Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
Smart move. The phase one plan calls for 300,000 square feet of new retail space, 150,000 square feet of new office space and a 300 room conference center hotel. They can develop all of these uses under the existing New Town zoning.
GGP’s phase one plan also calls for creating new “pedestrian friendly” connections between Symphony Woods and the mall and between the lakefront and the mall.
The drawing above shows how the new retail component will connect to the mall at the food court. Actually, this rendering conflicts a bit with Greg Hamm’s verbal description. Greg and his consultants pointed out that the grade drops 100 feet from Governor Warfield and Twin Rivers Road to the lakefront. As part of this phase of development, GGP would raise the grade of the food court entrance resulting in the entry being on the second floor of the mall. The food court would end up being 15 feet below grade. The rendering still shows the entry on the ground level.
In front of this new entry will be a plaza that will feature some type of public amenity. GGP envisions a public space that could function as outdoor concert venue in the summer time and perhaps be used as an outdoor ice rink in the winter months. This public plaza would be surrounded by street level retail in are that GGP was calling “Market Square.”
This drawing shows what GGP is calling the “Spanish steps” after the famous area of the same name in Rome, Italy. This is how GGP envisions the lakefront connection to the mall. This new pedestrian passageway would come accross the existing GGP building lower parking lot and would also serve as “sub watershed” with a water feature running down the left side of this passageway.
Greg Hamm told the audience that the new Town Center development program would be guilded by four principles of connectivity, restoration, inclusion and amentities. So far these plans seem to address those principles very nicely.
Before going to the presentation I dropped by Clyde’s where GGP was hosting a small cocktail reception for some business folks before the presentation. Much of the cocktail chatter was about the recent Columbia Council elections. Suffice it say that not everyone was pleased with the results. One of the more interesting things I picked up was a rumor that some kind of deal has been struck with a group of council members that will essentially give the job of CA president to Liz Bobo.
It seems that some folks see nefarious designs behind Liz’s heavy involvement in supporting her chosen candidates. My own take on this is that while it is plausible that such a deal could have been made it doesn't seem probable.
Then again, who knows?
The presentation itself was somewhat less than uplifting. In my day at The Rouse Company (the predecessor of GGP), if we had a presentation to make, our objective would have been to blow peoples socks off. We routinely set up multi projector slide shows that were scored with music and narration. By the end of one these slide presentations we’d have people fired up about our plans. Anyone whoever attended a Rouse Company shareholders meeting knows of what I speak.
GGP’s presentation last night was not quite up to that standard. As Paul Skalny, a local attorney quipped to me “I hope their planning is better than their presentation.” Greg Hamm and his consultants could have benefited from more preparation time.
That is not to say that the presentation wasn’t informative. It was. In fact, I applaud GGP for the approach they are taking. Rather than attempting to plan out all of Town Center at once, they are taking a phased approach. This consisted of outlining an overall conceptual plan that can be modified along the way while focusing on the details of what will likely be done first.
I’ll have more on that in a separate post.
It also appears that GGP has created a new logo for Town Center. I wonder if the village of Town Center will adopt this a replacement for the existing village logo. I, for one, think it would be an improvement of the current one.
Sunday, April 27, 2008
Though this wonderful arts facility opened in August of 2006, Friday evening was the first time we saw it up close.
In a word, nice: In two words, very nice.
The performance we attended was in the John G. Monteabaro Recital Hall. This recital hall seats about 125 people and features state of the art acoustics. It is an ideal place to experience a chamber music concert.
You would think that an internationally acclaimed chamber group such as the Gemini Piano Trio (so named because the pianist and the violinist are brother and sister and the cellist is married to the pianist) would have no problem filling the seats.
You would be wrong.
I counted about 30 people. At least five of them were somehow associated with the performance. Another group of approximately 10 were students who apparently were there as part of a Music Appreciation class. That left just about 15 members of the general audience.
Maybe the place just hasn’t caught on yet.
Friday, April 25, 2008
Jim Rouse had a profound impact on my life and my career. His philosophy that “what ought to be can be” has always encouraged me when the going gets a little rough.
