Tuesday, June 17, 2008

They Just Keep Coming…

My sources tell me that Carrolton Bank is moving it’s corporate offices to Columbia. Fittingly, the bank will be moving into part of the space that formerly housed the corporate offices of BGE Home. BGE Home moved to someplace like Essex last year.

This is yet another corporate headquarters deal for Columbia Gateway, arguably the premier office park in the Baltimore Washington corridor. It has also surpassed the Town Center area as the preferred corporate location. Columbia Gateway now has approximately 150,000 more square feet of office buildings than Town Center. That doesn’t include the 400,000 square feet of new space under construction in Gateway. There are no new office buildings underway in Town Center.

What’s the attraction?

The availability of new Class A space is the main thing. In Columbia Gateway, The Rouse Company and now General Growth Properties have been content with selling land to third party developers who in turn built the office projects. With prime real estate abutting I-95 in the middle of the Baltimore Washington corridor, there was no shortage of developers ready to put up speculative office buildings.

In Town Center, office development stopped in 1992 with the completion of 11000 Broken Land Parkway which was then the headquarters of the Ryland Group before they moved to California. The last third party office development in Town Center was the Merrill Lynch building in 1982. All of the remaining office development land in Town Center is owned by GGP.

GGP needs to make Town Center successful. They are now competing with a monster that they created. They have to make a pretty compelling argument to lure potential prospects down the road from Gateway.

And sooner, rather than later, they really need to build something.

25 comments:

Tom said...

Town Center will compete very well once it finally gets underway. What may limit Corporations from moving to Howard County in the near future will be the continued housing shortage which is mostly self inflicted by the County Government. How and where the housing slots are used during the time Town Center is being built out will be very interesting.

Anonymous said...

You're kidding, right?

It's nearly impossible to get near Town Center today, add the housing proposals and no one will want to work there, except those within walking distance.

The Gateway complex is extremely accessible on the other hand. If you had 500 employees, would you want them trying to get to work through Columbia traffic daily with the prospects of more housing looming?

ITS OVER. Move forward.

wordbones said...

Anon 1:15 PM

The whole idea is to create an environment where people work and live, thus less auto intensive. Gateway is an island. There is only a daytime population. That is hardly an efficient use of the land.

I sure hope it is not over, for the sake of all concerned. I think we can at least agree on moving foward. Our differences lie in the choice of direction.

-wb

Anonymous said...

Anon,

Your Kidding, Right?

I live in Oakland Mills and have never had any problems getting to Town Center via Brokenland Parkway, even when there are shows at Merriweather. We must me talking about a different Town Center.

Anonymous said...

I certainly have no problem driving to the Merrill Lynch Building everyday. I'd hardly call my commute "nearly impossible". Anon 1, could you be more specific as to how the traffic situation near TC is bad?

Anonymous said...

With over 2,000 residences listed for sale now (and prices down and days on market up), 48 rental apartment complexes with one or more vacancies now, and dozens of private rentals available in Howard County now, there isn't a housing shortage.

Columbia has about 2,200 new residences that can still be built under current zoning, without any changes to Columbia's planned density.

With a number of intersections in Columbia exceeding their capacity, and no foreseeable plan to provide a transit link to Town Center, shouldn't existing transportation into Town Center be used for supporting the remaining 2,200 homes to be built in Columbia, and not squandered on trying to also fit additional commercial development in Town Center?

Until a sensible-for-Columbia multimodal transportation plan has been presented that accommodates significantly more commuter trips, it makes sense to keep business growth headed to Gateway, adjacent to I-95, instead of trying to squeeze it into an already successful Town Center.

Anonymous said...

I'm Anon 1:15, and find it hard to believe that anyone can get through Columbia Town Center after the mall opens. Confess - you're getting to work at 5:30am.

I have to allot as much time to navigate through mall traffic and park as I allot to drive there from ~10 miles away. It's a nightmare and I mostly order from catalogs at this point.

And it's EVERY weekend, no longer just at Christmas. No parking, except on the roadways that are supposed to be moving, long lines at the movies, restaurants. Very unpleasant.

wordbones said...

