www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/howard/columbia/ph-ho-cf-howard-hughes-0320-20140318,0,2645175.story

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Urban streetscape planned for downtown Columbia's crescent

Howard Hughes Corp.'s plan also incudes library and state-of-the-art swim center

By Luke Lavoie, llavoie@tribune.com

6:40 AM EDT, March 19, 2014

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Howard Hughes Corp.'s latest plan for the idle, undeveloped crescent property in Columbia is to create an urban downtown with a Bethesda Row-esque streetscape that will house retail, restaurants, residential and civic space.

The plan calls for 2,100 residential units, a 250-key hotel, 203,000 square feet of retail, up to 4,360 parking spaces and 225,000 square feet of civic uses – which would include a new county library, state-of-the-art swim center, conference center and concert hall – directly south of Merriweather Post Pavilion. The developer also plans to build 1,125,000 square feet of general and medical office space in three plots west of the pavilion.

"The plan calls for the crescent to be, literally, a downtown, with a mixed-use of residences, offices, shops; a place where you can live work and play on a 24-hour basis," said David Weinreb, chief executive officer of Howard Hughes.

"Our goal, obviously, is to evolve Columbia into a vibrant, 21st-century place to be. From the start we have shared [Columbia founder Jim] Rouse's vision for the crescent, and respect the plan to create a real city in the garden."

In total, the project will include 4.8 million square feet of development and would cost the developer $1 billion to build. According to John DeWolf, Howard Hughes senior vice president, the developer hopes to be through the county approval process for the land use plan by the summer or fall of this year, with construction beginning in spring 2015. DeWolf estimates construction on the first phase to take at least a year and a half, which would put the opening of some of the buildings in late 2016.

Howard Hughes' plans are scheduled to be presented at a presubmission community meeting on March 31 at 7 p.m. on the fourth floor of Howard Community College's Student Services Hall.

"The crescent represents, to use a painter's term, an open canvass for us to do something great," Weinreb said. "I think this is one of the great opportunities in the country to create a great urban experience that is unmatched."

Weinreb and DeWolf said the development south of the pavilion will include towers and skyscrapers that DeWolf said could be up to 20-stories high.

"We are looking to create maximum density," Weinreb said. "The more people we have the more vibrant the downtown community will be."

The office space, which will be accompanied by approximately 50,000 square feet of retail and an additional 4,230 parking spaces, will be split between three parcels west of the pavilion and Symphony Woods. The parcel located at the corner of Hickory Ridge Road and Broken Land Parkway, known as area two, is intended to be the medical office hub that could include full-service outpatient care. DeWolf said those buildings would likely be around seven-stories high.

"Healthcare is on everybody's mind," Weinreb said. "Great preventative medical facilities are really the future, and so the opportunity to create spaces that are appealing to the finest medical facilities and doctors is something we are quite focused on."

Weinreb said Howard Hughes is in negotiations with a medical tenant in the Baltimore-Washington area that he declined to name.

DeWolf and Weinreb said they toured Johns Hopkins Health Care & Surgery Center at Green Spring Station in Lutherville, and that is what is envisioned for the crescent.

"We really have in front of us what the vision is," DeWolf said. "It doesn't exist as things sit now in between Washington and Baltimore, on that corridor. We are in a perfect spot for that to be duplicated."

The parcel located on the corner of Little Patuxent Parkway and Broken Land Parkway, known as area one, will be general office space, with buildings up to 15-stories high. DeWolf said the developer wants to fill the entire area with a single tenant, and that the architecture will mirror the office buildings across the street at Corporate Center.

DeWolf said the plan will be implemented in three phases, with each phase targeting the three areas of development.

The first phase, which will total 1.6 million square feet of development, will be divided between three parcels. The plans call for 150,000 square feet of office space and 500 parking spaces in area one. The developer plans to build 150,000 of square feet of medical office and 600 parking spaces on area two.

In area three, which is the largest and located directly south of the pavilion, the first phase calls for 725 residential units, the hotel, 97,000 square feet of retail and dining space, a 100,000 square-foot library, a 50,000 square-foot conference center, a 50,000 square-foot aquatic center, a 25,000 square-foot concert hall and between 1,200 and 1,900 parking spaces, in garages.

DeWolf said the opening dates and phasing of the rest of the development will be dependent on market factors.

Maintaining Merriweather

DeWolf and Weinreb added that, although not part of the official development plan, maintaining and renovating Merriweather Post Pavilion is critical to the developer's vision for downtown.

"Merriweather is central to our plan, it defines the spirit of downtown Columbia and our crescent project," Weintreb said. "We recognize that Merriweather was saved, now we want to carefully consider its future. It's critical that Merriweather is successful at a commercial level so that its sustainable."

DeWolf said the bill proposed last week by Howard County Executive Ken Ulman that would strip Howard Hughes of control, and redevelopment responsibilities, of the pavilion later this year – which DeWolf said is 10 years earlier than expected – does not change their plans.

DeWolf said Howard Hughes plans to sign a long-term lease with an operator, which may or may not be existing operator I.M.P., which he and Ulman agree is necessary to make the renovations of the property possible.

DeWolf likened the Merriweather project to the redevelopment of the former Rouse Co. building, which is slated to reopen this summer as a Whole Foods. He said both buildings need significant upgrades, and the best way to pay for them is to have a significant investment from an operator.

"[Investment from an operator] is what gives you the financial muscle to go out and borrow [the money] to rebuild the building," he said of both projects. "We want to change the notion of that relationship from landlord-tenant to almost joint venture partner," said DeWolf, who added he hopes to have an announcement on a deal next month.

He added Howard Hughes hopes that joint venture relationship will extend to the Downtown Columbia Arts and Culture Commission, who is slated to receive the property from the developer for $0.

DeWolf said the developer's consultant, Adrian Ellis, the former director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, is working on reconfiguring the programming for the venue. DeWolf said Ellis estimates $15 million in renovations need to be done, while a county-hired consultant put the price tag at $24.6 million.