The picture above was taken on August 20, 1994 at a reunion of former Rouse Company employees. I think that shirt had two buttons too many…
Sunday, April 20, 2008
This is the only organized run I do anymore. I have run several of these Clyde’s races over the years as a sort of rite of spring thing. I figure that if I can get out and run this challenging course in the middle of April it means I’ve made it through the winter without too much damage.
Did I mention the course is challenging?
In my reckoning, I count five significant hills in the course: the first being the run up Governor Warfield Parkway from the firehouse towards Twin Rivers Road: the second being the run up Columbia Road to the Fairway Hills golf course clubhouse: the third being the run up Route 108 to the entrance to Running Brook: the fourth being the run up West Running Brook from (I think) Homespun to Darting Bird: the fifth being the run up Little Patuxent Parkway from Governor Warfield Parkway to the entrance to the mall. After that particular hill it is downhill to the finish line.
One of the things I enjoy most about this race is the sense of community. This year I showed up alone with no prearranged running buddy. No sooner had I arrived than I ran into Chris Marasco. I know Chris both from the gym I go to and from his work with a local bank. We decided to start out together. As we gathered behind the starting line I ran into Calene Theodore. I know Calene from Clyde’s. She works there. Apparently they get free registration. Sweet.
It wasn’t long into the race that it became obvious to both of us that Chris was able to keep a stronger pace than I. I bid him good speed and ran by myself for a few miles dropping a comment once in awhile to a complete stranger like “this is one tough hill” and such. Coming out of Running Brook I met a guy named Ken Schreier who lives in Owen Brown. Ken was about my age and after talking for a bit we decided to finish the race together. As we headed down Little Patuxent to that fifth and last hill, I spotted Gordon Mumpower and Honi Bamberger stuck in traffic waiting for the runners to pass. Gordon and Honi cheered us on as we went past. That’s the spirit people.
Just as I was about to hit the finish line, Dave Tripp, a longtime Howard County Strider, called out on his megaphone “Where have you been all this time 628? Writing an editorial?”
Ah, but it’s good to be recognized.
Ken and I cruised down to the finish line within three seconds of each other. It’s a great feeling to be finished.
For the record, the top three male finishers were (in order of finish) Tom Williams (32) from Columbia, Mike Colaiacovo (38) from Baltimore, and Stephen Moxley (29) from Columbia. The top three female finishers were Vanessa Cox (46) from Laurel, Katie Breitenbach (27) from Elkridge, and Robyn Humphrey (44) from Ellicott City.
The top time was 33:27:45. The slowest, 1:28:06.35
And wordbones stats?
I finished in 854th place out of 1,325. My official time was 1:00:27.90. I had a great time and I feel good. My buddy Chris finished in 721st place with a time of 57:56.85.
There is always next year.
Friday, April 18, 2008
I was involved in bringing this particular chain restaurant to Columbia. My former business partner and I “discovered” Lone Star while on assignment for another client in Fayetteville, North Carolina. That began a long courtship that eventually resulted in the company purchasing four acres of land in the Columbia Corporate Park on McGaw Road.
The restaurant enjoyed great success when it first opened. It was not uncommon to have to wait an hour and half to get a table; much like it is now at the Cheesecake Factory in Town Center.
That was hardly the case in recent years. Some lay the blame on the fact that it was hard to get to but that did not seem to deter those early patrons. The visibility of this site was so strong that it generated the following front page story by Dan Morse in the Sun back on January 12, 1997:
Business lament: Site unseen; Columbia: As bigger, brighter signs appear on the eastern edge of town, merchants feeling invisible in older areas argue for more wattage.
“Sign envy is gripping Columbia.
Listen to saloon owner John Heyn, who for years has tried to make a go of it in this tidy planned suburb that boasts some of the strictest sign restrictions in the nation.
Every day, residents drive past his Last Chance Saloon -- buried in the courtyard of a neighborhood retail center -- without knowing it's there.
Some residents even walk through the courtyard itself without noticing his bar.
Life, for Heyn, has no neon. And so as the barkeeper crested a hill along Route 175 on Columbia's eastern edge two months ago, he was shocked to confront -- a half-mile away but very much in his face -- the words "Lone Star Steakhouse & Saloon" illuminating the side of his new competition.
