Howard Hughes Corp., downtown Columbia's master developer, announced the $38.8 million acquisition of two office buildings in the up-and-coming downtown Wednesday morning.
The announcement comes as the redevelopment plans for Columbia got a significant boost in November when the county government approved $90 million in funding for public infrastructure.
The developer purchased the American City Building next to Whole Food Market on Little Patuxent Parkway for $16.5 million; and One Mall North, a four-story office building near the Mall in Columbia for $22.3 million.
Howard Hughes plans to demolish the mostly vacant American City building and nearby parking to develop a mixed-use project with retail and restaurant space.
One Mall North, which is currently fully leased, could open up opportunities for Howard Hughes to add new retail, office and multifamily. Current zoning allows the site to be built up to nine stories.
The company plans to begin the planning process with the county this year, and no further plans have been finalized, said Greg Fitchitt, vice president of development for Howard Hughes Corp.
David Weinreb, chief executive officer for Howard Hughes Corp., said the purchase positions the company to expand redevelopment.
"We continue to generate significant interest from a variety of businesses as we grow the employment opportunities in the heart of Downtown Columbia. Our goal is to find additional companies that will thrive in this highly educated, abundant and expanding labor pool," wrote Weinreb in a statement.
Two major tenants already have plans to bring their offices to downtown Columbia, which county officials envision will become a thriving, urban core for Howard County over the next 30 years.
In late December, Pearson PLC, an international publishing and education company, announced it will relocate its Maryland offices to Two Merriweather, a $41 million office building currently under construction in downtown Columbia. Next door, MedStar Health will take up nearly half of One Merriweather, a companion office building opposite the Mall in Columbia.
Columbia, named by Money Magazine as the best place to live in the country, will celebrate its 50th anniversary this year. Two new residential buildings, m.flats and TEN.M., will begin pre-leasing this summer.
The overall plan for downtown Columbia, which the county government passed in 2010 and revised last year, calls for 14 million square feet of mixed-use development, including 6,250 residential units and 640 hotel rooms.
To date, development of 10 percent of the area is underway or complete.