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Whole Foods Market coming to downtown Columbia in 2014

By Luke Lavoie, llavoie@tribune.com

6:54 PM EDT, July 25, 2012

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The Howard Hughes Corp. announced Wednesday that Whole Foods Market has signed a lease to open a store inside the former Rouse Company Building in downtown Columbia. The store is scheduled to open in late summer or early fall of 2014.

"We are proud to seek and develop in areas that share a strong commitment and passion for quality natural and organic foods," Scott Allshouse, Whole Foods Market Mid-Atlantic region president, said in a statement. "Opening in Columbia is an excellent opportunity for us to plant solid roots, encourage economic growth, job creation and community engagement. We are looking forward to joining the neighborhood and curating long-lasting relationships and partnerships in Columbia and its surrounding areas."

Howard Hughes Corp. gained control of the Rouse building when they spun off from General Growth Properties in November 2010.

Whole Foods will occupy 45,000 square feet of the building and the market will be on the main level adjacent to the parking lot on Little Patuxent Parkway, according to a news release. Howard Hughes has agreed to remove the floor above the main level to give the grocer double the height space.

"Along with the recently approved plans for the new Metropolitan luxury apartment complex, Whole Foods coming to the Rouse Building serves as a catalyst for creating the vibrant, walkable, more urban setting envisioned for downtown Columbia," said Howard Hughes senior vice president John DeWolf. "We look forward to announcing more new development and revitalization plans for downtown neighborhoods, including the Crescent parcels adjacent to Merriweather Post Pavilion as well as the pavilion itself."

A formal news conference about the lease will be held Thursday at 11 a.m. at the Howard Hughes Building.

"The development efforts by the Howard Hughes Corporation will transform downtown Columbia, and landing Whole Foods as an anchor is akin to leading off the game with a home run," said Howard County Executive Ken Ulman in a statement. "Having Whole Foods at the Rouse Building also achieves our objective of preserving and highlighting this Frank Gehry original."

The local food blog HowChow first reported Wednesday that Whole Foods had signed a lease for a Columbia store. The grocer had announced the move in its third quarter financial report under "Growth and Development" that was released Wednesday.

On July 12, DeWolf spoke at a Columbia Association meeting and said that Whole Foods was back in as a possible tenant for the building. Four months earlier, an anonymous Howard Hughes official told the Columbia Flier and Howard County Times that negotiations with Whole Foods had stalled.

The announcement comes roughly six weeks after Wegmans opened a store off Snowden River Parkway in Columbia.