Built with the vision of a high-end technology and office park, Columbia Gateway is quickly booming into exactly what developers planned it to be.
"It's finally come of age," said Hayes Merkert, senior vice president of Manekin Corp., which is managing an emerging development of four buildings totaling 115,000 square feet.
Although developers say Gateway's growth was thwarted by the real estate recession in the early 1990s, development in the park picked up in the mid to late part of the decade, and it hasn't stopped.
Gateway is successful for several reasons, according to real estate agents, developers and officials from companies in the park: its proximity to Interstate 95 and Baltimore-Washington International Airport; its fiberoptics and infrastructure; its room for expansion; and the fact that the project is being built by several developers.
"It's high-end, cost-effective and people-efficient office space in the premiere business park between the Baltimore and Washington markets," said L. Jamie Smith, executive vice president and principal of Colliers Pinkard, the leasing agent for the project.
It is not unusual for buildings in Gateway to fill up before the cement has been poured and every brick is in place.
In the development Manekin is managing, Corvis Corp. occupies one of the buildings and has leased another two, scheduled for completion this fall. Manekin will move into the fourth building in that development in August, Merkert said.
Corporate Office Properties Trust, a Columbia REIT, owns five buildings in Gateway with a sixth, an 82,000-square-foot structure, under construction. That building is slated for completion in October. Sun Microsystems Inc. has leased 43 percent of it.
"Everything that's been built there has absorbed rapidly," said Rand Griffin, president and chief executive officer of COPT. "There's not that much ground left. ..." Griffin said COPT, which first built in Gateway in 1997, owns 9 acres (with plans to buy an adjacent 9 acres) along Gateway Drive between Route 175 and the county office building.
Next month, the company will break ground for the first of three buildings on that land totaling 360,000 square feet of office space and making up Gateway Exchange.
"It really is the center of activity right now," Griffin said.
Ed Ely, senior vice president of land sales and marketing for Howard Research and Development, an affiliate of the Rouse Co., said that when Rouse started building in Gateway in 1986 it planned a high-end technology and office park, and now, "that's what it is."
Earlier this year, Micros Systems Inc. moved into the first building visible from I-95. "We saved the I-95 frontage for the right kind of buildings," Ely said, "and it's happened."
Next month, AppNet Inc. will fill a second building that abuts the interstate.
AppNet Inc., which is being acquired by Commerce One Inc. of Pleasanton, Calif., but will keep its Howard County offices, chose to expand its Laurel delivery services office into Gateway because of the location, said Mark Allen, vice president of e-business solutions for the company.
"It's convenient to Baltimore and Washington, it's convenient to BWI Airport and train stations," he said, adding that many of App- Net's staff members live in the area.
AppNet, an Internet professional services provider and e-business solutions company, will add 150 to 250 new employees to its Laurel and Gateway offices by the end of the year, Allen said.
In the Gateway building, which has about 230 offices, the company is upgrading the cabling so each office will be equipped with two Internet connections and two phone lines.
"This is a brand-new building, so we get a lot of flexibility," he said.
At about $21 to $22 a square foot of office space, AppNet is planning to fill the first floor of its Gateway office in August and the second floor in November.
AppNet will be part of the Crestpointe Corporate Center, an office park planned in three phases to be 11 buildings and 640,000 square feet of office space, said Crestpointe developer, Mickey Abrams of Abrams Development Group.
The first phase of the Crestpointe project is five buildings totaling 260,000 square feet. Four of those buildings - two of which are complete and two expected to be complete in August and November - have been leased, said Smith, of Colliers Pinkard.
The first four buildings were leased to Chrysler, Pepsi, AppNet and TRW Inc. for regional offices, Smith said. The fifth is expected to be complete in March. "It's really the best office park in the corridor," Abrams said.