Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Heroes of Columbia Town Center

Now that the dust has officially settled on the Town Center redevelopment legislation, it’s time to look back and acknowledge those most responsible for saving Columbia’s core from piecemeal development. While Taxpayers against Giveaways garnered press attention with their failed attempt to rally any meaningful support for a referendum, not enough has been written about those who fought hard to reverse the course of Town Center development that was being followed by The Rouse Company before they were acquired by General Growth Properties.

First and foremost, a big wag of the wordbones tail goes out to Ken Ulman. Before Ken became county executive he was the county council representative for District 4 which includes Columbia Town Center. Ken fought against The Rouse Company’s plans to develop the Crescent property behind Merriweather Post Pavilion with a mix of housing and retail. They also proposed enclosing the outdoor music venue. Ken believed that Town Center needed a new master plan instead of continued piecemeal development.

Of course it wasn’t all Ken either. He and Columbia benefited from a fortuitous series of events beginning with GGP’s acquisition of The Rouse Company in 2005. The premium price GGP paid for the undeveloped land in Columbia meant that they needed to rethink the Town Center development program. Though the company got off to a bit of a rocky start with their first Columbia General Manager, Doug Godine, they recovered their footing nicely when they bought in Greg Hamm to replace him.

Greg Hamm bought an energy and vision to Columbia that had not been seen since the mid seventies. He worked tirelessly to with the community to fine tune the plans. He never lost sight of the goal even when his company declared bankruptcy in the middle of the process. He fought hard for precious resources to keep the Columbia project moving forward while other GGP development projects around the country were mothballed.

When Mary Kay Sigaty won the council seat vacated by Ken, I believed her to be both anti development and anti business based on her effort to stop the Plaza Residences condominium project. I was wrong. Mary Kay saw GGP’s effort as an opportunity to fix what was wrong with Town Center. Her sponsorship of the CB58 and CB59 was an act of political courage in the face of the vocal opponents led by Delegate Liz Bobo.

And finally, Jessica Feldmark deserves special kudos for her tireless behind the scenes work to keep the process on track. While some may say she was just doing her job as Ken’s chief of staff, the fact of the matter is that she went above and beyond what could normally be expected.

Certainly many others played an important role and probably deserve mention but it was these four people who really made it happen and spent endless nights in meetings and public hearings to see it through.


Freemarket said...

Interesting. I think Ken was completely absent from the whole town center process, and I bet most people would agree. (Typo in the second pp by the way, Ken was dist 4)

wordbones said...



I suppose that's what happens when I try to finish up a post while making dinner.

It's fixed now.


Gary said...

I second that! A lot of people did a lot of work to build an amazing plan, and they deserve our thanks.

PZGURU said...

Another correction, WB. The Crescent was NOT just retail and residential. The proposed FDP for that application had a whole list of allowed uses.

Secondly, how is what got approved under the recent legislation any different from the Crescent Plan, as far as uses go?

Thirdly, thank you fro helping draw the link between the denial/obstruction of the Crescent Plan, and the subsequent concession from GGP to "save MPP" in return for the lovely 500 billion dollar payoff that is widely known as the Town Center Redevelopment Plan.

You hit the nail on the head. Because GGP paid such a premium price, Ken and the County just HAD to do something to save GGP from completely losing their ass(ets), right?

I wish the govt would bail out all of the little people whenever a financial loss is looming. Scratch that. What I really wish for, as a believer in PURE capitalism (as opposed to this crony capitalism that is running rampant in this country (exemplified by this very GGP situation) is that the govt would stay the hell out of the market and let the market run its course.

Gary said...

PZGURU, I'm disappointed that you would taint this sincere thank-you with a negative note. As much as I do not want to further any negative discussion, I feel obligated to question how you characterize GGP's redevelopment as a "payoff" by the government. It is a huge private investment that will yield millions of dollars in public tax revenue. I'm also not sure why you would say public and private partnership is a bad thing ("the government should stay out of the market and let it run its course"). As I'm sure you know, GGP was required to go through the County for the zoning to do this project, so how else would it have gotten done?

Anonymous said...

