Columbia Rouse Co. building for sale

The Howard Hughes Corp. has put the Rouse Company building in downtown Columbia's lakefront up for sale, according to company officials.

The iconic Frank Gehry-designed building is in the midst of a $25 million renovation project to accommodate a 45,000 square-foot Whole Foods Market and a 27,000 square-foot wellness retreat run by the Columbia Association.

John DeWolf, senior vice president with Howard Hughes Corp., said it was not in the developer's long-term plans to sell the 89,000 square-foot building, but that a flurry of inquiries from buyers persuaded them to put it on the market.

"We are being a bit opportunistic," DeWolf said. "It's a pretty marketable piece of property now as a result of everything that's committed to happen."

DeWolf would not say what the asking price is.

DeWolf said that since the redevelopment of the building is nearing completion it makes sense for the developer to sell the property and then put the profits toward future projects -- most notably the developer's  plans to create a 5 million square-foot urban downtown in the undeveloped crescent area near Merriweather Post Pavilion.

"We will take a measure of the profit out of that and double down on the Crescent," DeWolf said. "Within the whole company, we are doing this all over the place. Everything is geared toward how do we move development forward."

DeWolf said the company still values the building and that it plans to occupy the top floor, previously the home of the Spear Center, for i's Columbia headquarters. Currently, the headquarters are located above CA headquarters and Clyde's on the lakefront.

"I want to advertise that we are not abandoning the building," DeWolf said. "We want to use it as a showcase to anyone who is considering coming to Columbia."

DeWolf said the developer hopes to move into the fourth floor in the fall.

DeWolf added that the sale shouldn't affect any long-term planning for the redevelopment of the lakefront, which would include the mostly vacant American City building.

Whole Foods, which is scheduled to open in the fall, would be the first in Howard County, and has been heralded as the first major step in a tidal wave of redevelopment planned for downtown. Shortly after the Whole Foods announcement, the Columbia Association announced it had signed an 11-year lease to build an alternative fitness club, called Haven on the Lake, in the building's basement.

Since then, Clyde's Restaurant on the lakefront has been redeveloped, a lakefront Petit Louis Bistro has been built, construction has begun on a 380-unit apartment complex near the Columbia mall called Metropolitan Downtown Columbia, and plans for a second mixed-use apartment complex in the Warfield neighborhood have been submitted to the county's Department of Planning and Zoning.

Built in 1969, the Rouse building was known for its innovative, modern design and architecture, which included white stucco, large windows and an open atrium with a series of terraces.

For years it was the headquarters for Columbia founder James Rouse's development company. After the Rouse Company was sold, the building sat vacant and went to General Growth Properties Inc. – which owns the Mall – and eventually Howard Hughes, who spun off from GGP.

A Whole Foods spokeswoman would not reveal an opening date, but said an announcement would be made in a few weeks. The Columbia Association wanted to align the opening of Haven on the Lake with the opening of Whole Foods, but now isn't likely to open until the winter because of construction costs.

Last week , the Columbia Association said construction costs came in $1.6 million over budget and asked the board of directors to transfer $719,000 in excess capital funds to the project to help offset some of the deficit. The board is expected to vote on approving the transfer at a June 12 meeting.

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