"Damn," Heyn remembers thinking. "What a great sign." He's not alone in his admiration -- or his envy.
Throughout Columbia, merchants are turning green over Lone Star's beacon.
For the new town's almost 30-year history, they've been restricted to tiny, often hidden signs.
Heyn says he can't even plug in a simple "Open" sign and hang it inside his window.
The sign envy -- though hardly a fatal condition -- underscores tensions felt by merchants in Columbia's downtown and neighborhoods as they try to compete with the growing number of chain restaurants and warehouse-style retailers cropping up on the community's eastern edge.
"Clearly, there's a double standard," says Bill Miller, co-owner of the Today's Catch seafood shop buried in Columbia's Wilde Lake Village Center.
By contemporary standards, the Lone Star sign is hardly spectacular.
There actually are three of them -- on three sides of the restaurant. They measure about 18 feet across and 8 feet high.
And they're actually smaller than what the 205-outlet western-style steak giant first proposed, says Thomas Brudzinski, a design director for the Rouse Co., Columbia's developer.
If the signs were along U.S. 40 or Ritchie Highway, "Lone Star" would undoubtably fade into a haze of halogen.
But this is Columbia, designed in the 1960s to allow residents -- in the words of its founder, James W. Rouse -- to "feel the spaces of nature."
And so for nearly three decades, the Rouse Co.'s criteria for signs essentially have been to subtly post small ones. A favorite spot has been behind the town's many berms, or man-made grassy knolls.
For the most part, Columbia residents seem to enjoy the uncluttered look. Lone Star also should be pleased -- for its star shines brightly against the subdued suburb's relatively dark backdrop.
But those merchants with sign envy want to know: How'd the steak king get permission for such a bright sign?
Lone Star officials wouldn't discuss their new Columbia outlet, other than to say they followed local sign restrictions. The steak chain -- based in Wichita, Kan. -- makes no bones about wanting to be seen, though. "If they're driving and are making a dining decision," said John White, Lone Star's chief financial officer, "we want to be part of that decision."
Officials at the Rouse Co., which controls signs on the Lone Star property and other commercial areas in Columbia, say the Lone Star sign is no big deal.
They say they're allowing other new businesses and restaurants on the town's eastern, largely commercial edge to post these larger signs.
And even the most envious of central Columbia merchants concedes this is appropriate to some degree. After all, that area is not adjacent to Columbia's neighborhoods. But no other restaurant in that area is perched on such a conspicuous hill above a major thoroughfare.
So no other sign is more visible to drivers entering Columbia from the east -- particularly because huge spotlights are trained on it.
And in Columbia, some residents, particularly some longtime residents, take a dim view of any bright lights. Just last year, for example, some neighbors of Columbia's Oakland Mills High School erupted when educators hung a relatively modest, but lighted marque outside the school -- the only such sign in their neighborhood.
As for that Lone Star sign, "James Rouse would roll over in his grave if he saw that sign," says David Reynolds, who lives in Columbia's Town Center. Reynolds jokes that the Lone Star sign is so bright that pilots flying at 12,000 feet could use it to land in the middle of the planned city.
But now that Lone Star has set a new community standard for candlepower, many Columbia merchants want more of the same for themselves. Fred Paine, a former Rouse commercial property manager who now manages Hunt Valley Mall, agrees. For years, he says, he tried to get his bosses to allow bigger, brighter -- but tasteful -- signs in Columbia's older core. "If I was a retailer," he says, "I'd just be livid."
At the Fresh Choice restaurant -- hidden without a road sign in Columbia's downtown, a large parking lot away from the nearest road -- manager Denise Antinnucci is close to livid.
She says she'd have more customers if drivers were informed a restaurant was nearby. "If they have a sign like that," Antinnucci says of Lone Star, "I should be able to have a little sign" by the road.
Similarly, at the nearby Silver Shadows nightclub, its owners say lost patrons constantly call them from their cellular phones and must be guided to the club by bartenders -- much like air traffic controllers.
Which brings us to east Columbia resident Robert Thomas, a relative newcomer to the town who is perhaps not imbued with its original ethos.
