A slice of Cheesecake is on its way to The Mall in Columbia.
The Howard County Planning Board this week approved site development plans for the Cheesecake Factory, a California-based restaurant chain that could become a trendy draw for Columbia's downtown.
"This is good news," said County Councilman Ken Ulman, a west Columbia Democrat. "When I hear people mention the types of retailers ignoring Columbia, they mention Cheesecake Factory."
Construction plans for the 10,500-square-foot Cheesecake Factory have not been made final, said Karen Geary, manager of the mall. "I don't have a firm timeline," Geary said.
But she added: "I know it's on the fast track."
The restaurant will be built on the parking lot across from the 14-screen AMC movie theater, eliminating an estimated 133 spaces.
Parking in that section of the mall is challenging because of the theater and three nearby restaurants. Mall management said it plans to have alternate parking sites available and to promote use of the three-story parking garage adjacent to the theater.
"Parking is a commodity," Geary said. "The thing that all of us like to do is park in the most convenient area near where we are going."
Jud Malone, a Columbia Association board member representing Town Center, agreed.
"In an urban environment, parking would be trivial," but in suburbia, people would rather walk just a few feet from their cars, Malone said.
Malone said the restaurant should not be built before a master downtown plan is completed this year.
"I think this project should not proceed until we can see how the downtown master plan will evolve," he said.
The draft plan for a downtown Columbia makeover was presented last month during a public meeting held by General Growth Properties Inc. During the meeting, General Growth unveiled plans for additional homes and businesses, including hotels, to be added to the downtown landscape. During that meeting, residents created a wish list of stores and restaurants they wanted to be built in the area.
The addition of the Cheesecake Factory places a check mark on the list, with other stores such as Trader Joe's, Whole Foods and California Pizza Kitchen remaining on the wish list.
According to Cheesecake Factory, the restaurant would resemble their 93 other restaurants nationwide, with French limestone floors, decorative columns and cherry wood appointments.
"Cheesecake is very interested in the Columbia market," said Dennis W. Miller, General Growth's general manager for Columbia. He added that the addition of the restaurant would be "complementary to the restaurants, mall and town center of Columbia."
Ulman said the addition of the "destination restaurant" will attract more people to Columbia's downtown area, creating a more vibrant atmosphere, complete with additional foot traffic.
"What I'm interested in seeing is a more vibrant downtown where people can walk across the street," Ulman said. "Having a place as popular as Cheesecake Factory helps us move toward those goals."
Shaun Johnson of Ellicott City said he makes frequent trips to the Cheesecake Factory at Baltimore's Inner Harbor.
"It's good to see Cheesecake coming to Columbia," said Johnson. "It adds another restaurant to the mall."
Cheesecake Factory has two restaurants in Maryland - at the Inner Harbor and in Bethesda.
Cheesecake Factory was established in 1972 as a cheesecake- and baked dessert-wholesale manufacturer for retailers and distributors. Years later, in Beverly Hills, Calif., the chain's first restaurant was opened. Since then, Cheesecake Factory restaurants have opened throughout the nation, including in Hawaii.
On its menu Cheesecake Factory has more than 200 items, including more than 50 varieties of cheesecake and other baked deserts.
"It's good to go there when you got a sweet tooth," Johnson said.
In another development, the Bank of America branch inside the mall will move this year to a location next to L.L. Bean that will be accessible without going inside the mall.