Columbia mall expansion project is officially under way

The Mall in Columbia's expansion project is under way, and along with it the first step in the Downtown Columbia 30-year Master Plan.

County officials joined mall representatives Tuesday morning in the former J. Crew store for a "breaking of the wall" ceremony to mark the official beginning of the mall's redevelopment and expansion project.

The L.L. Bean store will be torn down after its closing in May, paving the way for an open-air lifestyle center with new stores and restaurants. The project will redevelop 30,000 square feet and add 40,000 square feet, and is scheduled to be completed by mid-2014, according to Katie Essing, general manager of the Columbia mall.

The center is expected to include two restaurants, two cafes and eight to 10 new retailers. Currently, construction work will be behind walls, Essing said, before shoppers see outside work in the next three to four months.

The first phase of the project is expected to be completed in November, Essing said, and include a few retail stores and a promenade to the center of the mall that will end at with a new mall entrance.

Jim Whitcome, Senior Director of Development for mall owner General Growth Properties, said it was against policy to discuss prospective tenants, but did say his company has received interested from "exciting retailers."

He added that GGP was "proud to be the first project to break ground under the Downtown Columbia Master Plan."

The master plan calls for a more walkable downtown with 13-million feet of retail, commercial, residential, hotel and cultural development.

Howard County Executive Ken Ulman said the mall's expansion project frames what the county is trying to do to make downtown "more walkable and more vibrant."

"This is more than tearing down a wall," he said before taking a sledgehammer to a wall in the former J. Crew store. "This is the framing of a new downtown."

Another ground-breaking ceremony is expected next month for the "Metropolitan," a 380-unit apartment and retail complex in the Warfield neighborhood west of the mall.

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