Negotiations to bring a Whole Foods Market to the Howard Hughes Corp. building at the lakefront in downtown Columbia have ended without a deal, according to a Howard Hughes official who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of private negotiations between two publicly-traded companies.

The grocery chain is so highly coveted that it can "effectively cherry pick" prime locations all across the country, and its negotiations with Howard Hughes to open in the development company's building at 10275 Little Patuxent Parkway had dragged out before finally stalling, the official said.

But according to John DeWolf, a senior vice president for Howard Hughes based in Columbia, finding a new tenant for the lakefront building is the company's "top priority."

Currently, there are only 13 employees working in the three-level, 150,000-square-feet building, which can hold 650 people and at one time did, according to Nancy Tucker, the company's community relations manager.


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Even the building's reception desk sits vacant, with a telephone and a sign that gives visitors a number to call for assistance or to announce their arrival.

The location of the Howard Hughes building is right in the middle of large amounts of land slated for new development in the downtown area, and could be considered coveted in its own right. It's very near a 1.1 acre property that recently sold for $3.5 million.

Despite needing about $20 million in "base building improvements," the structure has vast potential and could accommodate a large variety of uses, DeWolf said.

The building could easily serve as a company's headquarters, as "that's really what it's designed for," DeWolf said.

But it could also become home to a mix of companies, he said.

DeWolf said he could envision a grocer on the first floor with a fitness center facing the lake below and an event center above.

DeWolf said Howard Hughes is looking for development partners and those looking for leases in the building.

The "reuse of the building" is what the company wants, he said.

DeWolf would not comment on Whole Foods or on whether there were active negotiations with other potential tenants.