Friday, March 14, 2008

Jamming a Square Peg Into a Round Hole

Allow me to begin this post by stating that I happen to like our county executive, Ken Ulman. I voted for him and so far I think he has done a pretty good job for the citizens of Howard County.

That doesn’t mean I always agree with him.

The Meridian Square issue is a case in point. Ken has proposed that the county purchase 15,000 of office space in a 60,000 square foot office condominium building being developed by Metroventures in the Oakland Mills Village Center on the site of a former Exxon gas station. County Councilperson Calvin Ball and the village board believe this project is crucial to the revitalization efforts in the village. Ken recently defended this proposal in this article by Larry Carson that appeared the Howard section of the Sun this week.

While I agree that the county can be an important catalyst for rejuvenating the village center this is not, in my opinion, a very good vehicle for doing it.

Why do I think that?

The main reason is that no market exists for a 60,000 square foot office condominium building in the Oakland Mills Village Center. Oakland Mills is not an office market and a 60,000 square foot building is a pretty big building. It is twice the size of the Columbia Association building in Town Center (where Clyde’s is located). The Stevens Forest Professional Building (9650 Santiago Road) located right next to the site for this proposed building struggled for years to attract tenants. This 25,000 square foot office building was built in 1984 and it took until 1997 before it finally reached 100% occupancy. Today there is a 1,100 square foot office suite available that has been vacant for two years.

When The Rouse Company redeveloped the village center for Food Lion they eliminated the office component for just this reason. There are just too many good alternatives for office tenants in nearby Town Center and around Columbia in the established office parks. If the county moves forward with this plan they run the risk of being the only tenant in the building for years. What happens then?

Does the county then feel compelled to buy the remaining floors in order to protect their investment?

A better solution would be for the county to buy the site from the developer and put up whatever building best fits the needs of the agencies that it wants to be located there. That is a much better approach than having the county be the only tenant in a building that is simply too big for that area.


Tom said...

Are you saying a commitment to Downtown Columbiawould be a better option for the County?

wordbones said...


Perhaps. It would certainly be more central. That wasn't really my point though. If the county thinks it could aid the village by having a strong presence in the village center then maybe that is a good enough reason to locate certain services there. It is close enough to Town Center to claim being central.

My point is that this Meridian Square proposal is completely out of sync with the office market in Columbia. I happen to think that it will take a very long time to sell the other 45,000 square feet of condominium office space that the county isn't buying. Whether Metroventures carry the project that long is the big question.

It is a good question too. I'm not certain this particular developer has ever developed anything on this scale on their own for their own account. Their website is a little unclear on this.