The Mall in Columbia needs to expand again as plans to redevelop Town Center move forward, according to Douglas M. Godine, vice president and general manager of General Growth Properties Inc., the primary landowner and developer of the city.
"The demand is much greater than the supply, and we want to protect our interests here in Columbia and keep those retailers that may be looking elsewhere and who want to come to Columbia. But we don't have the space for them," Godine said.
"We are addressing how we can expand the mall to add retail shops, and that will take a long period of time, but we are confident that we will get there," he said.
A spokesman for General Growth said the mall has 1.4 million square feet of retail space. Its last expansion was in 2004, when a movie theater, a row of restaurants and an L.L. Bean store were added.
Godine declined to give details of the expansion plans, but he said they will be included in the GGP downtown Columbia plan, which is expected to be unveiled in April.
The project is to include "green" architecture, affordable housing and arts and culture, Godine said during Thursday's annual State of Columbia Luncheon, sponsored by the Columbia Business Exchange.
"Our plan will address some of the important issues that will affect the way people live here," Godine told the audience of about 100 business owners and policymakers.
The company's plan will be in the form of suggestions for the county's master plan for downtown, which officials expect to unveil this spring.
Last year, the county unveiled a downtown plan and agreed to revise it after a series of sessions with community members.
The proposal for downtown would include 3 million square feet of new commercial offices and 750,000 square feet for retail use. The plan would also include 5,500 additional housing units.
Critics, including County Executive Ken Ulman, have said that is far too much for Columbia to absorb.
Godine said GGP's plan, which is using the county's existing downtown plan details as a guide, will include suggestions from the various committees and experts the company is using to address issues such as transportation, affordable housing, "green" architecture, and incorporating arts and culture throughout the area.
"We're trying to find a way to bring affordable housing, and the goal is to have it that everybody that lives here, works here, too," Godine said.
Affordable housing has been repeatedly discussed by policymakers and critics who say there is not enough of it in the county.
Sherman Howell, vice president of the African American Coalition of Howard County, said affordable housing is an important ingredient in any plan for downtown.
"It's great that he is appreciative and did reference affordable housing because it is very key to the success of Columbia," Howell said. " ... It shows that [General Growth] is dedicated to the Jim Rouse dream of social and economic diversity. I would think the citizens of Columbia who came here for the Rouse dream can be assured that with the transition from the Rouse Co. to General Growth, they will continue the dream."
Alan Klein, who has formed Coalition for Columbia's Downtown, a group that opposes the county's plan, said affordable housing is one of several important details needed.
"I'm glad he is continuing to pursue the issue of affordable housing and 'green' architecture. Those are some of the issues, and if they implement those, they will go a long way toward building trust in the community," Klein said.
During his speech, Godine responded to the criticism that General Growth and the county have received for plans to change the downtown.
"A lot of people feel that developing Town Center is wrong, and they like it as it is and that is understandable," Godine said. "What we are saying and I am saying is that I look to the future of Columbia, and I am looking at what Columbia can be 40 years from now. ... Columbia should keep up with the 21st century, and that is my stance."