Columbia Exhibit Center returns to preservation group’s ‘endangered site’ list

Kate Magill
Contact ReporterHoward County Times

Preservation Howard, a nonprofit dedicated to the upkeep of the county’s historic property, has returned The Columbia Exhibit Center to its “endangered sites” list.

The list, released annually since 2001, includes the Columbia South Entrance Bridge, Wildwood house, Ellicott City Jail, Simpsonville Mill Race, Thomas Viaduct, Lisbon Hotel, Troy Hill house and Clover Hill house.

The group publishes the list to bring wider attention to the longevity and conditions of properties.

Sites are added based on public input as well as review of the county’s historic sites by the group’s eight-member board, which conduct site visits throughout the year, according to Fred Dorsey, the group’s president.

The county government does not keep its own preservation list, according to chief of the Department of Planning and Zoning’s resource conservation division Beth Burgess, but does maintain an inventory of historic sites in the county.

Sites are added to the list when the group becomes worried about longevity or the need for repairs and renovations, Dorsey said.

“We hope for the wider community it’s an awareness on their part,” he said. “For the people that visit the different parks where the historic homes are, we hope that that encourages them to make comments, to talk with their council representative or whomever about the homes’ importance and that there needs to be a plan set in motion for its restoration.”

The Columbia Exhibit Center is the newest addition to the list. The center, built in 1967 to educate residents about founder Jim Rouse’s vision for one of the nation’s first planned communities, was included on the 2001 and 2002 lists when board members worried it would be demolished, but when the facility continued to function, Dorsey said they removed it.

Now, Dorsey said the board wants to bring attention to the center’s importance and need for preservation as plans for changes to Columbia’s lakefront and downtown continue to take shape.

“We don’t know what their plan is, but we want to get out ahead of any plan to indicate our feelings about the site,” Dorsey said. “There’s been some discussion about the whole lakefront being looked at as far as the concept of downtown Columbia, so we didn’t want to wait until we heard something, we wanted to be out in hopes it might influence a decision that might be made.”

The building is owned by Columbia’s master developer the Howard Hughes Corp. and the current tenants are the restaurants Lupa and Sushi Sono as well as the consulting firm Red Arch Solutions. The company has no near term plans for redevelopment of the building, according to Senior Vice President of Development Greg Fitchitt.

Four sites -- the Ellicott City Jail, Simpsonville Mill Race, Troy Hill house and Clover Hill house -- are owned by the county, and all but the jail are operated by the county’s Department of Recreation and Parks.

The department is working on plans to renovate Clover Hill in Elkridge and renovations are planned for Troy Hill, though no funding is available yet for the project. Department spokeswoman Anna Hunter said the renovations would be made during a later phase of the Troy Park development plan. There are no funds for the Simpsonville Mill Race, located at Robinson Nature Center, but according to Hunter the department would be interested in repairing damage caused by years of flooding if funds become available.

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