In Baltimore, redevelopment often involves the destruction of century-old buildings. But in 38-year-old Columbia, structures of any age are fair game.
The planned town is reinventing itself, from replacement of its first public high school after 23 years to plans to build a dense urban environment in Town Center, now dominated by a suburban mall ringed by office buildings and apartments.
The latest example is a nine-year-old former General Motors dealership, reduced to rubble for replacement this year by a credit union and a 22,000- square-foot area of restaurants.
"The land prices are so high, you can purchase an older building and redevelop the site and do it for not a whole lot more than you can buy undeveloped land," said Cole Schnorf, a partner in Manekin LLC, the developer of the former auto dealership property.
The trend is good for Columbia, most officials agree.
"I think revitalization is incredibly healthy," said County Councilman Ken Ulman, a west Columbia Democrat.
"If it were historic architecture like Baltimore or Ellicott City, I'd be very concerned," said Marsha L. McLaughlin, the county planning director, but most of the demolished buildings were built for specific purposes and outlived their usefullness. With raw land scarce, redevelopment makes good sense, she said. "I think it's exciting. I also think it's necessary."
More than 10 other buildings in Columbia's brief life have been demolished and replaced, and more are expected to follow. Among the prominent examples:
The 16-year-old Palace 9 movie complex off Route 108, which was torn down in 2002 in favor of a new Giant supermarket and several other stores.
A Mexican-themed structure built to house the La Plata Grande restaurant off Route 175, demolished in 2001 after about a decade of use and replaced by a Fuddrucker's hamburger establishment and another small strip center.
A former Rusty Scupper restaurant on Columbia's lakefront, which came down in 2000, replaced by a gleaming, six-story office building.
A 1980s-vintage Friendly's restaurant Across Dobbin Road from Fuddrucker's and demolished last year for a new chain chicken restaurant.
Midrise condominiums are nearing completion where the town's first single-screen movie house once stood. Nearby on Little Patuxent Parkway, a grassy spot that once was a Bennigan's restaurant attached to a two-story brick office building is awaiting a planned 20-story high rise.
Even some of Columbia's landmarks have been affected by that transformation.
Four of the nine village centers were largely rebuilt during the late 1990s, partly to transform older supermarkets from the 25,000-square-foot range to the modern standard - about 60,000 square feet.
And the town's open-classroom high school was demolished a decade ago after 23 years of service - replaced by a Wilde Lake High School building, on the same spot.
"Really, it just comes down to the math, if the older structure is not the most efficient for the site," said Dennis W. Miller, Columbia's general manager for General Growth Properties, the Chicago firm that bought the Rouse Co. "This is good. We've all seen communities that don't attract redevelopment, and decay."
Richard W. Story, chief executive officer of Howard County's Economic Development Authority, said demand for more intense uses with amenities to match - such as a planned 20-story, mixed-use building in Town Center and much larger grocery stores - means more profit.
"Columbia is just magnetic as a business address," Story said.
For some developers, that is true despite the investment necessary to customize a property for a new business.
The project on the former General Motors dealership property, for example, will cost $6 million to $7 million, not counting the credit union building, Schnorf said. Though demolition was less than $100,000, all the underground utilities have to be replaced and repositioned.
But undeveloped business lots are not easily found, he said, especially at a good Columbia location.
"The demographics are so good," he said, and the dealership building "just wasn't useful."
Demolished and replaced
Palace 9 movie complex off Route 108, torn down in 2002 to make way for new Giant supermarket and other stores.
Mexican-themed structure for La Plata Grande restaurant off Route 175, demolished in 2001 and replaced by a Fuddrucker's hamburger establishment and another small strip center.
Rusty Scupper restaurant on Columbia's lakefront, which came down in 2000 and was replaced by a six-story office building.
Friendly's restaurant across Dobbin Road from Fuddruckers, demolished last year for a new chain chicken restaurant.
General Motors dealership off Snowden River Parkway, torn down for replacement this year by a credit union and a 22,000- square-foot area of restaurants.
Bennigan's restaurant and attached two-story brick office building off Little Patuxent Parkway in Columbia's Town Center, now a grassy spot awaiting a planned 20-story high rise.