Now that General Growth Properties has begun their pitch to the county council for the legislation that will allow their redevelopment program for Columbia Town Center to move forward, the spirit of Jim Rouse will inevitably hover over the proceedings.
Alan Klein, the spokesperson for CoFoCoDo, got things started last week when he commented on GGP’s presentation to the county council. According to this story by Don Markus in The Sun, Klein thinks that GGP’s priorities are different than those of Rouse.
"Jim Rouse listed making money at the end. These people, their job is to make money," Klein said. "If they don't make money, they will be sued by their shareholders. They've got a business to run. Their job is not to do well by Columbia; their job is to do well by their shareholders. We're not dealing with Papa Jim Rouse like we were before. We've got to grow up."
Papa Jim Rouse?
First of all, Alan’s statement that Rouse “listed money at the end” is a misnomer. Rouse had three goals for his company; to improve the lives of the people in the places the company did business, to provide a good place for his employees to work and to produce a profit for his shareholders. He believed all these goals were equally important. I know this because I worked for the company.
Secondly, Jim Rouse had very little to do with Columbia development after 1974. I’m not certain of the exact date but when Jim stepped down as President and CEO and installed Matthias DeVito in his place the company was in deep financial doo doo. Columbia almost took the company down. Now sooner had they occupied their shiny headquarters building on the Columbia lakefront, then 500 employees were laid off. Some still refer to this as the Christmas massacre as it occurred in mid December.
Everything built in Columbia after 1974 was driven by a simple profit motive, not some benevolence of a mythical character Alan calls “Papa Jim Rouse.”
In many ways Columbia is fortunate that GGP replaced The Rouse Company. The Rouse Company’s plan for Town Center was to sell land to anyone at the highest price. They really had no master plan. As far as I’m concerned, if anyone is channeling the true spirit of Jim Rouse these days its Greg Hamm.