CA plans for lakefront retreat in limbo

The Columbia Association's plans to build a multimillion-dollar mind-body wellness retreat on the lakefront are in limbo after construction bids came in approximately $1.6 million over budget.

Bids for the project, called Haven on the Lake, came in at $5.9 million while the Columbia Association had budgeted $4.3 million. Rob Goldman, CA's vice president and chief operating officer, said the Columbia Association based its estimate on drawings that showed 60 percent of the detail while the bids were determined on drawings showing 100 percent.

As a result, CA is proposing a series of design changes and funding shifts that will likely delay the opening by several months – a move that staff estimates could cost the organization more than $500,000 in expected revenue. The wellness retreat was expected to open in Septmeber.

The 27,000-square-foot facility, which will be below Whole Foods in the iconic Frank Gehry-designed former Rouse Company building, was announced in December 2012 as a high-end alternative to CA's three existing fitness facilities.

Plans for the facility, which will overlook Lake Kittamaqundi, include three exercise studios inspired by European and Asian mind-body routines, such as Pilates, yoga, tai chi, chi kung, barre; a wellness spa featuring integrated medicine from The Still Point spa, and a "healing waters" area a hot tub, a salt room, a tropical shower and a cold plunge.

At its meeting on Thursday, May 22, when the budget discrepancy was revealed, CA staff recommended three measures: cutting ancillary amenities, compromising on the quality of aesthetic features and shifting $719,000 of previously allocated capital funds to offset the cost. The $719,000 would come from the balance of already completed capital projects that came in under budget, according to Susan Krabbe, CA's interim president and chief financial officer.

Proposed cuts include a two-lane pool, the outdoor patio, four treatment rooms and an event room. Goldman said CA has also saved money by exchanging some high-end finishes for less expensive options and cutting back on the HVAC system. Goldman said CA has the option of going back and upgrading if more funding is made available.

"We are very confident that we still will have a facility that is unique and marketable and a success for CA," Goldman said.

The shift of the $719,000 in funds, however, seems essential.

"We would not be able to build a facility that we have promised to the community. It would not be a success or well received," he said.

At Thursday's meeting, CA staff and the CA board subcommittee recommended the board vote to approve shifting the $719,000 that night so CA staff could move forward with a plan. The board, in a split vote, decided to table voting and will likely vote on June 12.

By delaying the vote, CA staff estimates the retreat opening could be delayed to January 2015, which staff estimated could cost more than $250,000 in revenue.

The board members who voted to table the item – Reg Avery of Oakland Mills, Jeanne Ketley of Town Center, Nancy McCord of Wilde Lake and Gregg Schwind of Hickory Ridge – did so in hopes that a delay would bring more information and more opportunity for public input.

"There might be something out there that we just haven't thought about," Ketley said.

Board members pressing for the vote – Brian Dunn of Kings Contrivance, Alan Klein of Harper's Choice, Tom O'Connor of Dorsey's Search, and Andy Stack of Owen Brown – cited the urgency of finding a resolution and the financial losses that would be sustained by a delay.

"We waive our normal procedures in great urgency, and I was convinced this a great enough urgency," Klein said.

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