A local developer recently purchased the property for $2.95 million. The new owner is apparently receptive to a new restaurant taking over the building.
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
We now know who killed Bryan Antoine Adams Jr.. According to an article in today’s Sun, Antajuan L. Wilson confessed to the shooting yesterday. Antajuan is one year younger than his 20 year old victim. He lives less than a quarter mile from where he gunned down Bryan.
As I mentioned in a comment to a previous post about this, I was planning on going shopping at Wilde Lake Village Green this past weekend to pick up a new pair of running shoes from Feet First.
Sunday afternoon around 3:30 PM I fulfilled that task. The parking lot was pretty empty but it was Sunday afternoon. As I walked across the green I saw people patronizing Absolutely Wine & Spirits but otherwise it was quiet inside the center as well.
“Yesterday we were really busy. Sunday afternoons is usually slow.”
I’ll buy that.
This store is usually pretty busy around this time of year. Feet First is one of the sponsors of Clyde’s American 10K race which is being held this Sunday. Starting this Thursday race participants will be able to pick up their race packets and t-shirt at the store.
I ended up getting shorts, socks and a shirt in addition to my brand new Asics. Another customer came in as I was finishing up so the customer to sales clerk ratio reached parity.
Friday, April 11, 2008
I had never heard of Paula Poundstone so I checked her out on You Tube and found this clip. Pretty funny.
Tickets cost $150.00 each but it’s a pretty good deal. You get live entertainment, dinner and drinks and you don’t have to drive out of town.
You can download the ticket order form here or call the festival office for more information. The number is (410) 715-3044
Wednesday, April 09, 2008
He was a 2005 graduate of my alma mater, Wilde Lake High School. My thoughts go out to his family and his friends.
This is very familiar ground for me. I grew up in that neighborhood. I have walked this sidewalk and ridden my bicycle down this sidewalk. I have driven by this spot innumerable times.
The thought that strikes me is that Columbia today is a far different place from the Columbia of forty years ago.
Thank you to Columbia Talk for giving me the heads up on this.
Tuesday, April 08, 2008
Apparently Ms. Coyle has everything under control. Jim told me that Ms. Coyle announced to those in attendance that she voted against restoring the existing structures because she is going to see to it that an entirely new “dock” will be built in its place.
Here’s the best part though. Jim told me that Councilperson Coyle has received assurances from GGP that they will pay for it.
How good is that!
Then I wondered how she got that assurance because I haven’t exactly heard anyone else talking about this.
Could it be that a member of the Columbia Council, acting on behalf of the Council, held a private meeting with GGP?
Monday, April 07, 2008
But that is not what caught my eye today.
I was actually on my way to Wilde Lake Park to snap some pictures of flowering trees when I noticed all of the activity at the Wilde Lake barn. A closer inspection revealed that the barn is undergoing a fairly extensive renovation.
I was glad to see that. Given the abysmal state of some of the other Columbia icons, it’s nice to know that at least this one is getting some attention.
I still wanted to find some flowering trees though so ventured a mile up the road from Wilde Lake to Centennial Lake. Technically, once you cross Route 108 you are in Ellicott City after all.
Centennial Lake is home to grouping of cherry trees which I believe is dedicated to the memory of Jim Rouse. The trees are planted on both sides of the lake path. The lakefront was sparsely populated with an assortment of runners and fishermen. I was sort of surprised to see as many people as I did. It was around two o’clock in the afternoon on a cold and damp spring day.
It turns out we had a catfish thing in common. Both of us had visited the Bass Pro Shop in the Arundel Mills Mall yesterday to see the giant catfish that Ron Lewis caught in the Potomac. The 67 pound behemoth was supposedly in the giant fish tank at the store. It turns out that this particular fish is still in a “transitional tank” and that the big one I saw was only 64 pounds.
That’s still a big catfish.
Chris was taking a day from his landscaping job in Annapolis. I imagine the landscaping business is a little intense right now and so he probably needed a day of fishing.
That’s what I’m saying anyway.
Sunday, April 06, 2008
I enjoy all dialogue, both fine wine refined and sushi grade raw. And sometimes, just sometimes, I’ll get an anonymous comment on a post that I’ll really like because it gets me to thinking a different way. I got one of those yesterday.