Practically everyday I drive all over Columbia in the normal course of business. With the exception of the evening rush hour (which is more like 45 minutes) and the aftermath of a major event at Merriweather Post Pavilion, I have never encountered any problems getting around town.

Town Center today is only partly successful. The mall is thriving, the lakefront is dead. Most restaurants are doing well while almost a half million square feet of office space sits vacant.

-wb

B. Santos said...

Anon - the doomsday traffic one,

So you say that no one would bring a business to downtown because of the crushing traffic, but then say that your traffic woes are on the weekend. Huh? I regularly commute through downtown Columbia in the mornings, between 7:00 am and 8:30 am (it depends on how I start the day), and I NEVER see any traffic.

With respect to mass transit, it will never come. There is not enough density to get the attention of those that fund mass transit projects. According to the Howard County funded Sabra-Wang traffic study of downtown Columbia, there are very few intersections that are failing. Moreover, the criteria for a failing intersection is defined by the county. The state criteria for failing is higher, and until those levels are reached, few at the state level will show concern.

Enjoy your shopping trips, and while you are doing so, consider carpooling or taking what bus service there is to get to the mall. It is something YOU can do to reduce the traffic burden on downtown.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you WB
I live in Columbia on the west side and drive to the other side of Columbia to my office, am out and around during the day for various reasons and simply have not had a problem with traffic. Even during rush hour the traffic moves unlike the Baltimore and DC beltways.
I agree that the downtown is dead. No wonder. It's an asphalt jungle of parking lots A parking garage on the north and south side of the town center, parks, shops, restaurants, offices and a 22 story high rise would awaken town center to the vibrancy that we want. Of course, the nimby's want to leave things the way they are and live in the asphalt jungle. HH

Anonymous said...

Santos,

The few times I've tried to get in and out of Columbia in the early e3evenings have been horrid - that is why I limit to weekends which are now impossible.

People can't get parking, or past the traffic to get anywhere and what you see is the dying, where I have already given up on resuscitation.

It's dead to many of us who would go and spend there. Post mortem says it was killed by heart failure following a "vibrancy" exercise.

wordbones said...

Anon 2:33 PM

Take it from someone who knows a thing or two about heart failure...exercise is key to survival.

-wb

Anonymous said...

The 'vibrancy' part was like drinking espresso, having a martini, and then running 3 miles for the first time in 5 years.

Not good when 'vibrancy' is hoisted on the unable.

Anonymous said...

Everyday, I drive home along Broken Land Parkway from basically Route 32 and turn right into LPP thourgh downtown past the Mall. I am usually there at around 5:15-5:30pm and I am not saying there are not a lot of cars, but rarely do I have to wait more than one light cycle along the entire LPP road between Broken land Parkway and Vantage Point Road. On top of that, I have been off a few days this week and been driving all around Columbia, including downtown, with almost no traffic to speak of Downtown. It seems like anything short of being able to drive 70 mph down LPP with no lights means there is "too much traffic" to some people....

I would suggest that the real bottleneck in Columbia is trying to get up Snowden River Parkway at either lunch time or after 4:30pm. That is where the real traffic problem is in Columbia.

wordbones said...

Anon 5:52 PM:

I concur on Snowden River Parkway. If you get caught out of the traffic light cycle it can be a long slog from McGaw to Route 100. It generaly lasts from 4:30 PM to 5:30 PM. That is Columbia's real "rush hour."

-wb

B. Santos said...

Snowden drives me nuts. I believe the most frustrating part of Snowden River Parkway is when it goes under Rouse Parkway. It seems for no reason, all the lanes shift to the left. What is up with that?

B. Santos said...

Snowden drives me nuts. I believe the most frustrating part of Snowden River Parkway is when it goes under Rouse Parkway. It seems for no reason, all the lanes shift to the left. What is up with that?

Anonymous said...

Snowden River doesn't go through Town Center. Weren't you talking about the Lakefront etc..? Town Center is where the traffic is snarled.

Anonymous said...

B.Santos,

I think its time for you to put your "photo journalist" hat on and set these people straight. If I worked in Town Center I would do it, maybe on a day off. All you need is a digital camera that takes video. You could drive TC in this "so called rush hour" and show us all the snarled traffic or lack there of.

