Banners for a new grocery store downtown? Yes, but no.

For one day, at least, there was the slightest of teases of what a grocery store might look like in downtown Columbia.

It wasn't much. On Thursday, Feb.. 9, there were two white flags with slogans waving in front of the Howard Hughes Corp. building, and green one-word banners paired together on light posts in a nearby parking lot: "Fresh" and "Quality," "Organic and Natural," "Value and Local."

These flags and banners were in front of 10275 Little Patuxent Parkway, the former Rouse Co. building that was the subject of a rumor three months ago. At that time, sources told the Tales Of Two Cities blog that grocery chain Whole Foods Market was in the final stages of negotiations with Howard Hughes to lease the main level.

A Whole Foods spokeswoman, contacted in response to the report, said in November, "We don't have any firm plans to open a store in Columbia at this time. But we are always seeking new locations."

There had been some excitement three months ago about a possible downtown grocery store. Was there even more reason for that now?

Not yet, it seems.

"The banners attempt to demonstrate the potential for alternative uses for the building and its adjacent parking areas beyond simply an office use," John DeWolf, senior vice president of Howard Hughes, said in a statement. "All of this remains 'hypothetical' and 'prospective' at this point. And, we may do more experimenting in the near future. Hopefully, soon we can announce with great certainty some results from all this effort."

One of those potential alternative uses is a grocery store, according to a Howard Hughes spokeswoman.

The flags and banners were slated to come down by Friday.

A Whole Foods spokeswoman was not immediately available to comment.

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