Downtown plan details

The Baltimore Sun

In days to come, Columbia residents will have several chances to see more details of plans for a redesigned downtown after the release of the General Growth Properties Inc. proposal this week.

"The plan would be over a 30-year period -- it's a fairly long horizon," Gregory F. Hamm, GGP's regional vice president and Columbia general manager, told the audience of about 500 people Monday night at the developer's headquarters, where many stood to hear the plan. "Tonight is really the first page of the last chapter of this process."

The much-anticipated redevelopment proposal calls for a $350 million first phase that would bring a skating rink that doubles as open market space in summer, new office, retail and hotel space, a small cities institute and new pedestrian routes to the area in and around The Mall in Columbia. Work on the retail element could begin as soon as 2010, Hamm said.

"I'm thrilled with the direction," County Executive Ken Ulman said Monday night after the release of the plan. "They clearly listened to the framework document that we put out [in September 2007]."

Details of the residential component -- to come in a later phase -- are sketchy. However, when the developer submits its master plan to the county this summer, it will include a request for zoning changes to allow new residential development, Hamm said. The developer does not plan to exceed the 5,500 residential units discussed in the county plan, he said.

It is those new homes and the accompanying traffic that most concerns many Columbia residents.

"I had some of the same questions as the audience," Ulman said. "Who's going to pay for it? I've said previously, I think 5,500 [residential units] is too much. I'm keeping an open mind, but they clearly have some work to do to convince the residents and the county board about the numbers."

Merriweather Post Pavilion plays a key role in the downtown makeover and would receive additional seating, a raised roof, a new stage and back-of-house facilities, and upgraded restaurants and concessions.

There also would be improvements to nearby land to create a cultural center, including a specialized library and perhaps a children's theater.

A pedestrian walkway would start at the mall and lead to the edge of Lake Kittamaqundi.

"I think GGP really listened to the community," said Pearl Atkinson-Stewart, Columbia Association Board member from Owen Brown who attended the unveiling of the plan. "They looked at what others did and tried to incorporate it."

The developer touted its proposal as integrating concepts generated during the Howard County charrette in 2005 and meetings with the community since then.

GGP will host a "Vision in Focus" series as a continuation of the "Many Voices, One Vision," draft master plan. Three meetings will address specific elements of the draft plan, including sustainability/environment, transit/traffic and culture, which will be presented by the consultants involved in the project.

Discussions also will be held in each of Columbia's 10 villages.

columbia plans

The General Growth Properties Inc. proposal for downtown Columbia calls for:

An ice rink that converts to an open-air market in summer

A hotel with 300 rooms and conference space for 1,000

300,000 square feet of retail space

200,0000 square feet of office space

Asmall cities institute that draws people from all over the world.

A facelift for Merriweather Post Pavilion

A pedestrian walkway that starts at the mall and leads to the lakefront

Residential development with as many as 5,500 units

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