What has been a centerpiece for Columbia since its founding could be redeveloped by its 50th anniversary.
"What we're trying to do is work toward a much grander kind of feeling," said Cy Paumier, the longtime Columbia planner who is heading a design team to provide a conceptual plan and sketches for a reimagined Lake Kittamaqundi.
To Paumier, Lake Kittamaqundi in its initial form made those coming to Columbia enthusiastic about spending time there and helped make the downtown area feel important.
But it is no longer what it should be, he said, not with limited space for outdoor restaurant seating, too little performance space and not enough room for those wishing to walk or relax.
"As the community has grown, the lakefront has hardly changed at all," Paumier said. "There's been a lot of small-scale maintenance improvements, but no looking ahead and saying 'What does this area need to be?' "
The Columbia Association board approved up to $10,000 for the design team in July — the maximum before a contract must be open to competitive bidding. Paumier and team members presented conceptual drawings to the board at its Dec. 8 meeting.
One proposed change would fill the inlets along the lake's perimeter between the Howard Hughes headquarters and the Columbia Exhibit Center. By filling in about a half-acre, it would create a space about the size of two football fields. Drawings show amphitheater-like grass seating and a wide walkway at water's edge.
"The space is so cut up now in a whole series of little areas," Paumier said. "What we're trying to do is create a unified open space that feels bigger."
He told the board that certain features would not change, including the water fountain and the People Tree. But he did recommend removing sections of the lakefront that block sightlines and, in effect, break the area into sections, especially an elevated seating area near Clyde's restaurant.
Paumier said the enhanced lakefront could be completed by 2017, which is 50 years after Columbia was founded.
He said estimates on the project's cost would be available by early 2012, and called for cooperation between CA, the county government and private investment from the Howard Hughes Corporation, which owns much of the land near the lakefront.
"The lakefront is the single most important space and gathering area," he said. "And it's going to have the greatest influence in the long-term on investment downtown."
A Howard Hughes representative was not available for comment.
CA board members Tom Coale and Gregg Schwind, who represent Dorsey's Search and Hickory Ridge, respectively, said they liked what was presented but wanted to remain open to other ideas.
"The plan has the components you want to have — continuity around the lake as far as being able to walk, a large promenade directly on the water, and increased space for people to meet and for events," Schwind said. "The caveat is we haven't seen anything else. I just think we have a responsibility to solicit other ideas."
Coale was one of two board members who voted in July against awarding the contract to Paumier and his team. He felt doing so would lock the board and CA in and potentially keep other groups from submitting proposals later.
He said he was "wowed" by Paumier's proposal, but felt it would be best for more than one group to submit ideas, and for the public to evaluate them and perhaps combine them into the best possible plan.
"I'm for collaborating. I don't thrive on competition," Paumier said at the Dec. 8 meeting. "If some people in Columbia have some better ideas, let's encourage them to come forward. Let them reflect on what we've done and tell us if they've got a better idea."