Greg Fitchitt is quickly becoming an expert in moving. Last May, Fitchitt and his family of four left their San Diego home for suburban Dallas after Fitchitt was hired by the Howard Hughes Corp. This week, almost exactly one year later, Fitchitt has moved again – this time to Ellicott City.
And while he's acquired knowledge about moving, he hopes not to have to use it.
"Hopefully, this is the last time," Fitchitt said on a recent afternoon inside Howard Hughes' office, which overlooks Lake Kittamaqundi in downtown Columbia.
"We have a lot of work to do here, and it's going to take quite a few years to build out (the Downtown Columbia Plan). I intend to be here for the long term, and see the plan through."
Fitchitt, 44, is vice president of development for Howard Hughes, the primary land owner and lead developer of the Downtown Columbia Plan -- a master planning document approved in 2010 that promises to develop 13 million square feet of mixed uses in Columbia's Town Center village.
In January, Fitchitt was brought to Columbia from Texas to aid the development and to interact with the community and other stakeholders. Since coming to work at the Columbia office full-time, Fitchitt has been added to the board of directors for the Howard County Chamber of Commerce and will succeed John DeWolf, Howard Hughes senior vice president, as chair of the Downtown Columbia Partnership – an independent nonprofit devoted to marketing and promoting Columbia's downtown.
For Howard Hughes, Fitchitt has become a liaison to the county government, a position that has proved more difficult than it may seem.
"[The relationship] wasn't really in a good place when I started here," Fitchitt said. "I got thrown into the deep end."
The fraying between the two sides became evident in the spring when County Executive Ken Ulman proposed legislation to amend the plan, a move that was not well received by the developer. The bill, which has been delayed until July as negotiations between the two sides progress, would have forced the developer to turn over ownership of Merriweather Post Pavilion to a county nonprofit much earlier than agreed upon.
Ulman proposed the bill, in part, because he wanted to see renovations to the concert venue expedited. That goal was achieved through a deal reached between the sides last month.
Fitchitt said the agreement is "a huge step" in the right direction.
"To have a partnership work, you have to have trust," Fitchitt said. "The only way to create trust is over time and to follow through on what you do. You can't convince people to trust you by sweet-talking them. You have to work together and you have to deliver what you've talked about. We have done that. and we will continue to do that."
Ian Kennedy, vice chair of the Downtown Columbia Arts and Culture Commission – the county nonprofit destined to receive the pavilion – said Fitchitt was instrumental in making progress on negotiations for Merriweather renovations and improving the relationship between Howard Hughes and the county.
"Greg has shown that he is effective at working with people and building relationships to get things done," Kennedy said. "I am excited as a member of the Downtown Columbia Arts and Culture Commission to continue to work with Greg and the team at Howard Hughes to make Merriweather and the rest of downtown truly special places."
While Fitchitt has risen to the executive level at a development company, he started out on a different career path. As an undergraduate at Pomona College in southern California, Fitchitt majored in philosophy. Upon graduation, he moved to Los Angeles to try to "make it" as an actor.
Fitchitt says it started out as "good fun," but that he knew he had to move on once it became clear he wasn't on the fast track to becoming a star.
He said he "fell" into a temporary job in 1994 working at Guess Jeans, assisting the head of operations build new stores. When the temporary job ran its course, Fitchitt said he stayed with the company and ended up working for Guess for the next four years. Fitchitt got a master's degree in business administration from the University of California, Los Angeles during that time.
Fitchitt left Guess in 1998 to work for Westfield, a developer of shopping malls. From 2008 until his departure in 2013, Fitchitt served as vice president of development for the company.
Fitchitt got on Howard Hughes' radar after a former colleague tried to recruit him. In his first year with the company, Fitchitt said he served as "a utility player," helping out on some of Howard Hughes' smaller projects.
"They were initially really focused on the big projects: Hawaii, Las Vegas, Houston, Columbia and New York, but that's five out of 34," Fitchitt said.
Fitchitt said getting called up to one of the big projects, especially an open slate like Columbia, was too good to pass up – even if it meant another move.
"It's really a unique opportunity," Fitchitt said. "The plan is really a progressive vision for developing a true urban center. It's pretty rare, if not unparalleled, opportunity for a developer to create a new thriving urban environment in a great location."
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