A new $41 million office building by Howard Hughes Corp., Columbia's master developer, is slated to open in the fall of next year as the county chases a vision to redevelop the town into an urban, mixed-used center and integrate retail and office space to make downtown Columbia a major job center.
The 130,000-square-foot building, called Two Merriweather, is part of Howard Hughes' Crescent project near popular outdoor concert venue Merriweather Post Pavilion.
The master plan for downtown Columbia, passed in 2010, envisions a vibrant, thriving urban center and is slowly coming to fruition as new buildings are erected like One Merriweather, a 200,000-square foot office building that will be completed by the end of this year on the corner of Little Patuxent and Broken Land parkways.
Howard County is seeking a $127 million tax increment financing deal - the largest in the county's history and one of the largest in the state - for the development of downtown Columbia.
John DeWolf, senior vice president for development at Howard Hughes, said the company's projects are "on a bit of a roll."
In February, hospital conglomerate MedStar Health was named as the first tenant of One Merriweather, marking what Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman called a major win for the county. MedStar will move later this year to what will be more spacious headquarters just four miles from its current office.
More than half of Two Merriweather — roughly 58 percent — is already pre-leased to tenants who have not been disclosed, according to the developer.
An elevated boardwalk and plazas sit next to the building, which was designed to embrace a more "progressive, multi-generational culture" in response to an undisclosed tenant that is involved in the design process, said David Dymond, a project architect at Gensler, the design and architecture firm behind the project.
An internal plaza, called the Downtown Community Commons, will be nested between a parking garage and the new office building.
"The general feel of the building is intended to meld the best of both worlds of suburban and urban design responses," Dymond said. "The architecture implies a sense of activity and vibrancy to attract the diverse talent that makes up the contemporary workforce."
The building is LEED-certified and has 15,000 square feet for retail on the main level.
The project displaces roughly 500 parking spaces used by Merriweather Post Pavilion. A temporary surface parking lot with 162 spaces will make up for the lost space, along with extra space available in existing garages on Little Patuxent Parkway and other areas, according to a technical staff report prepared by the county's Department of Planning and Zoning.
As Howard Hughes Corp. develops downtown Columbia, Howard County officials defended the need for $128 million in tax increment financing to fulfill the vision of creating a vibrant urban core, a framework laid out by the 2010 master plan for Columbia's redevelopment.
The creation of a $51 million parking garage, financed by increases in revenue from future property taxes generated by the new development, is intended to provide a permanent parking solution for the concert venue."
Overall, DeWolf calls the master plan for downtown Columbia "genius" because it "legislates the existence of a master developer and establishes a public-private partnership."
The planning board will review the plan on Thursday, Aug. 18 at 7 p.m. in the George Howard building.
The advisory board will also consider a plan to build 36 single-family attached units in Ellicott City. The project, called West End Village, is near the intersection of Lago Road and Fairmont Avenue. At the meeting the board will also consider a plan to build a one-story restaurant near Snowden River Parkway in Columbia.