Thursday, August 30, 2007

Bringing It Home

In all the rhetoric flying around about the Plaza Residences condominium tower in Town Center you seldom hear anything about the actual future residents of the building except in the abstract. The tower opposition forces have even gone so far as to imply that these future residents would not be in sync with Columbia's values (as they deem them to be). That is easy to do when you are dealing with an abstract but it is a little different when you replace that abstract with an actual person.

An actual person such as Gary Kaufman. Gary is the Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of Micros Systems, Inc.. Micros is a local company. It was started by a guy named Tom Giannopoulus in his kitchen in Allview Estates. Today, it is a company with 4,100 employees with a 248,000 square foot corporate headquarters in Columbia Gateway Corporate Community. The company revenues last year were $679 million. It is truly a hometown success story.

Gary has a contract to buy a penthouse unit. He is not buying some large mansion outside of Columbia with a mammoth carbon footprint. He apparently wants to live in Columbia, close to his office. Not only should Columbia provide housing for guys like Gary, Columbia should applaud the fact that Gary wants to live in the town. His home grown company and it's headquarters in Gateway probably pump close to $100,000 per year into CA's coffers through the CPRA assessment.

Given the money that the CA is doling out to it's executive staff Columbia is going to need more guys like him as lien paying residents.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Battle of the Broadbands

Just before I moved from my townhouse in Town Center, Verizon was digging up the neighborhood installing new fiber optic lines for their FIOS service. My neighbors and I applauded this development and looked forward to the day when we could all tell Comcast to stick it.

Ultimately, I moved to Ellicott City before the FIOS service was activated. In my new "hood" my choices for broadband were limited to Comcast and Ellicott City Cable Company. Let's just say that I never considered Ellicott City Cable Company to be a real choice even though the developer tried to make the service mandatory for all homeowners. I credit Ken Ulman for rectifying that situation. I believe it is one on the main reasons he did so well in what at least appears to be a predominately Republican neighborhood.

People may not be well informed on most issues but they sure as hell are informed about their cable service.


A year and a half later, Verizon has arrived on my street. Since I was chomping at the bit to drop Comcast, I jumped at the opportunity to switch to Verizon. Perhaps I jumped too fast.

It's not that I don't like the service. The FIOS broadband is fast. It is most noticeable when downloading videos. The FIOS TV is another story.

Verizon gives you three set top boxes at no additional charge. Comcast charges for each and every box. This would seem to give FIOS a huge advantage expect for the fact that with FIOS you need a box for virtually every TV in the house. With Comcast you can simply plug the coaxial cable into the back of the set and get 90 some channels. When you plug the FIOS cable directly into the TV you get about 20. FIOS claims you get 40 something but the reality is that many are duplicates (you get the NBC, ABC, CBS and Fox stations in both Washington and Baltimore).

Still, the savings are there. I figure that with Verizon I am saving about $40.00 a month over what I was paying for Comcast so that's a plus on the Verizon side.

On the negative side, Verizon had to dig a new trench from the street to the side of my house. This did not go over well with Mama Wordbones who has spent countless hours trying to keep our new front yard healthy and presentable. Why, she wanted to know, couldn't they have put that line in before the house was finished like Comcast and ECC did?

Another negative was the learning curve. While I consider myself an easy adapter of new technology Mama Wordbones is another story. She had finally mastered the TV remote with Comcast and now she was being forced to relearn how to find HGTV and the Today Show. She also was not pleased with having a new set top box on the kitchen counter (it has since been relocated).

So it is not so simple. For now we will forge ahead with FIOS because I am already knee deep in it. I will say that their customer service is terrific which is an adjective I never used for Comcast in my many years of being their customer. Other than that I am not yet convinced that, aside from the economics, the switch was worth it.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Belmont Stakes

The daily commute from my home takes me along winding tree shaded country roads like College Avenue, Ilchester and Landing Roads. I cruise along the perimeter of Patapsco State Park and past the Belmont Conference Center on Elibank Drive.

Normally I continue on through Elkridge and into the BWI Aerotropolis but today I turned down Elibank and made a fast left onto the private road that leads to the Belmont Conference Center.

It has been awhile since I've heard anything about Belmont which is surprising. The current occupant of the property and the private property owners adjacent to it have been butting heads for the past three years over the future of this picturesque and historic property. If you ever wanted to see what a Howard County estate looked like in the Revolutionary War years a trip to Belmont will reward your curiosity. The 82 acre estate is surrounded by the state park.

Belmont today is at a critical crossroad. The community college says that it needs to improve the property and facilities in order to make it economically sustainable. The trust folks point to a side deal with Chip Lundy that was originally part of the colleges acquisition agreement as an indication that the college can't be trusted to preserve the beauty and character of the estate and surrounding grounds.

After reading extensively through the pros and cons I am still unsure as to where I come out on this. On the one hand I think that nothing will satisfy the Save Belmont folks short of doing nothing while on the other hand I think the college has done an abysmal job of establishing trust that they will do the right thing with their stewardship of this local treasure.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Back In The Saddle

In case anyone was wondering why I hadn't posted or responded to comments last week it wasn't because I dropped off the face of the blogosphere like some other local blogger. I was actually on vacation in Florida and found myself without any Internet connectivity. I did suffer some initial withdrawal but that gave way to blissful relaxation as I settled into reading and morning runs on the beach.

The books of choice on this vacation were The House of Morgan: An American Banking Dynasty and the Rise of Modern Finance by Ron Chernow and Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World's Worst Dog by John Grogan. I am still working on the former but I finished the latter in two days. If you like dogs you will definitely enjoy Marley & Me.

I also read a very interesting story about immigration in the New York Times Magazine on August 5th. I have been meaning to write a post on the face of immigration in Howard County but I don't think I could do a better job of capturing the essence of this debate than Alex Kotlowitz did in Our Town. A great and important read.

The best news on my return was the story in the Sun yesterday about the Plaza Residences beginning construction. All I can say is that is about time. It is no surprise that Mary Kay Sigaty is still pushing her legislation to stop this project but hopefully the rest of council will see the folly of this effort.

Ahh, it is good to be back.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

No Big Deal

Ken Ulman's new environmental package recently adopted by the Howard County Council is great but in fact the marketplace was already out ahead of the government this time, at least as far as commercial real estate goes.

Approximately two years ago, the largest office developer in Howard County, Corporate Office Properties Trust (COPT), committed to making all of their new office projects LEED certified. Since COPT has such a dominant position in the market, their initiative has spurred all other local developers to get on board. Just last year, Manekin Corporation completed their new headquarters building in Columbia Gateway Corporate Community attaining a LEED Silver designation.

Prior to this legislation being introduced, my own firm was already working on making its newest office development in Emerson a LEED certified building.

Since this has become such a hot topic, I have decided to launch yet another blog dedicated exclusively to the development of this building. In this blog I will share my insider observations about the process of building and leasing a green building in Howard County.