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Columbia mall redevelopment begins to 'come to life'

Five months after ground broke on the expansion and redevelopment of the Mall in Columbia, the L.L. Bean facade to the mall is all that remains of the 30,000 square-foot store.

Looking down on the space from the roof of a nearby parking garage, you can see steel beams popping out of a muddy concrete slab littered with piles of rippled steel and concrete.

Who thought such a drab view would be such a welcome sight for Mall owners General Growth Properties, Howard County officials and local residents?

"These renderings have begun to come to life," said Mall Marketing Manager Michelle Jose during a tour of the project on Monday attended by community members.

The project, which will be opened in phases, will add 40,000 square feet and redevelop the L.L. Bean space into an "open-air lifestyle center and streetscape" that will include two rows of restaurants and retail divided by a courtyard walkway leading to a new mall entrance.

"This building served its purpose, but now that it is beyond its useful life, it's time to open it up," said Jim Whitcome, senior director of development for GGP.

The first of the approximately 15 to 20 new tenants will open in November and move into the two new buildings adjacent to the mall that flank the new entrance, while the rest of the tenants are expected to open after Jan. 1, Whitcome said. 

Whitcome expects the later tenants to move in either during April or September of 2014 to capitalize on the Easter and Back to School shopping seasons.

Although he said the project is approximately 70 percent leased, Whitcome would not comment on any of the new tenants.

Whitcome, who would not disclose the cost of the project, said the project is two weeks ahead of schedule, although that could change based on weather conditions.

New mall tenants Lululemon and True Religion, which are taking the space directly across from the new entrance, will move in August, Whitcome said.

Howard County Executive Ken Ulman said the project is part of the momentum generated by the 30-year Downtown Master Plan.

"We have a lot more to do, but this is a major, major piece of what we are trying to accomplish," Ulman said. "It is critical that our mall continues to reinvest in itself, reinvent itself."

County council member Mary Kay Sigaty, who lives within walking distance to the mall, said she is thrilled about the project and the entrance.

"This represents one of the major concepts in the downtown plan, which is making this a walk-able community," Sigaty said, referring to the new walkway, which she sees as a link between Wilde Lake and the downtown lakefront.

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