Anonymous said...

LOL, I didn't see the new post before I posted my request to Mr. Santos, it would be nice to see it in rush hour though.

shw104 said...

Drive from Carroll County to Columbia (Twin Knolls) every week day and hit very little traffic... not through town center i'll admit but am through there quite frequently throughout the day.. little traffic..

the biggest columbia traffic snarl i've seen is pulling into Chick-fil-A off Dobbin (walmart plaza) at lunch time..

Anonymous said...

Always go in the back entrance of Dobbin at lunch. It is so much easier.

Anonymous said...

"The whole idea is to create an environment where people work and live, thus less auto intensive."

If the whole idea is to be less auto intensive, then why would the presented concept for a more dense Town Center include plans to build lots more roads and bridges and ramps and intersections to attempt to handle something like 13,000? more daily car trips in Town Center, multiple traffic studies conclude dire things traffic-wise, and those same studies reach for numerous and costly means to attempt to solve the onslaught of traffic they predict? That sure sounds like Town Center will become more and more auto intensive.

"A parking garage on the north and south side of the town center, parks, shops, restaurants, offices and a 22 story high rise would awaken town center to the vibrancy that we want."

That's some wish list, especially noting that it's bookended with parking garages (pay-to-park somewhere far away?) and a controversial 22-story tower. Inconvenience won't improve Town Center.

"Of course, the nimby's want to leave things the way they are and live in the asphalt jungle."

Many people don't want an asphalt jungle plopped in Symphony Woods, don't want an asphalt jungle plopped across Lake Kittamaqundi, don't want an asphalt jungle cut through forests, don't want an asphalt jungle spanning Wilde Stream, and don't want it in the other places that are currently open space and even wetlands. Let's be clear - this current proposal increases the amount of asphalt coverage in Town Center's open space. Open space should be alive, not dead.

The County's published preliminary draft of the Town Center master plan included a photo of Jim Rouse standing in front of a poster board referring to those open spaces as "PERMANENT". Permanent doesn't mean expendable.

It will be more than a little unsettling that some illustrations and details included in earlier and very recent publications relating to Town Center that seem to ensure conservation have such differences from a proposal that will be put before the County to approve.

"According to the Howard County funded Sabra-Wang traffic study of downtown Columbia, there are very few intersections that are failing."

Of the 17 current intersections that Sabra-Wang study included (the study included neither the entirety of Town Center's intersections nor nearby intersections on routes still within the Study Area), two intersections currently have E (55-80 second wait) or F (>80 second wait) levels of service (Howard County considers D or above acceptable), and another four have a D level of service (35-55 second wait at intersection). The Sabra-Wang study also stated that, even if the density increase was limited to 3,200 residences (not the much bigger increase of 5,500 residences in the current proposal), 11 intersections would become F level of service, two would become E, four would become D, and only one intersection would be C. 13 out of 18 intersections fail by 2014 according to Sabra-Wang, using 3,200 additional residences. So, just imagine what 5,500 residences would do to further snarl traffic.

"Moreover, the criteria for a failing intersection is defined by the county. The state criteria for failing is higher, and until those levels are reached, few at the state level will show concern."

This is not correct. The County's lowest acceptable level of service, D, allows up to 1,450 CLV, the exact same as the State's Level of Service D. Some other counties, like Montgomery, have chosen to permit more congested intersections. Such traffic congestion may possibly explain why Montomgery County's yearly pedestrian deaths exceed their yearly homicides.

Here's how the State describes Level of Service E (1450-1650 CLV): "Typified by significant delays and low average travel speeds. The movement may resemble a funeral procession with little opportunity for sidetraffic to enter the roadway."

And here's how the State describes Level of Service F (1650 or greater CLV): "Traffic flows at extremely low speeds, high delays and extensive queuing likely at critical intersections. This is the most severe level of congested traffic, vehicles may back up through an upstream signal at this level."

GGP or their consultant in May mentioned proposing changing Town Center standards to allow something like 1600 CLV. Or was it more?

