An off-hand remark by a Rouse Co. official to members of the Howard County Planning Board has led to speculation about the fate of Columbia's Merriweather Post Pavilion. While the comment by Rouse Vice President Alton J. Scavo suggested that the 28-year-old facility might even close, more common predictions are that it will undergo a major overhaul or be converted to an enclosed arena or convention center. These ideas, however, are only guesswork because the Rouse Co. apparently has no immediate plans for Merriweather.
Not that there isn't a need for a change. As a concert venue, Merriweather has become a bit of a dinosaur. Larger, more user-friendly, open-air arenas such as Wolf Trap and the new Nissan Pavilion in Northern Virginia are drawing larger crowds and bigger-name artists.
Plans submitted to the planning board to increase the number of seats and improve the aesthetics at Merriweather were suddenly pulled this year by Rouse officials, apparently to allow the developer to concentrate on other projects nearby.
Developing downtown Columbia has become a priority for the company, with Rouse officials seeking site approval for a residential development on land near the pavilion that is currently zoned commercial. Getting approval hinges on the company's ability to guarantee noise abatement -- something that might be cast in greater doubt if the arena were to expand now. Rouse is also negotiating to expand the Mall in Columbia, which lies near the pavilion. The goal is to add three major new anchor stores, some smaller specialty stores and a multi-level garage. Those plans, too, require county approval.
As Rouse officials know all too well, its ideas don't always sit well with the surrounding community. Its residential proposal is already facing opposition from citizens concerned about noise and pedestrian access to downtown from other, nearby communities. The prospect of a major project at Merriweather at the same time is probably more than some residents could tolerate.
But the fact that there are no imminent plans does not mean that things will never change at the pavilion. Planning is a Rouse Co. forte and, according to officials, all options are open. But to suggest that anything is about to happen is far too premature, no matter how great the need appears to be.