Conceptual plans for Columbia's Long Reach Village Center began to emerge Thursday night at the third of four community meetings the county is hosting to garner public input for ideas on how to revitalize the area.

The four concepts, prepared by design firm Morris, Ritchie Associates, imagine different themes for the aging shopping center, including an arts village with a Main Street feel and artists' housing and another, a "foodie-focused" concept with open space for farmers' markets and urban gardens.


In recent years, Long Reach has struggled with crime and empty storefronts.

Plans to revamp the center began last year, when the Howard County Council voted to declare the village center a blight zone.

In October, the county purchased most of the property for $5 million and, in February, spent another $2.5 million to buy the former Safeway grocery store, which has sat vacant since July 2013.

A deli, liquor store and gas station remain privately owned, as do Celebration Church and the arts center run by Columbia Association.

Two of the concepts presented Thursday centered on the arts, an idea favored by former County Executive Ken Ulman. Ulman had initially conceived of the plan — controversial to some in the county — to improve Long Reach through government intervention.

Both of the arts-related concepts would put a focus on the large glass panes of the arts center, and would add galleries and shops to the retail mix.

Some ideas include converting the Safeway building into performing arts facilities – such as a black box stage. A separate concept calls for building a second arts center to anchor the other side of the property.

A third concept focused on food, with farm-to-table restaurants and room for farmers' markets.

The fourth proposal centers on health and wellness, including possibilities for doctors' offices, space for outdoor yoga and pilates, a corner pharmacy and a senior housing component.

Mark Thompson, the county's director of downtown redevelopment, stressed at the meeting that the concepts are "not set in stone." The proposals unveiled Thursday came about in part from comments from two previous sessions; this event was held to gather additional feedback.

Thompson said county officials and the architects would take the summer to review citizens' comments before coming back for a fourth public session, scheduled for 7 p.m. Sept. 17 at the Stonehouse in the Village Center. At that meeting, final concept plans will be presented to the community, and officials expect to conclude the community engagement process in October.

Details about the entire Long Reach Village Center redevelopment plan are available at howardcountymd.gov/longreach.