So, what would a drive through Town Center be like with an "intense network of streets" with that kind of congestion, 13 or more out of 18 intersections having an F level of service, with 80+ second waits at each intersection? Perhaps it could be a lot like an ambulance ride to the emergency room only traveling 3 mph. At what point does congestion become public endangerment?

"With respect to mass transit, it will never come. There is not enough density to get the attention of those that fund mass transit projects."

Mass transit will never come? Why would anyone believe that assertion?

There are two flawed arguments that have been floated, the first (put forth at GGP's transportation presentation in May and elsewhere) being that there isn't enough density for mass transit to work (or, as it was phrased above, get the attention of those that fund such projects), the second (put forth in the first transportation study) being that an acceptable way to attain mass transit would be to purposely add so much density to Town Center that traffic would become so congested that the public would, at some later date, accept the very large cost of retrofitting a mass transit solution into Town Center after the fact.

So, to those transit naysayers, suggesting not requiring transit to be part of Columbia's 30-year plan, I say prove transit won't work, don't just claim it's not doable and expect we'll just accept lots more density and its cars, traffic, congestion, pollution, noise, inconvenience, and loss of green space.

The first argument, that there isn't sufficient density today to support mass transit, is suspect because this argument is often based on metrics that were derived from 1960's-and-earlier mass transit models, costs, and population behaviors. Technology and energy costs have both changed a lot from when gas was 25 cents a gallon and only much less efficient forms of transit were available.

The same list that ranked Columbia as the fourth best small city in 2006 ranked Naperville, IL second best. Naperville, of only slightly greater density than Columbia today, is served by the Metra train system, running 30 miles to Chicago. Metra's system in its various forms has only managed to operate for oh, about 82 years, and continues to expand. Columbia could easily suport an even more modern transit system.

Naperville also passed a law in the '90's to make their downtown parking free, to keep their downtown "alive" to compete with outlying shopping. So why in the world, if invigorating Town Center's activity is the goal of some, would some proposals suggest people visiting Town Center should be charged to park?

Montgomery County is about to limit free parking at some of their libraries, an action, if done here, that would seem both elitist and contrary to making the library serving West Columbia more accessible. The icing on the cake would be to replace Columbia's existing Central library that is currently right-sized with a "showcase" library, that would, like the Cerritos, CA library mentioned at the cultural presentation as a model, become a noisy tourist magnet (Cerritos' did), defeating the library's primary purpose for the local community and, at the same time, siphoning resources from other County communities' local libraries.

"They are now competing with a monster [commercial space in Gateway and outlying superstores, both more accessible to highways] that they created. They have to make a pretty compelling argument to lure potential prospects down the road from Gateway."

"a half million square feet of office space sits vacant."

So, if there is neither a housing shortage nor an office space shortage, why should the community accept such a proposal? Is the real reason for this push to dramatically increase density in Town Center just to squeeze lots more people/customers in to support the nearby commercial space and to make it economically feasible to add more commercial development to Town Center, without properly addressing transportation capacity, environment, and quality of life?

wordbones said...

Anon 4:08 PM,

Nobody is talking about taking away open space, only making it more accessible to the residents. As it stands, Symphony Woods is greatly under utilized. For example, roughly 25 years ago, a portion of Symphony Woods was used as a petting zoo. That didn't take away the open space even though it was fenced off and admission was charged.

I won't comment on the Sabra-Wang traffic study because I have not read it (I have a hard enough time keeping up with my reading as it is). What I do know is that as it now stands, Town Center does not a traffic problem. I know this from my own personal experience.

As far as increasing the impervious surfaces in Town Center, yes, the preliminary plans by GGP do call for an increase in road surfaces, much of which would happen in the normal course of development anyway. More importantly, GGP has recognized that the current situation with paved areas in Town Center is untenable. Town Center has a serious problem with storm water management. This has had an adverse effect on the streams in Town Center as well as Lake Kittamaqundi. GGP's plans would address these problems and create remedies to restore the health to these streams and waterways.

I have never heard of Wilde Stream. Are you referring to the Little Patuxent River? That is the only stream I know of in Town Center.

-wb

Anonymous said...

Anon 4:08 - GREAT Post! Thanks tremendously for the facts.