PZGURU, your assertion that the approval was a "payoff" demonstrates your lack of understanding. Not much of a Guru. I sure hope you don't find any enjoyment from the new things that come to downtown given how hard you've advocated against it.

Tom said...

How about Emily Lincoln, Mike Davis, Jean Moon and Jud Malone? They all worked tirelessly from the beginning.

Anonymous said...

Right on target, PZ. As usual, you're absolutely correct.

Anonymous said...

PZGURU, I agree. Let's get government out of the market. Indeed, as in Houston, which is doing just fine, let's get rid of zoning too. Then, we will really have the marketplace that is free of unnecessary governmental interference.

Anonymous said...

PU GURU haiku:

Your lies know no bounds,
and your smokescreens won't blind us.
Get over yourself.

PZGURU said...

Anon 12:00 - what lies? Please show me what I have lied about? And what smokescreens? I'm about as blunt and direct as a person could be. Go back to your bong and leave the heavy thinking to us normal folks. Thanks.

@ Gary - it IS a form of payoff in my opinion. You can opine that it is not if you want to. I say it's a payoff because in my view, the zoning approval was done more to save GGP from the financial collapse that was hitting them, which was leading to the likely result of them selling off their Columbia assets. Enter the redevelopment plan. Proposed under the guise of "re-stimulating" the socio-cultural area of Town Center. It got approved. Next day, GGP stock skyrockets. GGP reaps huge windfall in the short term, and will reap an even huger (yes, I said huger) windfall over the next years.

1) Don't say I am anti development, because that is NOT the case. I've always said that some development in Town Center is acceptable. IN fact, GGP had the right for a fair amount of development already, and I wouldn't oppose what they were allwoed by right to do.
2)I am not opposed to developers making a profit, or even a huge profit. That's their goal, and frankly good for them if they can make a huge profit by developing within their BY RIGHT allowances. This rezoning was a SPECIAL APPROVAL to increase what they were already allowed to do by right. If you can't understand the difference between the two, then it's you my good friend who don't understand land development or zoning.

I also never said that I was against public-private partnerships. There may be some situations where I might be ok with PPP's, but zoning and development is not one of them. (No - I don't support subsidized housing.)

I've posted prior comments detailing conservative numbers on how much of a return GGP is getting for their 2-3million dollar investment in greenspace and pedestrian pathways, etc. The return is staggering (something like 5000%) so please don't try and set this up as some huge philanthropic initiative on GGP's part.

@ WB - 621 john donkey

Anonymous said...

PU GURU follow up haiku:

Are you kidding me?
Everything you write is false.
And you're not funny.

Anonymous said...

PZ, if you think the addition of 5,000 residential units in downtown Columbia - over 30 years! - can turn around the finances of a multi-billion dollar company, then you should change your name to Corporate Finance Guru. And 5000% on $2-$3 million? That's $2-$3 million per residential unit. I used to think you just lied but I'm starting to think you actually believe the crazy stuff you write.

Anonymous said...

Great post, thanks for the round-up, WB. Well done.

And...great comments!

Raise your hand if you don't think that any money on this deal will work it's way into campaign contributions or some county council members personal slush fund now that the deed is done.

Ah. Now I know why 80 percent of the American people distrust their government.

Spiro must be laughing in his grave.

Anonymous said...

Cynicism amuck!

There is more than one reason why a politician votes one way or the other. Sometimes, it's just the right thing to do.

For downtown Columbia, CB58/59 was the right thing to do. No pay off was necessary. No need. It's all good.

And for those citizens who didn't like the new plans for downtown, it was a good debate, but a decision had to be made - it was - you didn't persuade anyone that you were right. Move on!

HoCoRising said...

Here's cynicism for you: Nothing is "all good."

PZGURU said...

@ Anon 5:39 - You are excluding the several MILLION square feet of COMMERCIAL RETAIL and OFFICE SPACE!!!!!!!!! Stop drinking the kool-aid and get your facts straight, pull your craneum out of your arse and then maybe, just maybe you can re-enter the debate. I stand by my conservative financial analysis of this situation.

And, yes, if you didn't read my comment correctly the first time, and there's no debating this, GGP's stock shot through the roof once the legislation passed. Go check the stock market closings and you can following the numbers. In essence, not giving exact numbers here, it went from $2 or $3 per share to over $10 per share, and it's still going up.

