking garage in the back side of the building. Since I relocated all of the existing Village Center shops in the new strip heading towards Foreland Garth, this new building have a chance to bring new Retail into Long Reach be it part of the nostalgic theme of the Center or a brand new business for an entrepreneur starting out.

Columbia has always been nostalgic for the shops and memories that dominated its heyday. When redeveloping a Village Center it's always good to keep that in mind to give Village Centers an edge over chain dominated Retail.     

Monday, March 20, 2017

Long Reach: Village Center of Nostalgia

For the past 10 years, I have been grasping at straws and looking for every possible way to save Long Reach Village Center. To say this has been frustrating is an understatement. For this entire length of time and the some, Long Reach has been losing quality tenants only to be replaced by low quality tenants that don't stay at the Center very long. That was the best case scenario. The worst case is those spaces remain vacant and rotting for what seems like an eternity.
As there have been rumors of new trendy Grocery Stores coming to Columbia like Wegmans and Whole Foods, I have made a case to bring them to Long Reach instead of the high traffic areas they currently enjoy. When Safeway left and the Family Market moved in, I gave them a chance thinking they may usher in a slew of ethnic Restaurants that can't be found along Route 175 making Long Reach a draw for the diverse population not just near the Center but the entire County and beyond.
The Family Market closed after barely one year in operation and with it any hope of the Center becoming an International Food Hub. The area got so bad and neglected that the County bought the Center from its slumlords with the sole purpose of redeveloping it. Many ideas on how to move forward with the Center have floated around. The most popular of which has been moving the Howard County Arts Center to Long Reach. I support this idea however I don't think enough attention is being paid to attracting Retail. That's why I have come up with a plan to redevelop the Center as mixed use Retail-Residential-Institutional with a nostalgic approach to the Retail.
As someone who's grown up in Columbia, I share a common bond with thousands of others who have also grown up here. That bond is nostalgia. So many people here miss the Village Centers of yesteryear before chains started coming to town. Back then, the Village Centers were practically the only Retail for Columbia. This allowed for some truly unique independent Businesses to flourish in the early days. By reopening these stores in a redeveloped Long Reach, I believe this will draw a lot of people back to the Center and will make a great addition to the new Howard County Arts Center.
I have resigned to the fact that Long Reach won't be able to attract a full service Grocer. That being said, I have become intrigued by Wilde Lake's dual anchor model. Wilde Lake has attracted a new CVS and moved David's Natural Market to a brand new building at the front of the center. These two anchors promise that together, they will provide most if not all of the staples found at a full service Grocery Store. With that in mind, I would like to apply that same dual anchor concept to Long Reach.
Although a Full Service Grocer is out of the question, I do still believe that a drug store could be attracted here. Given that there isn't a Rite Aid in the area, I choose them to co-anchor Long Reach. What will the second co-anchor be? Produce Galore! With Rite Aid and Produce Galore, I believe these two anchors will fill the role of a full service Grocery Store. Of course everybody remembers Produce Galore, this nostalgic gem was located in Wilde Lake until 2008. A big draw for Produce Galore was its selection of homemade soups. When Wilde Lake was failing, Produce Galore closed much to the chagrin of its patrons. I think a brand new Produce Galore in Long Reach will bring those patrons back in droves.
The next dose of Nostalgia will be Bun Penney. Bun Penney was one of the first tenants in the Mall and has been a favorite of Columbia Residents for generations. Like Produce Galore, bringing back this old Columbia staple will be crucial to drawing people back to Long Reach. I would have it located at a new pad site at the entrance to the Center from Couldleap Court to welcome people into the Center. Produce Galore and Bun Penney are the two new tenants that would start the ball rolling into encouraging old businesses to re-open in Long Reach but there are plenty more that along with the County Arts Center will turn Long Reach into a thriving Village Center once again.
This post is a more abstract view of the redevelopment. I will write another post that will focus on what will go where and how it will come together as a redeveloped Center. Stay Tuned.      

Friday, March 10, 2017

Sneak Peek into 2017

Here's a sneak peek at what I've been working on with the Columbia Blog. I've been playing around with ideas on "paint." The first is my plan on how to redevelop Long Reach Village Center, the second is creating a Promenade around the southwest corner of the mall, and finally some more redevelopment for the Mall.