Anon 10:49 AM commented on my Friday post about the county putting the Ridge Road property up for sale. The current administration intends to “return this land to the county tax rolls.” This would ultimately result in the heavily wooded ground being developed in some fashion. From a pure economic perspective the highest and best use of this property would be retail. It is currently zoned POR. (Planned Office Research).
Anon 10:49 AM believes the county would get a greater value if it preserved these twenty four acres as a park. Anon 10:49 AM’s park would include a pedestrian overpass over Route 40.
Anon 10:49 AM estimates that the county would likely net $6 million from the sale of this property. Anon 10:49 AM wonders if the county could ever buy 24 acres of heavily “forested” in Ellicott City at that price.
In my opinion, with current POR zoning, the county is more likely to net around $5 million.
Ironically, it was then County Executive Jim Robey who got the county to purchase this property. It was also his administration that developed the Route 40 Enhancement Study.
The current administration says that it needs the proceeds to fund the renovations of the existing county complex. No one can argue that those buildings need renovating, they’ve never been right. Jim once quipped to me that he’d throw the builder in jail if he could. You may recall that Jim was also the former chief of police.
The thing is, according to an article by Larry Carson in the Howard section of the Sun today, the renovations will cost $22 million. The county also plans to purchase office space in the Meridian Square project in Oakland Mills. That will cost an additional $3.9 million for a total of about $26 million.
It sort of puts that $5 million dollar profit into perspective and I’m starting to like the park idea a lot. Maybe the now "Senator" Jim Robey can cajole some extra funds out of the state coffers to make up for the shortfall.
Friday, April 04, 2008
The county put out a bid proposal to the development community. The competition was whittled down to Trammell Crow Company and our own hometown national developer, Corporate Properties Office Trust (COPT). COPT won. I should note here that development proposals of this scale are rather extensive and expensive. The developer enlists architects, lawyers, engineers and other consultants to help them prepare a vision for the project. These costs can easily exceed $100,000.
Now the county has changed it’s mind, or at least the current administration has. The county has now decided to renovate the existing county complex and purchase a floor of space in the proposed Meridian Square development. They have decided to sell the Rogers Avenue property to fund these plans. COPT and its hard won right to develop the project for the county is left holding the bag so to speak. True, while this can just be racked up to the cost of doing business, it still hurts.
It’s a shame. This property sits at one of the major gateways into historic Ellicott City. A government complex here would have had a significant impact on transforming that portion of Route 40. Right now it is a collection of strip shopping, auto dealers, fast food and a porn shop. Talk about an area that could use some revitalization!
Hopefully someone with vision will snap this up. Perhaps COPT will go ahead and take a shot at it.
Maybe we will.
The county paid a little over $150,000 per acre eight years ago. Right now the going rate for prime office land (think Columbia Gateway) is around $600,000.00 per acre. The major difference being that the land in Gateway is ready to go. It is cleared and rough graded. When you buy 24 acres, you get 24 acres. The land on Rogers Avenue is heavily wooded. The euphemism that is commonly used is raw. The purchaser won’t get to use all 24 acres. They’ll get somewhere between 15 and 20 acres to build on if they are lucky.
Still, it will probably fetch a pretty nice number and the county will likely end up with a fair return on their investment in Ellicott City real estate.
Thursday, April 03, 2008
A closer inspection revealed this note taped to the door.
The closing of this eatery comes as no great surprise to me. I ate there once and never went back. The food was, at best, average and I felt the prices were high for the value received.
This is a great location though and I expect it won’t be long before another food operation fills the space.
Tuesday, April 01, 2008
Well the situation is getting pretty close to that. Check out this post from fellow blogger Bill Santos at the Columbia Compass blog or consider the fact that Columbia’s premier golf club, Hobbits Glen, is hemorrhaging members. What makes this state of affairs even more alarming is the fact that the majority of the CA board members are seemingly most concerned with capping increases in the CPRA assessment.
The good news is that not all CA board members are bad. The bad news is that the good people are currently outnumbered. This month Columbia residents will have the opportunity to change that.
You can read this month’s column here.