Merriweather discussions continue as pre-filed bill put on hold

A potential resolution to the ongoing discussions surrounding Merriweather Post Pavilion's redevelopment was put on hold early this week, with county administration withdrawing a bill, pre-filed just a few days earlier, to fund improvements to the concert venue.

The bill, which is listed on the County Council's website but was not introduced at the council's legislative session May 5, would have allowed for Merriweather to be transferred to the Downtown Columbia Arts and Culture Commission ahead of schedule, and would have provided $10 million in county grants to the commission to support improvements to the pavilion.

Under current plans, Merriweather wouldn't be transferred to the commission for another 5 to 10 years.

The bill references a non-binding memorandum of understanding, signed April 14 by County Executive Ken Ulman, Howard Hughes Corporation, the Howard Research and Development Corporation and the Merriweather Post Business Trust – the current owner of the pavilion – entering the trust and the arts and culture commission into a joint development agreement for Merriweather.

After a development agreement is solidified, the pre-filed bill says, the county would grant $10 million in funds to the commission, spread out over 5 years, for improvements. After the Merriweather Post Business Trust spends $9.5 million of its own on improvements, the commission would be able to loan up to $9.5 million more to the trust.

The bill also would also require the trust to enter into an operating agreement with the current operator of Merriweather, which would be approved by the commission. Under the agreement, the trust would be responsible for event parking.

County spokesman David Nitkin said that although the pre-filed bill had not been introduced, negotiations between the county and Howard Hughes were still making progress.

"There's plans being worked out between both sides, and this was just something that was a little bit of a change in the direction, but not a halting or reversal," he said, adding that the county was taking another look at timing issues for the grant funding.

John DeWolf, senior vice president for Howard Hughes, said there are "very many good conversations going on, with the goal being to accelerate renovations at Merriweather and solve for the associated parking problems, and put it on a parallel track with the development at Crescent" next door.

He added that Howard Hughes would like to a see a joint development agreement with the arts commission, "because we feel they were inadvertently left out of the process."

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