How many redevelopment supporters bought GGP stock before they supported the plan? I wonder....

I in fact know someone who was dead set against the plan, then saw GGP's stock was in the tank, bought some stock with the assumption that once the legislation was approved he could make some quick profit. And, indeed he did. As did GGP.

Anonymous said...

Precisely, PZ. Hence the term GGP Bailout by Taxpayers. We haven't given them taxpayer money yet, though we'll be forced to put in the infrastructure to support their newly gained profitability.

Anonymous said...

TAG got 3500 people to sign in a very short time. Sounds like a lot of support to me.

Anonymous said...

anon 9:57
3500 signatures, many of them dups, in a county of 300,000 is nothing. you obviously are very unfamiliar with referendums where there is a lot of support. they often have 2 or 3 times the amount of signatures in less time.

haveyouheard said...

PZGURU: You should take your own advice and check out the numbers pal, because you are flat out wrong.

GGP was trading in the $2-3 dollar range late last summer into the fall. It strated trending upwards late last year. On Feb, 1, 2010, the day the Howard County Council passed the historic legislation, GGP's stock was at $8.94.

Yes, it has been gaining nice ground ever since, and good for them. Their reorganization efforts seem to be working, and the stock price is indicative of that. How about giving credit for sound decisions rather that just crying bailout.

Rational people understand that redeveloping downtown will be a net gain in terms of dollars for the county. Studies by people much smarter than you or I have proved that.

The possibilities that come with this public-private partnership between our County government and GGP are endless. There's still a tremendous amount of work to be done, but when it's all said and done, we'll have something truly unique and wonderful here and it will be the residents who come out on top.

It seems the small but vocal opposition to progress in Columbia have simply resorted to lying, and it has got to stop. I easily debunked this one regarding GGP's stock price in relation the passage of CB's 58&59, but did anyone see the lies in this week's letters to the editor in The Flier?

One of them claimed Linda Odum called for high rises in Symphony Woods! It's ridiculous, and unfortunately people who don't follow local politics closely tend to believe what they read. I wonder if that had anything to do with Phil Kirsch's win this weekend in Wilde Lake?

PZGURU said...

@ haveyouheard - sorry my friend. I did not lie about anything. And, the fact is that the stock wouldn't have been rising, and definitely not rising as fast as it did, if it weren't for the pending passage of the legislation (at that time - fall/winter 2010). Everyone knew that the County would approve the legislation because too much time, and energy, and propaganda resources had been spent on the whole idea for the County NOT to approve the legislation.

Beyond these issues, the govt shouldn't be getting into bed with certain businesses. The govt either has to get in bed with everyone, and help every business equally, or they have to help nobody. What about all the small businesses or developers that could stand to get a nice rezoning approval that would boost their profits by millions or billions over the next 30 years?

Don't call the plan progress. Certainly, some people view it as progress, but some people don't.

I still stand by my position that GGP could have done plenty of "revitalization" in Town Center without this rezoning. The existing FDP criteria allowed for many possibilities, and only people with no sense of creativity could even claim otherwise.

As for your claim that this will benefit the County - I have serious doubts about the "expert" number crunchers like Mr. Basu. Many factors have been left out of the equation.

As for your claim that the residents are the ones that will come out on top, maybe/maybe not. As I've said all along, many existing residents chose to live in Columbia for how it is. What are they supposed to do now? Yes, I guess that makes me kind of a "middle of the road" leaning toward status quo kind of guy, but that's the fairest option for all parties (residents) concerned, don't you think? For some family that moved here 2, 3, 5 years ago because it WASN'T an urban area, what the hell are they supposed to do? People who wanted a bustling urban area have countless options to choose and could have moved.

There may not have been a lot of people testifying in opposition to the legislation but (1) they might figure it was useless to testify when it was so obvious that the County was going to approve it and (2) they might not realize what the real impacts to them is until after the construction occurs, and then there's no recourse. You can't un-build the stuff.

We'll see how things turn out. I will make one prediction. The new "grid" road pattern will be a cluster, but again, once it's built, it won't be able to be un-built.

Anonymous said...

