Boost sought for Town Center Rouse looking for spark as growth stalls


Columbia's developer says the Town Center is an ideal place for companies. There's a lake, restaurants and a concert pavilion, all minutes from Interstate 95 and other major thoroughfares.

But that hasn't been enough to draw businesses to Columbia's downtown, Alton J. Scavo, the Rouse Co.'s general manager of Columbia development, told members of the Town Center village board during his annual meeting with the group last night.

As a result, Rouse is looking for a spark to revive the stalled growth in the Town Center.

"In the last five years we have not had a great deal of net employment growth," Mr. Scavo said. Businesses "tend not to be VTC impressed by our traffic in the downtown area."

"The perception from the outside world is that [the Town Center] is several miles away from where the action is," he said.

Rouse is hoping that its next major Town Center project a proposed four-story, 350 condominium and apartment complex on 19 acres bordered by Governor Warfield, Little Patuxent and Broken Land parkways will help give the downtown area a boost, Mr. Scavo said. Groundbreaking is expected to begin in mid-1997, he said.

Plans for the project will be reviewed today by Howard County's Subdivision Review Committee and then will be sent to the county Planning Board.

Such projects are the kinds of things that the 1990 General Plan, the county's 20-year blueprint for development, encouraged in Columbia's downtown area.

"The project has gotten a lot of interest," Mr. Scavo said. "More residential [units] in downtown is probably a good thing."

Rouse also is talking to two department stores about The Mall in Columbia, but no deals have been made, Mr. Scavo said.

Rouse has envisioned the Town Center as a thriving place with young couples, parents whose children have grown up and left home and others who want to live within walking distance of restaurants, theaters, nightclubs and the concert pavilion.

Members of the Town Center's village board said they, too, wanted to see a thriving downtown, and they expressed concern that such projects as the Snowden Square shopping center, off Snowden River Parkway, and the Columbia Crossing shopping center under construction at Route 175 and Dobbin Road were threatening businesses in downtown Columbia, particularly those at the mall.

"They in fact duplicate the goods and services of Columbia mall," said board member Nick Mangraviti.

Suzanne Waller, who represents the board on the Columbia Council, said that even without those large shopping centers, there has been difficulty attracting the kinds of businesses she would like to see in downtown Columbia.

"There hasn't been a really good restaurant in the mall," she said.

Mr. Scavo said the new shopping centers don't seem to pose a threat to the mall or to other downtown businesses.

Those centers are helping to keep county shoppers in the area by providing the kind of retail operations that customers had been traveling to other counties to find, he said.

Downtown office space is 92 percent occupied, and some businesses are growing, Mr. Scavo said. For example, the Hecht Co. department store is adding a third floor.

Mr. Scavo said Rouse is looking for construction of office space and retail operations in the downtown area instead of simply filling existing space and leaving the area stagnant.

"We really believe that [the Town Center] has a future," Mr. Scavo said.

Pub Date: 3/14/96

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