PZGURU, please distinguish between fact and opinion. Everything you wrote is your opinion, and you have every right to express it. I guess you even have the right to express your opinion that your opinion is factual. But, it isn't. GGP's increase in price was the result of a large number of variables, with CB 58/59 being a fairly minor part of the reason. Whether GGP could have revitalized the downtown without the inclusion of more residences is clearly your opinion. And your rather sour opinion about the ultimate financial benefits of CB 58/59 for the County are again just your opinion. I applaud you for participating in this discussion by sharing your opinions. But facts? Forget about it.

Anonymous said...

Haveuherd, WTF. GGP had hostile takeover bids THE WEEK FOLLOWING the council bill passage. You are fooling NO ONE, particularly the rational. Partnership?! GGP and the council partner to rip off taxpayers – that’s the only ‘partnering’ going on here.
PZ is not just expressing opinion (at this point I want to say, goof ball, but I’m using restraint so that I’m not at your level of hypocritical with the ‘rational people’ anal retentive insults while taking issue with my terming you a goof).

Anonymous said...

All the people crying bailout sound like conspiracy theorists, and conspiracy theorists are usually the nuttiest of all nut jobs.

wordbones said...

Anon 8:43 AM,



PZGURU said...

ANON 6:08 a.m. - True, I am expressing my opinion. Also True, I have never, ever stated that my opinions are the absolute facts. However, I do back up my opinion with substance. Also true, you can disagree with my position, but I expect dissenters to present solid rationales for how I am wrong or how your opinion is superior to mine.

While it is true that there other factors that impacted GGP's stock values, I believe that this legislative approval had a huge impact on it. Anyone watching GGP's stock would have known about the proposed legislation, and would also understand the implications that approval of said legislation would definitely have on the stock's value.

It's also part of the reason why the offer from the other company has been left lingering. Why would GGP make a decision on that offer before the legislation was approved? It wouldn't make sense to.

@ ANON 8:43 a.m. - nevermind, you wouldn't understand a response.

@ WB - I thought you frowned on name calling and throwing out terms like "crazies" and "nut jobs"? True to form, you can't even follow your own rules. 621 john donkey!!!!!!!

haveyouheard said...


Simon made the offer after the legislation passed, so what decision did GGP have to make?

PZGURU said...

haveyouheard - Simon was already reviewing GGP's info and financial situation in September of 2009. I can't tell you why Simon made an offer after the legislation was approved. Maybe they had to wait since GGP was also in the process of renegotiating their loan structure and so on.

I'd also point out that GGP's stock, which was delisted in early 2009, was relisted on 3/5/2010 and closed at just over $14, and according to WB, that is a 1,234% increase in the stock value from the price at time of de-listing. The value started rising more rapidly in the months leading up to the passage of the legislation. Now, I'm not the most brilliant stock analyst, but even I knew enough to know that GGP's stock was going to skyrocket if the plan was approved. And, if not approved, it would have stayed in the tank and GGP would have gone bankrupt. However, I was not willing to sell my soul and buy their stock just to make a buck since I don't agree with the plan. I know plenty of "plan supporters" who only supported it because they bought GGP stock.

As I've said, if development is such a money maker for the County, why not rezone everything super high density and we can really make some dough for the county troughs?

Anonymous said...

Yeah. Calling people 'nuts' is a really good argument for making your point. Everyone reading this is now convinced that you are right with that pristine logic and strong basis. :)

PZGURU said...

Well WB - I asked you a direct question. You can certainly run your mouth about other people "casting aspersions" yet you do the same thing. I'm sensing that dreaded "H" word. Don't ever get all preachy and self-righteous about the tone of commenters - you have no right to do so if you're gonna behave the same way.

621 john donkey!

Anonymous said...

Self-proclaimed GURU haiku:

In darkness and light,
verbal diarehha flows
from this guy GURU.

GURU said...

Anon - wow, you are just too witty for me. Whatever will I do now that you've blown me away with your cutting edge wit and prose? You're just too witty for me. (Nice spelling by the way.)

Anonymous said...

Haiku-man. Give it a rest, you're annoying as hell.

Anonymous said...

Anon 6:43 haiku:

Listen carefully:
You can't stop the haiku man.
I am here to stay.